Review – Stray

The obsession with cats that seems to permeate the internet can be exhausting at times. Don’t get me wrong, I love cats and would personally have a cat in my home instead of a dog, simply because of what the animals are. Dogs are adoring creatures who need a huge amount of attention in order to live their best lives, and I’m already giving that to my wife, my kids and my game collection. Cats are warm bags of anger who intermittently decide who they are and are not annoyed by, and I can completely live with that.

But the memes have ruined cat exposure for me, to the point where something that’s cat centric is sometimes unnecessary. Between games like Cat Quest, The Purring Test, The Cat Lady, and the deeply concerning Neko Secret Room, there’s simply a never-ending supply of cat games out there. So for Annapurna Interactive to work with BlueTwelve Studio and put out Stray, a massive adventure/exploration game starring a cat was not that far fetched a concept, but the execution, frankly, was surprising.

Stray Cats

This could be us, but you won’t quit playin’ games.

Stray puts you in the fuzzy paws of a cat living somewhere in a post-apocalyptic future. After getting separated from your pack of additional strays, you end up meeting with a drone, B-12, who tasks the cat with helping it re-discover B-12’s purpose. The cat has no feelings one way or another about this, but is strapped into an adorable flack jacket and sort of feels like it has no choice as a result. Combining the natural agility and prowess of the cat with B-12’s technological assistance, our feline hero (heroine?) ends up moving forward into a deeply troubling storyline of human annihilation, AI sentience gone rogue, and a cat who ultimately just ended up doing this because, hey, it’s something for a Thursday.

Stray Sewers

Wow, they perfectly captured my dorm in college.

I’m still not exactly sure where to slot Stray, because it does feel like a game trying on many hats. I say “trying on” and not “wearing” because the hats come on and off so quickly as the game progresses. Sometimes it’s a slow, deliberate search. Sometimes it’s puzzle solving through inference and gentle hints from B-12. Sometimes it’s stealth action, with your cat avoiding being hurt by the Companions (the now dominant robotic life force) or hiding in a cardboard box, hoping to skate by undetected. And sometimes you drop all pretense and it’s just a cat simulation, as you watch the main character knead their claws into the rug, drink from a puddle, randomly meow, or just sort of jump and flop about, because why the hell not? The main focus is the cat, and if you don’t like cats, it might be hard to enjoy the game.


But why? Why won’t you love me?

I say this because Stray truly did a remarkable job of capturing the movements and attitude of cats within the game. Everything feels incredibly fluid and cat-like, from the way the slinking and walking animations change (I would even say “mincing” on occasion) to the different staccato of meows that seem to change depending on what the cat is “saying.” There are things that are very deliberate, like the purposeful nudge when a cat knocks something off a high spot, to the more nuanced things that a cat owner would recognize, like just dragging lawn furniture everywhere rather than taking a moment to dislodge it from their own body. As an experiment in catting, it’s wildly successful.

Knocking Over Books

Did I need to knock over every book? Of course not! But I did!

I played Stray on my computer, which is a middling gaming machine: I’ve never been a big proponent of expensive rigs, but my machine can get the job done. Having said that, Stray looks quite good, and I appreciated the vibrant world around the cat and B-12. This is a world that’s both haunting and beautiful, one where it’s equal parts nature and science conquering the landscape.

On the one hand, the areas where the Companions tread less are wild and lush, the result of the Earth re-capturing its own terrain from the invaders and letting it grow freely. On the other, the areas where the Companions dwell is little more than a typical dystopian reality. You’ve got cramped cityscapes with no light, dark alleys soaked in neon, and the occasional dramatic flourish that pops out in some apartments, libraries, and science labs. It looks decent on my computer with the settings almost at zero, so I imagine that it looks fantastic on a next-gen console or a battle station. My only complaint here is the camera: no matter the settings, it zips a bit too much and makes me nauseated when I turn too often.

