StrayNeon lights and relaxed beats can be found in every corner of the game, creating a very focused aesthetic that’s easy to enjoy.
I expected “Stray” to be a cat simulator in a futuristic cyberpunk setting.
While that isn’t wrong, the game has more depth than anticipated. It is a short and simple game, with an emphasis on puzzle solving and stealth. Players control a stray cat that has been separated by its pack and finds itself lost in the bottom level of a giant walled city mysteriously closed off to the outside world. To escape the city and return to its pack, the eponymous stray will have to unravel the secrets of the dangerous city.
The most appealing aspect of “Stray” is also the one that has been the most fleshed out: the atmosphere. The grim world inhabited by robots is both relaxing and a bit unnerving. Neon lights and relaxed beats can be found in every corner of the game, creating a very focused aesthetic that’s easy to enjoy.
I was caught off guard by the story in “Stray” and how it’s presented. Going in, I assumed the game wouldn’t have any dialogue at all, and any storytelling would be done by visual cues in the environment. Instead, the game is relatively heavy with dialogue, as the cat must communicate with the city’s robot citizens to make any progress. It doesn’t seem possible for any communication, but the game handles it well. It also means that there are other characters we can get to know. The player’s time with some robots is brief, but that does not make them any less likeable.
Where “Stray” unfortunately falters is in the gameplay itself. It is, of course, amusing to roam the city and knock things off shelves, find cozy nooks to nap in and meow at every robot you see, but the player’s range of motion is severely limited, almost to the point where the game feels like it’s on rails rather than free roam. It’s likely done so less-experienced players can still move with catlike precision and agility, but it feels constricting at times.
The most disappointing thing was that there was no real reward for exploring the environment outside a few inconsequential collectibles. A game like this feels like there should be easter eggs in just about every corner, and I was both delighted and disappointed to find one reference to another video game.
Overall, “Stray” is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. I doubt it will be anyone’s favorite game, but it creates a lighter excursion into a genre that is usually too dark to be any fun.