When Blue Twelve Studio and Annapurna Interactive revealed Stray at PlayStation’s Future of Gaming event in 2020, cat fans and adventure gamers drew an eager eye to the dark alley dystopian romp. Two years and plenty of gameplay teases later; Stray is out and ready for players to discover what it’s like to become a feline hero in a world where cat is king. (Stray is available now on PS4, PS5 and PC.)

On the surface, Stray is a futuristic adventure game in a dark and grimy world, with some platforming and (zapping?!) mixed in. What lies underneath tells a much more sombre story of a city of robot denizens content in their place in their closed-off city, safe from the outside world that destroyed their human creators. Our cat protagonist is from this feared world and happens to stumble into the city while on a routine trip with its feline friends. This separation from the pack paints the objective ahead: “Get out of this mysterious city and back to whatever home we can conjure in our imagination.”

Anyone who has seen Stray will tell you that it’s a beautiful game. From its vertical cities draped in neon and its robot monitor faces expressing their emotion to its care for its cat hero and how it behaves. The city truly feels lived in, and there seems to be something interesting around every corner. This attention to detail creates an immersive experience that cries out for exploration and intrigue. It couples this with an ambient and urban soundtrack that can be both relaxing and heart-pumping. There is also a dedicated meow button that provides a variety of heartwarming meows. It just doesn’t get any better for cat lovers.

Stray’s story comes through the interactions with the robots of City 99 and the eyes of one determined cat. You can speak to the robots through the translation of your very own robot buddy, B-12, which you find attached to a not-so-lucky citizen. This sets the pace for interacting with the robots, learning about the city and most importantly, finding a group called The Outsiders, who want to escape the city as much as you do. Much more is learned about the story through a clever display of graffiti, items left behind by humans, and areas where B-12 can access memories that function as collectibles strewn about the world. The sincere interactions between cat and robot create a pure and meaningful journey towards the outside with emotions that run high and low as the story unfolds.

The gameplay in Stray is straightforward. The city’s verticality presents plenty of platforming opportunities, where a visual cue of the “jump” button will easily vault our cat up onto a rail, air conditioner or other building fixtures. Almost everything is traversable, but what it does is set you on a fairly linear path through its areas. The care and attention paid to this maneuverability really shine in the way a cat behaves, something that Stray prioritizes.

Most of the quests are our typical fetch quests. Go to said location to retrieve said item and bring it back to the quest giver. This isn’t all mundane, as there always seems to be an interesting importance to them, but more stealth segments like the ones presented later in the game would’ve felt more “cat-like.” There are also some light puzzle segments to test the power of the cat brain. They most likely won’t stump most players, but their thoughtful variation paces the game well. Once you’re sent to some grimy undergrounds, you’ll encounter enemies known as Zurks. Thankfully, a scientist will equip the cat with a high-frequency light beam that you can use to obliterate the opposition. It’s a fun and simple gameplay mechanic that quenches the thirst for combat between its fetches and puzzles.

Stray clocks in anywhere between 5 and 7 hours of gameplay, depending upon how much exploration is had. There isn’t much to do outside of the main story except for finding sheet music for a street musician to curl up next to and finding all of the memory locations to flesh out the story of a city forgotten.

Overall, Stray is a wonderfully thoughtful and fun adventure in a world where you get to be the furry hero. The mystery of the story unfolds in a way that creates intrigue and the need to get answers, escape and get back to the pack. It uses its mechanics well, although more stealthy cat segments and quest variety would’ve felt welcome. Its popularity and world-building will hopefully lead the folks at BlueTwelve to pounce on a sequel.

Gameplay: 7

Stray is immersive and easy to control, with plenty of love for controlling a cat, but the game relies mostly on fetch quests and linear platforming. More stealth-based cat gameplay and a wider range of variety in its quests would’ve been a welcome addition.

Visuals: 9

Beautiful post-apocalyptic cyberpunk city that not only feels lived in but feels draped in purpose and despair. The robot citizens and our cat protagonist all display heartfelt mannerisms and realism that immerse the player in what it feels like to control a feline.

Narrative: 8

Simple storytelling creates a world where humans are gone but still affects the story’s outcome. The bond between the cat and the robot citizens is pure and sincere, displaying a real need to work together to solve the mysteries of City 99.

Sound & Soundtrack: 9

Thoughtful meows and robot beeps and buzzes work well with the urban city soundtrack, from desolate ambient exploration soundscapes to high-octane chugging and progressive scores that partner well with Stray’s escape segments.

Value: 6

Stray offers 5-7 hours of story gameplay with light exploration and collectible hunting, with a bit more for achievement hunters. Although the story is told and our time is well spent, more time in City 99 would’ve been more than welcome.

Overall: 8

Birds & Swords Logo

Birds & Swords is your all-inclusive video game podcast out of Milwaukee, WI. Join us for insight and opinions around gaming, game reviews, and exclusive interviews. We love games, and we know you do, too, so let’s talk about it!

Follow Birds & Swords on YouTubeInstagram, TwitterTiktok, and Twitch.