So, a little background on me to showcase my credentials and prove I am the ideal candidate to for this Stray PS5 review. I have five little kitties roaming around the room as we speak. Bear, Winnie, Pudge, Tina, and Mavis, if you were wondering. Each of them has their own personality and weird little quirks, and I know them all like the back of my hand. I don’t think there is a cat-related scenario that could surprise me at this stage, and with this real-world feline expertise, I thought I would try my hand at Blue Twelve’s first-ever game, Stray.
Serving as the new PS Plus setup’s first ever day one launch console exclusive, Stray sees the player take control of a cat that has lost its way and has fallen into a dystopian city where humans are long since extinct and the intelligent AI that has been left behind and trapped below the surface.
A surreal cyberpunk adventure through the lens of a cat, what’s not to love? Your goal is simple, you need to get back to the outside by any means possible, but believe me when I say it’s much easier said than done.
I’ll level with you; I thought I knew what I was getting when I went into this indie game. A cute and quirky platformer with lots of cat-related humor and silliness, but one that lacks any sort of substance. Well, I hold my hands up and say I was wrong.
Stray is a game that starts slow and builds progressively to offer a gripping narrative, an incredibly well-realized setting, varied gameplay, and a visual display that would rival even the most prominent of AAA developers. However, I would wager much like a cat, your curiosity is getting the better of you, and you must know more. Well, we won’t leave you hanging.
So join us in this as we unpack what is one of the hottest properties in the world of gaming. Oh, and naturally, there will be a lot of cat puns; you have been warned. This is Indie Game Culture’s Stray PS5 Review. Enjoy!
Let’s dive into this one and talk about the visual offerings on display. Stray is visually one of the most striking games that we have seen throughout the ninth generation of gaming so far. It’s a bold statement, but I stand by it. Looking at the visuals holistically, the game is crafted meticulously, with no stone left unturned when it comes to creating a realistic setting.
The art style reminded me of cyberpunk titles like The Ascent and Ghostrunner in a lot of ways, with the sea of neon, and the red hue that dominates most of the areas you nimbly stroll through.
The textures, for the most part, are jaw-droppingly polished, and this is only further highlighted by the observe function, where players can zoom their camera for a better look at assets within the world.
Whether it’s the grime on the streets, the rust on an Android companion, or the rippling puddles on the ground, you can rest assured that they look incredible.
Now, to slip on my harsh critic hat for just a moment, that comment does not apply across the board, as some textures do lack polish in areas. However, they are consistent enough that when you do see a jarring texture here and there, it doesn’t suck you out of the experience. However, there were some screen tears and harsh frame drops, especially towards the end of the game where the action on screen was much busier.
This wasn’t ideal but again, it was sporadic enough that it could be overlooked. Then to hone in on the setting, in particular, this dystopian world that Blue-Twelve was created is captivating.
Whether it’s the narrow, neon-drenched streets of The Slums, the dark and sinister Sewers, or the surreal and short-lived paradise that is Antivillage, the environment always feels fresh and new, meaning that players can’t help but stop to smell the roses and have a little cat-nap here and there.
A Paw-erful Narrative
This was the area of this game that I was almost certain would fall flat, but to my surprise, it’s arguably the aspect of this game that is the most compelling. It’s certainly the reason why I played this game to completion in a single sitting. The narrative for the first portion of the game is very straightforward and told through visual cues.
You have fallen into a forgotten city and need to find your way out. It’s only when you find your droid companion B-12 that the game’s narrative opens up. This allows the player to communicate with the AI inhabitants of this world, and in a game where dialogue could have felt very unnatural and killed the flow, it actually adds value and helps keep the player engaged.
The introduction of a group called the outsiders gives the player access to open areas full of NPCs and quirky characters, and a much more altruistic and grand goal of freeing the robots from their underground prison. Not to mention the subplot of B-12’s origin.
The story has the ability to ramp up over time, where it might have run out of steam otherwise. The pacing is superb throughout as your little kitty battles to undo the mistakes of the humans, and some moments evoke quite a lot of felines.
Felines, feelings, oh, you get it. In short, Stray’s story is a surprise package that keeps delivering from start to end without ever overstaying its welcome.
A Meow-sical Masterclass
Let’s talk about the score for this game because it’s another surprise package that marries together with impressive visuals to create an immersive experience. The overall soundtrack is atmospheric and knows when to go hard and when to pull back. If you are on the run from a horde of Zurks, the soundtrack swells to create a tense and stressful backing track for a wild chase scene.
Then on the flip side, if you are exploring a new area and you happen upon a secret area, you will be met by a charming piano melody or a culmination of strings that signals that you have happened upon something of significance and that you should do some exploring.
However, the game doesn’t stop there as the player will also be able to find collectible sheet music, which can then be brought to Morusque, who will then play a selection of guitar melodies, and if you are anything like me, you’ll rest in the bed beside him and take a load off while he serenades you.
Then add in some subtle details like the haptic feedback from the Dualsense controller where you can hear yourself purring, for example, and you have an auditory assortment that really adds to the experience.
