The Purr-fect Indie Treat
Stray is a wonderful little game. It’s not a title that pushes the genre forward, nor is it a game that’s all about the microtransactions and making a quick buck. This is classic video-game territory; a title that just wants to tell a good story and allow players to switch off for a few hours. And as a result, Stray is easily one of the best games of the year.
Split across 12 chapters, Stray’s story is simple, and follows a stray cat that’s lost and separated from its family. As a result of its travels, this cat is thrust into an ancient mystery involving a long-forgotten walled city and its robot inhabitants. With a self-contained story and some memorable characters along the way, this is certainly not a game to be missed. And given the playing time is around 4-6 hours, it’s accessible even for those with a lot on their plates.
With help from a small flying drone, you’re thrust into the driving seat of a stray cat, exploring the city, solving puzzles and helping residents along the way, all the while trying to return to your family above-ground.
Each chapter has a pretty linear direction, combining platforming with puzzling to great effect. There’s a combination of safe code combinations, light physic-based puzzles and simple but effective fetch quests peppered throughout, breaking up any niggling feelings of monotony that may settle in. There’s nothing too strenuous here either, but there’s equally enough that requires you to think outside the box on more than one occasion.
Puzzling is just a small part of the game though, as platforming plays an equal role in this story. The controls are simple enough – press O to meow, X to jump, triangle to scratch at doors and objects – but the way these are integrated into the game is what makes this such a joy to play.
Playing as a feline is a unique experience unto itself, but of course that would all be superficial fluff if the level design wasn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, it is. 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 that have heard rumours of this great “Outside” but chalk it up to hearsay and rumours. They each have their own personalities and names, and some even have quests you can undertake for them. Not only that but several have meta references to different games too, including an infamous one from Skyrim!
Make no mistake though, this isn’t an open world title – this is still very much a linear game. Because of that level of control, the developers have really gone all out to make this a memorable experience, packing its areas with dense layers of exploration and aesthetically interesting details. While these aren’t as big as say an Assassins Creed title, this is much deeper in quality than Ubisoft’s smattering of uninspired areas.
There are a number of different secrets hiding in the crevasses too, rewarding you for exploration. There’s a good deal of thought put into traversing too, with a lot of verticality to areas. Of course, this plays into the idea of a cat jumping around and you can tell from the animations and general mannerisms that the development team have spent a long time getting this right.
Those secrets come in the form of several different collectibles. There are numerous “memories” you can unlock along the way, which flesh out more of the wider world. You can also grab Badges too, which are rewarded from completing side quests and progressing through the story. In a neat touch, they actually appear visibly on the side of your harness. There’s also city-specific collectibles too, ranging from music sheet notes in the slums to collecting plants in Antvillage.
Graphically, Stray looks fantastic too. Whether it be neon lights reflected off puddles on the ground or something simple like your feline traversing on the rooftops, every part of this game looks fantastic. There’s a mixture of vibrant and dingy colours, whenever the script calls for it, and you’ll find yourself itching to explore the next area to see what else this game has in store for you.
For all of its positives (and there are a lot), Stray is not without its faults. There are a few bugs in here, including one game breaking glitch around chapter 6 that will force you into a hard-reset of the chapter. There are also a couple of framerate drops here and there too, and for some people they may be put off from the lack of challenge in this. Unless you’re going for the speed-run trophy of course!
We’ve been graced with some wonderful Indie games over the years but Stray is certainly one of the more unique experiences out there. It takes the best parts of games like Limbo and Untitled Goose Game, and then blends them together with a simple but effective gameplay pattern. There’s a lot of love that’s gone into crafting this game and Stray deserves its plaudits. This is a fantastic game and easily one of the best in 2022.
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Verdict - 9/10