Stray (2022)

I’m a cat person, I always have been. My first memory of a cat was when I was around 3 and my parents got a little kitten for me, and he sadly ran out into the street and was… well… let’s just say he was gone. But as sad as losing my first cat at such a young age, I always grew up with a cat. Needless to say, I love cats and a game that lets me play as a cat sounded just up my alley.

Stray is about a cat that lives in a post-apocalyptic world, and gets separated from his cat family after falling down an embankment and landing in a foreign closed off city. With the main goal trying to get back to the surface, the stray cat (hence the name of the game) comes across a ton of robot citizens, security bots and monstrous blobs that inhabit this almost other worldly place.

Controlling the cat was quite fun, as not only does it move swiftly and silently like a cat does in real life, but the little touches that cats actually do made the cat character feel like a real animal. Mechanics such as scratching at a door, or sharpening their claws on a rug, or even curling up on a nice pillow for a tiny cat nap… it all serves to create a much deeper and more lifelike representation of a cat. I especially liked when I’d get a prompt to talk to a new robot character, and it said “meet”, and another button prompt that would allow my cat to rub up against the robot’s legs, signaling my desire to interact with them, or just make my presence known.

The robot’s that take on human characteristics all have monitors for heads, and the very basic emoji like facial expressions were great to see. Sometimes they would see the cat and their eyes would turn into hearts, or other’s when the cat knocked over their drink glass (usually filled with oil) their expression would be that of anger or indifference. Some robots were so interesting, like the robot musician, that I just wanted to stay longer in an area than I needed to, just to hang out in the warm and comfy environment and listen to them play.

The plot changes courses through its short playtime, with it clocking in at just around 5 hours, there is a lot to explore and look at, but most of it doesn’t account for very deep mechanics or environmental storytelling. It’s a sort of game that feels very personal, and doesn’t exist to make money, but to tell a story, which is unbelievably rare right now. Kinda. While there are a ton of very personal indie games out there now, most are deceptively disguised to push some sort of agenda, which I can’t stand. Stray doesn’t feel that way at all. It feels like someone who loved cats wanted to make a game about a cat in a futuristic setting.

There is a robot drone that becomes a companion early on, that acts as a bit of a translator/narrator, and the robot does a great job of conveying some emotion that I didn’t think was going to be in the game. It gets a little heavy in the middle to late game, and it never felt pushy to me. Just something that allowed me to sit back and really feel the emotional weight of the story without it being corny or condescending with some underlying message.

While Stray isn’t an extremely deep or advanced game, it’s a good breath of fresh air in the gaming world that doesn’t try to push someone’s political or personal agenda. It never feels underhanded in what it’s trying to convey. It tells a simple story on its surface, about a cat getting lost, and trying to get back home, but then unravels more, peeling away the layers to a deeper and more personal story of humanity and loss. And right now, I think the gaming world, and possibly the world at large needs these types of games.