Earlier this year, a game called Stray was released which allowed players to play as a cat exploring a post-apocalyptic Earth. Admittedly the trailers for the game never quite grabbed me prior to its release and so I let the title pass me by.
Stray was initially released in July of 2022, which was a fairly dry period for game releases. Therefore, I presumed that the reason for the immense praise being lapsed onto the game online was down to the lack of any other significant titles being released around that same time. Fast forward to the end of 2022 and Stray is nominated for Game Of The Year and so I figured it was time to check this thing out.
After playing through Stray in a single sitting, the major takeaway I was left with was this; the fact that you play as a cat throughout the duration of Stray is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Initially, though, it is undoubtedly a strength.
During the first hour of Stray, players will revel in the cuteness of the game and its protagonist. There is an indisputable novelty to the originality of the choice to build an entire game around the idea of playing as a feline with no opposable thumbs. The issue is that once this initial novelty wears off, what is left is a pretty lacklustre, four-hour walking simulator.
The problem is that the game commits so hard to the idea of playing as a cat that it suffers in other areas. An example of this is when the player has to communicate with the androids roaming the cities in place of the extinct humans. Obviously, the cat can’t talk back to the robots, so a small droid companion is brought into the fold who serves as your translator.
Stray then attempts to build a sort of emotional rapport between the cat and the droid, as the robot, “remembers,” its past. The issue with this is that it is a cat, so it can’t exactly reciprocate or indeed understand the complexity of the existential emotions that the droid is feeling. Thus, a disconnect is felt by the player as they witness this play out.
Another example is when the player comes across a busking robot who asks the cat to find sheet music for him to play. Collecting these scattered pieces of music is ultimately a benign task given that the player’s only reward is to hear the busker play the distorted tunes.
There is no upgrade system, so no new abilities are unlocked for carrying out this sort of busywork and so they ultimately feel like pointless exercises. There are many tasks asked of the player throughout the game which yield similarly hollow victories and they amalgamate to give Stray a feeling of banality.
I feel that I am being overly harsh on Stray, but I just cannot wrap my head around the fact that this trite, glorified walking simulator has received a Game of the Year nomination. It leads one to ponder whether bestowing that type of honour on a game like Stray says more about the gaming industry as a whole in 2022 than it does about the game itself.
Ultimately, if the cat gimmick is ripped out of Stray, what is left is pretty unremarkable. It is not a bad game, but it is a game with mediocre graphics, unengaging gameplay, middling animations and a forgettable, generic plot. Again, my experience playing Stray was not an egregiously negative one, but it certainly isn’t one of the greatest games that I have played this year.
Stray was reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by fortyseven communications.