Running Over Pipes

A classic high speed moment followed by me spiffing in a wastecan.

Additionally, Stray, as a game with many hats, can sometimes have pacing issues. There will be whole moments that feel like they take forever because the game doesn’t mind having you intuit how a puzzle is supposed to go, or wants you to really listen to what these robots are telling you (which a cat would probably just walk away from after a minute or so). Then there are times where things are suddenly breakneck and you’re positively screaming along, making split second decisions, and potentially getting caught/killed because your reflexes failed to choose the right route or you couldn’t shake off a Zurk (predatory bacteria) fast enough. These tonal shifts might have been okay in a longer game, but Stray is a pretty short experience overall, which can make the stay feel rushed.

Stray Dead City

I think we got that from the general vibe, but thank you.

In fact, that might be my biggest complaint about Stray, and I don’t know how to resolve it. On the one hand, I spent exactly as much time as I wanted in the shoes of a cat doing odd jobs for a flying Roomba, to remind everyone that humans are the most important thing ever. If the big deal is that I’m trying to save the memory of the human race, why the hell do I actually care, cat-wise?

I think this would have been far more exciting from the perspective of a game like Rain World, where I’m visualizing the entirety of this new reality without needing to tie it to the storyline that feels the most egocentric of them all. I’m a cat, who has a group of cats I want to find again, but I’m making sure no one forgets humanity first. How about we just focus on the fact that, as many believe, the planet is doing just fine without people? I’d prefer to see more of the city from the cat’s perspective and then, honestly, more of this now-feral planet. It’s exciting, and I’m busy being a TaskRabbit instead of exploring.

Stray Robot Workers

Just a normal parcel of protagonist, it’s all good Hal.

Stray is an excellent length for the story, overall, but it’s such a fascinating world that I wished I could have seen more. The visuals are good, and I know they could be better on a stronger machine. The controls are, well, they’re simply alright. I tried with a controller and a keyboard/mouse, and both had their ups and downs. The WASD gave me more control, but the controller was more intuitive, albeit more likely for me to over-pan when controlling the camera. The ambience of it all is lovely, and I would probably drop a couple of bucks just to have an isolated playground of that first area, where I can hop along as a cat and explore a bit and call it a day. Strap on a VR helmet and you’ve got a subset of humanity who knows exactly how to spend their Friday afternoons.

Stray Pipes

If I had just gone around, this whole game never would have happened.

But that’s all: it’s a good little game. I enjoyed it, but I highly doubt I’ll go back to it. My time with Stray didn’t change my life or make me rethink gaming or give me bold new insight into what it means to be alive. It was a game, and I appreciate that it exists, and that’s sort of it. If you can wait till you can play it on Game Pass or the like, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to wait. If you are unfathomably into cats and cyberpunk, then sure, pick this up. But as for me? I’ve had my Fancy Feast fill, and now I’m going to wander off into the tall grass. Just like I was taught.


Graphics: 7.0

Excellent design on the cat aesthetics and world building, a bit uninspired in the robotic category and pretty much what you’d expect from a forgotten, futuristic city. Nature is lovely, metropolitan is dank and it all works together.

Gameplay: 7.0

The good cat bits are exceptionally good, and there is a bit to the puzzle elements that keep the game engaging. The concept of the action sequences feel clunky, however, and the stealth bits are never as long as I’d like.

Sound: 8.0

Excellent soundscape overall. Beautiful worldbuilding through ambient noise and very low, quiet music to craft moments of wonder, tension, stress and discovery. One of the better cyberpunk soundtracks that isn’t explicitly cyberpunk.

Fun Factor: 6.5

When I was focused on being a cat and being in a cat world, it was novel. When I was trying to wrap my head around the storyline, I was a bit put off. And when I was finished with the tale, I was glad for the experience, but not overwhelmed. Good, not great.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Stray is available now on PS4, PS5, and PC.

Reviewed on PC.