The purring indie treat
Stray is a wonderful little game. It’s not a title that pushes the genre forward, nor is it a game that focuses on microtransactions and quick payday. This is classic video game territory; a title that just wants to tell a good story and allow players to disconnect for a few hours. And as a result, Stray is easily one of the best games of the year.
Divided into 12 chapters, Stray’s story is simple and follows a stray cat who is lost and separated from his family. Following his travels, this cat becomes embroiled in an ancient mystery involving a long-forgotten walled city and its robot inhabitants. With a standalone story and some memorable characters along the way, this is definitely not a game to miss. And given that the playtime is around 4-6 hours, it’s accessible even for those with a lot to do.
With the help of a small flying drone, you are propelled into the driver’s seat of a stray cat, exploring the city, solving puzzles and helping the locals along the way, all the while trying to get back to your family at home. above ground.
Each chapter has a fairly linear direction, combining platforming with puzzles to great effect. There’s a combination of safe code combinations, light physics-based puzzles, and simple but effective fetch quests, breaking up any sense of monotony that might set in. There’s nothing too strenuous here either, but there’s also enough that forces you to think outside the box on more than one occasion.
The puzzle is only a small part of the game, as the platform plays an equal role in this story. The controls are fairly simple – press O to meow, X to jump, triangle to scrape doors and objects – but the way they’re integrated into the game is what makes it such an enjoyable game.
Playing as a feline is a unique experience in itself, but of course all of that would only be superficial fluff if the level design wasn’t up to par. Fortunately, it does. Stray is masterful in the way it breaks up more linear and tense chapters with mini open worlds in the form of its cities.
These are full of different characters to interact with; humanoid robots who have heard rumors of this great “Outside” but attribute it to hearsay and rumors. They each have their own personalities and names, and some even have quests you can take on for them. Not only that, but several also have meta references to different games, including an infamous one from Skyrim!
Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t an open world title – it’s still a very linear game. Because of this level of control, the developers really pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable experience, filling its areas with dense layers of exploration and aesthetically interesting detail. While these aren’t as big as an Assassins Creed title, it’s much deeper in quality than Ubisoft’s handful of uninspired areas.
There are also a number of different secrets hidden in the crevices, rewarding you for exploring. There is also a lot of reflection on the crossing, with a lot of verticality in the zones. Of course, it plays into the idea of a jumping cat and you can tell from the animations and general mannerisms that the development team spent a lot of time getting it right.
These secrets come in the form of several different collectibles. There are plenty of “souvenirs” you can unlock along the way that further flesh out the world at large. You can also collect badges, which are rewarded by completing side quests and progressing through the story. In a neat touch, they actually appear visibly on the side of your harness. There are also town-specific collectibles, ranging from sheet music notes in the slums to collecting plants in Antvillage.
Graphically, Stray is also fantastic. Whether it’s neon lights reflected off puddles on the ground or something simple like your feline crossing across rooftops, every part of this game is fantastic. There’s a mix of bright and dark colors, whenever the script calls for it, and you’ll want to explore the next area to see what else this game has in store for you.
Despite all of its positives (and there are many), Stray is not without its flaws. There are a few bugs here, including a game breaking issue around Chapter 6 that will force you to hard reset the chapter. There are also a few frame rate drops here and there too, and for some people they may be put off by the lack of challenge in this regard. Unless you’re aiming for the speed-run trophy of course!
We’ve been graced with wonderful indie games over the years, but Stray is definitely one of the most unique experiences. It takes the best parts of games like Limbo and Untitled Goose Game, then blends them together with a simple yet effective gameplay scheme. There’s a lot of love that has gone into creating this game and Stray deserves its applause. It’s a fantastic game and easily one of the best in 2022.