Howdy hidey ho! Let’s face it: what catches pretty much anyone’s tongue about Stray is the idea of running around as a cute cat. And the game makes sure it’s clear you’re not a super-human cat, or a talking cat, or even a hyper-intelligent cat. You’re just a cat. In the future. A dystopian future. Doing what, you might ask?
…this might be as close as it gets to being a cat.
Oh you run around as a cat alright. But there’s something you need to know: this is more an interactive adventure than it is a platformer. Jumping is done purely by pressing a button: you don’t control the jump itself, just the lock-on. The good news is that exploration is quite… feline. Yup, right down to being a total and absolute dick. And therein lies a surprising charm: I watched, I followed, I annoyed, I knocked things off nearby ledges, and I couldn’t help but feel like this might be as close as it gets to being a cat. Granted, things can be a little unpolished from animations to ledge lock-ons to interactions (more on that later), but it all works and has an undeniable lightheartedness to it. The game does make sure to keep things fresh, too: I don’t want to spoil some of the things you encounter, but saying this cat ended up on quite an adventure is an understatement. Sure, I said this cat is JUST a cat, but it’s totally backed by your human intelligence. And on your quest to help (as in you, not the cat… come on, it’s just a cat obeying your commands like no cat EVER does), curiosity really does get the best of you. Fortunately, that doesn’t kill the cat or wear out its welcome through to the end.
…simply not met in the content arena.
I smelled the roses on the way to the credits around 4-5 hours later. Yea, it’s unfortunately just that short. I took time to help out some denizens and explore around, but sadly this did not quite extend the playtime by much. In addition, there’s zero-to-no replayability. Unless you’re hunting trophies, this is truly a one-and-done. At $30, it’s priced about $5 too high. You might think, “that’s just $5”, but this game pushes its price upwards into more “premium” expectations in its category that are simply not met in the content arena. It’s definitely hard to justify when you have a game like Kena: Bridge of Spirits at $10 more pushing upwards of double the playtime. In fact, it seems even Valve knew this as the game was sold at a 10% discount on Steam pre-orders. Point made.
…humans are stupid.
Of course, as modern gaming goes, some of the redemption in its price tag is here. I said “some”, not all, as this game could have really benefitted from ray tracing. The cat’s animations are not quite where they need to be: they’re somewhat stiff and robotic, and this translates into a somewhat cheapened feel. Per the gameplay section, the cat controls mostly fine, but the animations could use some polish. This includes what seems to be the running animation captured at 30 fps, so running in 60fps results in an unsmooth appearance. Fortunately, as many indie games do, the art style does its best to combine technology and style. This is done quite well: I don’t want to spoil it, but you do end up seeing some sights that you might not have ever anticipated. This all goes along with a simple story. This is the kind of story, however, that’s mostly presented through world lore as you grasp the nature of what’s going on around you. And as it somewhat does on purpose: humans are stupid. I’m pretty sure that’s what every cat thinks anyway, now it’s just a wholeass videogame telling you that!
…does me in with a silly and lighthearted take on a dark narrative.
And that last line answered the first question: what you do is prove how stupid humans are. Through the eyes of a cat, this charming adventure takes you through what can only be described as a fresh perspective. It’s not often I find myself charmed by videogames, especially with so many looking to bring realism to the table, but Stray does me in with a silly and lighthearted take on a dark narrative. Sure, the concept of running around and jumping aren’t new, and while it overall plays more like an interactive adventure than the platformer the trailers make it seem like, I was reminded through its world that humans are a dumb bunch. It’s just a pity the experience is marred by lower budget animation work despite its rather “premium” price tag, a price tag that also sees things come to an end in alarmingly short order.