Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Other Releases: Neon white, A memoir Blue
Initial release date: 19 July 2022
Genre: Adventure Game, Platformer
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
Stray is the new indie by BlueTwelve Studio. It is a gorgeous game, staring an adorable cat going through an intense and heartbreaking story. I will try my best not to spoil the story but be aware there may be some story hints.
On first impression of this game, it is downright adorable; you are a cat with all the cuteness, agility, and courage of a cat. I want to take a moment to say press O and your cat will meow. There are times this even has an environmental effect for Easter eggs, which is downright classy.
I want to talk about the mechanics; they are very intuitive. The tutorial is very simple and unobtrusive, and realistically if you gave me two minutes with the controller, I would have guessed most of the controls anyway. The game does recommend using a controller, but it is in fact set up that it can be played with a keyboard, as I made the mistake of doing it after a break and then realizing... wait why I am using the keyboard?
Many of you won't, but I in fact completed this in one sitting live, even going so far as to get all collectibles. This shows me that the game is not as short as some people believe. It took me about 9 hours to do everything on a first playthrough with two backtracks. So I would say it is at least eight hours of gameplay, without all achievements. Yes, I am aware that the current world record is 1:14, but speed runners are built differently.
All I will tell you about the story of Stray is, that it is set in a dystopian future where humans have died out, and this is a journey of a cat trying to get home. This story beginning alone does everything it needs to tug on your heartstrings. My initial reaction was I will protect this cat with my life and that I certainly would have done.
As a cat owner, I may have a very small bias towards Stray due to the protagonist, but I do not believe that is the only reason that Stray is phenomenal. I don't use this word lightly; from the character development to backdrop design, to the story itself, Stray achieves everything it wants to and more.
On the flip side, this game is not perfect, some criticize it saying if it didn't star a cat that, it would be another basic platformer, but I don't agree with this. I think if you change the protagonist, it's a wholly different game as so many of the mechanics and the story progression are possible due to the cat skills you possess.
The biggest criticism I do have is in two of the areas. This being the Slums and Midtown. I feel like some directional system in these two areas would have made a huge difference. I spent at least an hour lost looking for the way to Momo's and walking around in circles. The developer has said they intended there to be no need for maps, but I feel in these areas there should have been some better directional markers.
I don't in any way think this lack of direction makes Stray a bad game, however, it is simply some refinement I think the game could use to make it better as at one point the meow button almost wasn't enough to keep me engaged whilst wandering through the Slums.
A secondary issue is the lack of clear division between areas; as a linear game with no option to return upon leaving certain areas, I feel a pop-up between changing areas would help prevent missing side quests and collectibles. I had to return to both Antville and Midtown due to not realizing that I could no longer return to the previous area.
Stray does somewhat account for this with the chapter select, but it can be quite frustrating to redo an entire area for a single collectible. I feel that a simple acknowledgment you can't return would save this problem; however, I do acknowledge this may cause slight spoilers in Midtown if it were to tell you. I guess this is a disadvantage within a linear game.
Going onto the price, at £23.99/$29.99 Stray is creeping into the higher price of an indie game but still much lower than a usual PS4 game. I, however, don't think the price is too high; even as someone who is used to indie games being around $10-15 this game offers so much in graphics and storytelling that I would happily pay that price, especially as I will likely play it again.
Now on the rating I know many would give this a 10, I certainly give it cat/10. However from a pure gameplay standpoint, I give it a 9/10, worthy of Game of the Year Awards, but there are some areas for improvement. The one thing I think we can all agree on is Stray has the cutest protagonist of 2022.