Stray (PC) review: Everyone wants to be a cat

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The announcement of BlueTwelve Studio’s first release, Stray, has sparked hype fever around this exciting new cyberpunk-style cat simulator. The world, as glimpsed through carefully curated trailers and screenshots, was full of bright colors and just a bit of trash for flair. The townspeople were creative, human-like robots that dressed and behaved very much like their meatier counterparts.

The gameplay centered around a little orange tabby cat who served as the protagonist, doing everything that makes cats delicious, from parkour to removing flowerpots from ledges. It wasn’t until a few minutes into the game, when our feline fell from a rusty pipe into a dumpster below, separated from his loving family, that I found out that Stray might just be not the wholesome cat life simulator I may have been. anticipating.

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Shortly after coming to his senses after the fall, our little tabby friend finds himself in trouble as he is overrun by those meaty, hungry, engorged flea-like creatures we’ll come to know as “Zurks.” . The player must help the cat avoid the Zurks by running, meowing, and shaking off the filthy beasts before finally parking it safely. At this point, I realized no one told me this was going to be a horror game.

Stray: Presentation

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

While Sony was keen to make Stray a timed exclusive for PlayStation consoles, the game is also launching on PC simultaneously. For the purposes of this review, we played on a system consisting of a Ryzen 5800X with an RTX 3070 Ti and 32GB of RAM, well above its recommended specs. I was able to play the game at 1440p at maximum settings without any issues such as screen tearing or stuttering. It should be noted, however, that the frame rate is capped at 60 FPS on PC.

Despite the capped framerate, Stray manages to be a striking visual masterpiece. From the lush, green, overgrown world where we initially encounter our little family of cats, to the monstrous and gruesome depths the tabby eventually finds himself in, everything in the world feels intentionally designed and placed for maximum effect. Simple artifacts like bottles and jars on a windowsill allow you to live out your ultimate cat fantasy of knocking over destructible objects. At the same time, the air conditioning units and neatly aligned roof rails provide ample opportunity for rig adventures.

Category Wander
Developer BlueTwelve Studio
Editor Annapurna Interactive
Gender action-adventure
Minimum requirements Windows 10, Intel Core i5-2300 | AMD FX-6350, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti, 2GB | AMD Radeon R7 360, 2GB
Game size 6.46 GB
Break 6.5 hours
Players 1
Platforms PC, PS4, PS5
Introductory price $30

On PC, Stray offers full controller support – going so far as to recommend that it plays best with a gamepad – and even includes corresponding on-screen button inputs when using a controller. Xbox. For those using a DualSense controller with their PC, Stray also uses haptic feedback. There are a handful of accessibility options, including a motion blur slider and options to add or remove crosshairs, HUD, and other prompts.

Unfortunately, there are no options for closed captioning. There’s no voice acting, and given that Stray’s dialogue happens through text boxes, subtitles might seem unnecessary. However, the lack of closed captioning can make it difficult for hearing-impaired players to tell if the cat has meowed (a sometimes vital measure) or can cause them to miss audio cues for events such as doors or windows closing. temporarily open. .

Stray: History

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Stray’s story seems quite simple at first glance. However, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the little kitty’s adventure than just their hopeful family reunion, as flashing screens begin to provide last-minute cues on where the cat needs to go to get away. protect from his enemies. The screens are under the control of a being known as B-12, a mysterious AI who takes the form of a companion drone and accompanies the cat on his adventure. As players uncover the events that led to B-12 taking their place in the companion drone, they also begin to uncover the story of what happened to humans and how sentient AI remains.

The narrative leans heavily on discovery and uncovering details through exploration, with B-12’s memories accessible through an in-game menu when unlocked. However, many of the story beats related to the additional AI characters we encounter are tucked away as hidden collectibles that can easily be missed when playing blindfolded. Overall, the story doesn’t overstay its welcome with its estimated 8-hour runtime, but there’s just enough detail that I’ve left with more questions than answers.

Stray: gameplay

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

We see some of our protagonist’s best feline behaviors during the small moments, where Stray’s gameplay shines the most. Early on, we see the B-12 companion drone give the stray a harness and, cat-like, the tabby crouches in an unsatisfied position and then rolls onto its side, expressing its displeasure for the new accessory. Moments like this keep cropping up throughout the game to remind us that while the player may be aware of unfolding events, the real protagonist is simply a cat with feline quirks and needs. The paint cans can be thrown playfully over the ledges and walking through the paint leaves behind a small trace of paw prints. Stacks of books are ready to be knocked over by jumping from one to another, carpets and sofas are just waiting to be clawed at, and the right nap spot is just waiting for you to find it.

Obstacles presented to a cat must also be overcome like a cat, leading to clever puzzle design. While many games may want players to think outside the box to overcome a puzzle, Stray often wants you to just walk into the box like a dang cat would. Need to destroy the cabling of a computer system? That’s what cat claws are made for. Need to break into a hat store and steal a helmet? There’s a box for that. That’s not to say there aren’t more complex puzzles, especially in later levels when stealth comes into play, and a few chase sequences also add some much-needed tension to the gameplay.

Stray: Should we play?

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

With titles like What Remains of Edith Finch and 12 Minutes under their belts, my expectations for a narrative game published by Annapurna Interactive, even from a new studio, were relatively high. They are known for publishing games with thoughtful and engaging stories. However, when a cat is a main protagonist, you need to temper your gameplay expectations somewhat. I think, surprisingly, maybe I expected too little from Stray. I expected to launch this game, knock a few items off the shelves in this cute cyberpunk-inspired town, and little else.

Instead, I was greeted by this incredibly rich world where sentient AI behaves suspiciously like the humans who created them. I fell in love with characters like Grandma, who happily knits ponchos with electric cables. I laughed every time an inattentive robot tripped over the cat that just wanted someone to pet it even though it was my fault. I even became frustrated when I discovered the reasoning behind the structures that made up the Companion villages. I was a little more invested in this world with each new revelation. And here, I just thought I was going to play like a cat.

Stray, BlueTwelve Studio's debut album.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

That’s not to say the experience is flawless. I had an issue where I was forced to restart a checkpoint because a character got stuck during a puzzle, and another where the cat fell through some geometry and got stuck behind an air conditioning unit. However, Stray’s checkpoint system is frequent enough that there are only minor setbacks.

Although I was told to expect an 8 hour read with 10 hours to complete, I was able to complete Stray, even with the issues that required checkpoint reloads, to 100% in just under 6 hours and 45 minutes. Even though I felt I had more questions left than answers, that feeling was more of a testament to how much I wanted to spend more time in this amazing world so I could learn more about its secrets and stories.

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