From the moment Stray was announced in the spring of 2020, everyone who’s even remotely fond of cats was eager to play it. Exclusive to PS5, PS4 Pro, and PS4 on console but also available for PC, Stray was developed by Blue Twelve and published by indie game specialists Annapurna. The game released on July 19, 2022, over two years after its announcement.
We’ve played Stray on PS5 and a powerful PC, and to be honest the PS5 version appears to perform better, with less texture updates and pop-in. The PS5 version runs at a native, non-upscaled 4K at a locked 60 frames per second. On PC you can get 120Hz, but we didn’t find that it made much of a difference. Additionally, on PS5 the DualSense controller adds a nice haptic feedback touch to gameplay. After all, if you play as a cat you might as well feel like one, too. At least as much as possible.
As the name suggests, Stray is the story of a ginger cat that gets separated from its siblings by accident. Controlled by the player, the cat finds itself in a strange underground city populated by robots with LCD screens for faces that show what each one of them feels. While many have described the city as cyberpunk, it really isn’t. It’s more post apocalyptic, but explaining in detail will spoil the story. Sure, some of the later stages appear more cyberpunk, but don’t expect police sirens and constant rain, this isn’t Blade Runner. Also important, this isn’t a cat simulator and Stray is not appropriate for children. The cute appearance is misleading, this is a pretty dark and oppressive game for most of the time.
Stray is quite linear and not open world. It’s primarily a puzzle and platforming game, with some exploration for collectibles like memories. The cat is accompanied by a cute little floating robot that helps the feline hero fight against enemies, and yes, the cat can die if you’re not careful.
Of course, it can be said the cat angle was a cheap trick to make Stray immediately cute and likeable, but Blue Twelve did such a good job with it that we don’t mind. Sure, features like a meow button and simply falling asleep in specific places are just ways to make everyone go “aww” and don’t really add to gameplay, but they do add to the atmosphere of Stray.
As for length, many people ask how many hours Stray takes to complete. It took us just over five hours, but we didn’t find every collectible and didn’t take long naps. If you’re eager to complete every aspect of Stray, it could take you over eight hours.
The many characters the cat meets along its adventure each have a story and an objective. Sometimes the cat needs to help them, and sometimes they just remain in the background. The bulk of gameplay here is jumping up and down and running around, as cats do. Our cat leaps onto cooling units, pipes, crates, windows, railings, and many other objects, as well as rides along in buckets and rolls around discarded barrels.
Since Stray takes place in an abandoned city that’s falling apart, there’s a lot of stuff to use in puzzles and quite a lot of room. The cat just needs to watch out for the nasty zurks, who are the main enemy in Stray. They look like the headcrabs from Half-Life and chase the cat around. If they catch it, they hold on and after a few seconds the cat dies if the player fails to shake the bad guys off.
The jump mechanism in Stray isn’t entirely user-controlled. You can’t just jump wherever you want. You need to point the cat in a certain direction, wait for the “X” or "A" prompt to appear, then press the corresponding button to jump. This is an important point and makes low latency and responsive controls very important, because that jump prompt disappears if the cat moves even just a little, forcing you to re-align. So whether you’re gaming on a 120” screen with a gaming projector or on a 24” gaming monitor, you need a display that’s as fast and responsive as possible.
The exploration also relates to the display you’re using. Memories are relatively easy to find as they appear as a bunch of floating blue digital cubes and it’s hard to miss them. But other items like notebooks and music sheets are relatively hidden and only have a very faint icon and shimmer going on. If you’re using a projector or monitor with poor contrast and brightness control, you may have a hard time locating these optional collectibles, and maybe even some main story objective items. Those can also be well hidden in the very textured world of Stray.
Come to think of it, even the basic platforming and exploration need good edge definition. A murky display may not show jump destinations very well, making gameplay less rewarding and more frustrating. Technologies like Light Tuner on BenQ MOBIUZ monitors work to ensure contrast, brightness, and color are well balanced so details don’t get crushed, washed out, or otherwise lost.
Maybe we didn’t make this clear enough, but Stray is one of the prettiest games we’ve played so far in the current generation, or since late 2020. Not in an over the top, boundary-pushing way, but in its elegance and fluidity. On PS5 we haven’t seen a single texture pop, flash, or flicker that we can remember. Draw distance isn’t far, but objects come into view super smoothly, with no pop in. Animations are superb, especially for the cat of course, but also for the many characters we meet along the way.
And while the Outdoors the cat comes from are lush and green, the city has a lot of dark areas contrasted by bright lights and the menacing red sections where the zurks live. Location interiors vary greatly, but we loved some of the places we visited, like Jacob’s bar and Momo’s apartment from early on in the game, as well as the many alleys of Midtown.
There’s a lot of color in Stray, as well as diversity of locations. You really should play it on a monitor or projector with wide color gamut, for example least 80% DCI-P3 or 99% sRGB (and sRGB is still the dominant color gamut for game development). A bland, basic display will suffice but you will not get the full experience and benefit of the hard work the art team invested in Stray.
As for sound, it’s a cat game so clearly there’s a lot of cute audio. Not just the meow that we mentioned, but rubbing against the legs of robots, and naturally scratching. Lots of scratching, from doors to carpets. In some situations, the cat must scratch stuff to get the attention of others and progress in the game. Most of the time it’s just for fun, though. Another important aspect of sound in Stray is the scary burbling of the zurks. It’s easy to miss, but if you listen closely, you’ll know the cat is about the enter one of the danger zones. The same applies to the sounds made by hostile machines later in the game. So, having good speakers in your gaming projector or monitor is definitely an advantage in case you’re not playing Stray with headphones. Plus, Stray has a very good ambient/trance/house soundtrack that could get lost in the background if you don’t have good speakers in your projector or monitor.
Displays with great sound are also handy for enjoying Stray with other people watching you play. Which is likely, cause although it doesn’t support any kind of multiplayer, Stray is definitely fun to enjoy with other people in the room with you. Except maybe fans of dogs!
We really recommend Stray and are delighted it finally came out after a relatively long wait. Also, we’d like to add our conjecture that Stray will arrive on Xbox consoles and Switch sometime in the next year. That’s just our opinion, nothing confirmed. In any case, as many people as possible deserve to enjoy this gem if they want to!
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