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Stray

·4 mins

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Stray is one of the most interesting games I’ve played in a long time. In it, you are a cat who must escape a mysterious cyberpunk city in order to reunite with your cat friends.

Starting off with graphics and level design, the game is visually stunning. As someone who really likes the cyberpunk look, I loved exploring this game’s world. The lighting is beautiful and the amount of detail is insane. Every building you enter is full of character in a way that I haven’t experienced since Half Life Alyx. I actually spent a fair amount of time just poking around environments, something that I don’t really do outside of VR games (Valve has talked about how much players explore in VR a lot and its really interesting). The world is littered with NPC robots that you can talk (listen?) to, which really adds to the fantastic world building in this game. Walking through the world at a cat’s perspective is really interesting, and the game takes advantage of this a lot in the gameplay. Performance wise, I didn’t really drop below 60fps on 1440p max, unless I was in particular bits of the game where you can look down at the whole “level”. I’ve heard that some people have had issues with shader compilation jitter, although I didn’t experience that (I played on Linux though, so maybe I was using a shared shader cache).

The gameplay can be described as an adventure game with puzzle elements. Most of your time in this game will be exploring environments and piecing together the story (which I won’t go into because I don’t want to spoil anything). The puzzles in this game are nice and simple, which is why I don’t consider this a puzzle game. Some of the puzzles lean a lot into the world building of the game, as you need to interact with the NPCs to get a certain item in a way that really immerses you in the game’s world. There are occasional combat sections, which help to spice up gameplay and emphasise the stakes of what you’re doing in the story. The game is linear, with segmented open bits that you move through as the story progresses. Progression is very natural - if the game was longer I could totally see them putting in some stupid progression tree with upgrade points that you find by poking about every corner. Instead, poking in corners lets you unlock optional memories that expand on the lore of the game.

What I really want to talk about in this review is how the game fits in to the current gaming landscape as a whole. Nowadays, games are made by committees looking to get the broadest appeal possible, usually in a way that guarantees a stable cashflow over time. Games are churned out based on market demands and it’s really turned me off gaming recently, there just haven’t been any good games. Ubisoft are a perfect example of this - their games were at least decent while they weren’t just new releases in stale series for the sake of it (not to mention the gross monetisation strategies in their more recent entries), and this is only thinking about singleplayer. Multiplayer games are, respectfully, awful now. You used to buy a game and you had the game, now everything has to be this constantly changing thing for the sake of selling you a season pass (or a battle pass if you’re copying Fortnite’s scarily powerful monetisation/engagement strategy). Rainbow Six Siege is the worst example of this in my opinion - every time I go to play it, it’s been changed in weird ways that I can’t be bothered to adapt to. The Siege that I played back in year 11 with the boys just isn’t there anymore. Back to Stray though, it’s a game that does its thing and then finishes. It doesn’t try to set up a massive decade-spanning series or universe, it doesn’t cut out content to sell to us later, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Stray was a vision by someone that was fully fulfilled without having to work around some business team drawing out what they think is the most profitable. Even at £20, a lot of you complain that it isn’t worth the price, but if they instead made some multiplayer thing with a whole store of cat skins you’d be throwing hundreds into it. Stray is what I want gaming to be - interesting creative works that don’t transform into a shadow of their former self (Overwatch did this while somehow not transforming at all). I want more complete experiences instead of some miserable grindfest that I’m expected to throw 1000s of hours at. Games should be designed by game designers, not psychologists that specialise in gambling behaviour.

Anyway, Stray is a great game. Will I replay it? Probably not. Will it become my most played game on Steam? Definitely not. Was it the most memorable and refreshing game I’ve played in way too long? 100% yes.