Stray Review

Matt Lorrigan

Cats are funny little creatures. Each one has its own unique personality, but there are some defining feline features that are frequently associated with cats as a whole, all easily condensed into one word - ‘catlike’. Stray is very much a game built around playing as a cat, and it’s within the opening minutes that this term first pops into my head. Controlling the unnamed titular stray, you move swiftly up, down, and across ledges with ease and agility, requiring only a quick press of the X button. Catlike. But as you move towards the edge of a high platform, or into a pool of water, your feline avatar will simply stop moving. That fall would mean certain death, and the water would surely be a miserable experience. And you can continue pushing the analogue stick in that direction as much as you’d like, but the short-haired ginger tabby you’re controlling won’t budge. They will stubbornly remain unmoving, perhaps even sit down with indifference and lick themselves, despite your instructions. Catlike.

Stray's use of lighting and colour is wonderfully atmospheric.

The very core of Stray’s gameplay is purpose-built for immersing the player into the roleplay of being a cat. On the PlayStation controller, the ever-important circle is reserved entirely for a single use - meowing. Outside of some select situations, this serves no gameplay purpose, but it’s always there, just a flick of the thumb away. Likewise, you can find cosy little areas around the world, where a simple press of the triangle button allows you to curl up and fall asleep. On PS5, the DualSense purrs away, through an ingenious use of the haptics and speaker. There’s a trophy for catnapping for an hour. In real time.

If Stray was simply “the cat game”, full of napping and meowing and nuzzling up against strangers, I’d wager it would still end up popular with a particular breed of cat fancier. But luckily, there’s a rather well crafted game beneath the viral potential of its creature comforts. Rather than one single open world, Stray consists of several chapters, with a few dense open areas, broken up into more linear sections. The open sections are where Stray really shines. In these areas, you’ll explore to find missing memories, help out NPCs with various problems, and find hidden collectibles.

These small open world sections feel gigantic when you first enter them, playing as a foot-high feline. Even more so when you take their verticality into account. You’ll climb up to rooftops, trot along high ledges, squeeze through small entryways or windows, and frequently find yourself turned around. But the most impressive thing is that after a few hours spent exploring each one, these worlds shrink in size - not in a physical sense, but in your mind. You enter these areas as a lost cat in a new territory, attempting to find your furry feet, but by the time you leave, you know them. You know the shortcuts, the alleyways, the rooftops, and the people. These streets are yours, and you can strut around them like you own the place. Catlike.

It’s impressive how well this urban exploration carries Stray’s gameplay over the course of eight-or-so hours. The platforming is simple (with a small icon indicating which areas you can jump to) but effective, and each location is designed with optimum routes through, making traversing new areas a puzzle in and of itself. The actual puzzles that do exist are never overly exerting, but it all combines to create an easygoing flow of moment-to-moment gameplay that never gets dull. The many characters you meet are a joy to talk to, giving you more details about the world and what happened to it, and despite there being no tangible rewards (outside of aesthetic badges to pin onto your cat-backpack) you’ll want to help them with their issues regardless.

Beyond the open world, you’ll enter more linear sections of the game where exploration is less emphasised. Here, you’ll tend to find the focus is on puzzles, platforming, and, occasionally, some conflict. There’s no traditional combat in Stray, but there are enemies to watch out for in the form of the Zurk, mutated bacteria that look like horrible one-eyed insects. These creatures will eat through anything in the game, and you’ll need to use your speed and agility to outrun (or outclimb) them, and solve puzzles to lock them behind fences so you can progress. These sequences offer a nice change of pace, and when combined with the more open areas, Stray can sometimes have the feel of a really good Xbox or PS2 game.

The journey through Stray is one of a cat, and their drone bestie, but the story the game tells is focused upon the cyberpunk city itself. There are no humans here; instead, the city is populated by humanoid robots, who have formed their own language and society. You’ll speak to them through B12, a drone containing an AI consciousness who serves as your guide throughout the world - it’s the Navi to Stray’s own mute protagonist, clad in tabby orange rather than Link green. 

And you’ll soon discover that the city you’re in is completely contained. No light peeks through the dark roof above everyone’s head - this world is a perpetual night, locked off from the outside. The game is both a pandemic story and a capitalism story. The lowest members of society are stuck in the slums, sealed off from the affluent areas above them to keep the Zurk plague at bay. Even above, in Midtown, where things seem better on the surface, a violent police state shuts down any dissenting voices. But, rich or poor, they’re all trapped within the walls of the city, within the system that controls them. They’re all still in the dark.

Occasionally you'll have to sprint away from the gruesome Zurk.

Luckily, this darkness allows developer BlueTwelve Studio to fill each area with neon signage and fluorescent lights. Somehow, despite its relatively small team and budget, Stray manages to be one of the best looking games available on PlayStation 5 right now. The lighting is wonderful, with neon blues, yellows, and greens reflecting in puddles of water, and the animation is excellent, with particular attention paid to how our nameless moggie moves. The stretching of the back when waking up from a nap, the confident trot across a drainpipe, and even an idle animation that has them pawing at an irritating fly buzzing around their head - it’s all presented with aplomb.

Stray is a hard game to review, because on the surface, it can seem a touch shallow. One trophy requires you to beat the game in under two hours, and on a second playthrough, once you know where to go, and how to get there, you’ll have no issue unlocking it, even if a first playthrough takes four or five times as long. But there’s a depth to the game that’s hard to quantify - an excellent balance of difficulty which means you’re always planning, thinking one step ahead, with your mind never idle. Stray successfully combines its themes and its gameplay with a nimble ease, rarely misstepping, and presents it all with a cool, almost stubborn confidence. Catlike.


Stray is a wonderfully crafted game. It not only manages to successfully immerse you in the role of an adorable cat, where exploration is key, but it also tells an engaging science-fiction story along the way.

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You’re unlikely to start humming any tunes from Stray, but its ambient audio is very good, and nicely sets the tone for each area you’re in. Also, there’s a meow button, and when you press it, you hear the cat meowing through the controller speaker, which is excellent.


It might lack the raw heft of a Sony first-party title, but Stray is frequently one of the most gorgeous games on PS5. Its art direction finds a nice middle ground between realistic and fantastical, and the use of colour and lighting throughout, is excellent.


Stray’s gameplay is deceptively simple, but the mix of open areas and linear sequences keeps things moving along at a great pace, and every platforming section becomes its own little puzzle.


A first playthrough of Stray will likely clock in at around 8 hours or more, especially if you attempt to grab all of the collectibles. Once you’ve found everything, there’s not much more to do, but it’s the perfect length for a game like this. There’s an attention to detail throughout Stray that really makes it stand out.


Stray has a really nice trophy list that’s a joy to complete, with some tough challenges combined with fun tasks. A chapter select system means no trophy is missable and you can easily return to earlier stages, and while it does require a second playthrough to get the platinum, it’s more enjoyable than you might expect.

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