Very Cat-isfying Gameplay
Now, let’s get into the gameplay on offer for this title. This is where I thought this game would shine brightest, but instead of the story being a vehicle for killer gameplay, it’s very much the other way around. Firstly, let’s focus on the platforming.
This initially feels very satisfying, as, in the early stages of the game, you are doing a lot of linear platforming as the game teaches you its core mechanics. However, when the game gets into full swing and the player is tasked with exploring more open environments and indoor spaces, this becomes a little less fun to work with.
The camera can be troublesome at times, leading to wrong inputs for leaps, or situations where you lose sight of your purring protagonist, and the platforming aspect of the game really runs out of ideas fast, leading to sections that feel no more complex than the opening section of the game. The platforming is essentially a means to an end, but it feels like a missed opportunity in my eyes.
Then looking at the puzzles, I think Stray succeeds in offering brain teasers that offer a reasonable challenge without being overly complex or frustrating. Thanks to the assistance provided by B-12, environmental clues, exposition from NPCs, and clever puzzle design, the player always has a way to crack the code through natural play. I would be quite surprised if many players needed to consult a guide at any point throughout this game, and that indicates great game design.
Then lastly, with regards to gameplay, it’s also worth mentioning the stealth and combat sections. I thought these were handled very well. The stealth sections reminded me of Deliver Us The Moon due to the similarity of the Sentinel enemies, but in Stray, there were various methods to achieve success through platforming, hiding in boxes, and most importantly, when it all went wrong, there was some room for error.
Then when combat was introduced through the use of the Defluxor, this was also handled brilliantly. The player was given the tools to defeat the Zurks, but to keep things feeling challenging, the developer created an area where frivolous use of this mechanic would burst Egg Sacs of Zurks and see the player overwhelmed by enemies.
The attention to detail is clear to see throughout all aspects of the gameplay, and while some parts come together much more fluidly than others. As a collective, they combine to create a very fun, satisfying game.
The Occasional Furball
I have a lot of love for this game; that much should be clear by now. However, there are some things that stopped this title from being a world-beater. Firstly, as an owner of a quintuplet of cats, I know their mannerisms pretty well, and there were some jarring moments where the cat on the screen moved in a certain way or did something that made me internally say ‘A cat would never do that.’ It’s perhaps nit-picking, but as a cat-lover, it was something that took me out of the experience for a moment.
Then to add to this, I felt that this game doesn’t reward players for their efforts. I am someone that will take the time to explore every back alley, climb every possible platform and enter every accessible room, and in Stray, there are a lot of areas that either doesn’t serve a purpose or feel like set-dressing.
This is also true with the side-quests too. Players will be rewarded with a little badge for their coat, but when compared to games that will grant players new skills, abilities, or buffs, for example, it’s a little underwhelming.
Then lastly, navigating the more open areas like Midtown or The Slums can be really difficult at times. These areas, while visually stunning, aren’t particularly distinct, and one street can blend into the next.
Then when you combine this with the omission of a HUD or quest markers and you have portions of this game where you will be wandering aimlessly. Don’t panic; you won’t be getting lost for hours on end, but it can be a drag at times.
Check out the following guide to learn more about the Midtown in Stray.
Pros and cons
- A riveting storyline
- Visually striking with a captivating cyberpunk setting
- Fun puzzles, stealth, and combat sections
- Cool extras and side quests to engage with
- Dualsense features add extra layers of immersion
- Movement, platforming, and camera angles can be troublesome at times
- Larger areas can be daunting to explore due to no quest markers
- Exploration isn’t as rewarding as it could be
- Occasional frame drops and screen tears
If you are looking for another animal-based adventure, a fun puzzle game, or something that has the same level of fun and whimsy that Stray offers, you might want to try out some of these games listed below:
- Untitled Goose Game
- Endling: Extinction is Forever
- Spirit of the North
- I Am Fish
Question: Is Stray a Playstation Exclusive?
Answer: If we are talking consoles in the traditional sense, then yes, Stray is only available on PS4/5 and cannot be played on Xbox or Nintendo consoles. However, if you are a PC gamer, you will be happy to know that Stray is available via Steam.
Question: Does The Cat in Stray Have a Name?
Answer: Not that I could decipher from my time with this game. After all, he is a stray in a world with no humans, so who would name them. However, throughout the game, you are often referred to as ‘little outsider,’ so I think we will go with that.
Question: Is Stray Free to Play on Playstation?
Answer: No, Stray is not free, but if you are a gamer that has signed up for Playstation Plus Extra, you will have access to the PS Plus game catalog, and Stray just so happens to be available on this platform from launch. It is not clear how long this game will remain on the service, so if you have access to this service, we would suggest you dive into this feline adventure ASAP.
Overall, Stray is a triumph. There have been many games in recent memory that have cashed in on the cuteness of their concept, and marketed their product much better than they have developed their respective games. However, Stray bucks that trend and offers a game that does offer silliness and cuteness in abundance, but importantly, the game also offers value in the form of a killer story, an amazing world to explore, creative, albeit straightforward puzzles, sublime visuals, and perfect pacing throughout your time with this cat-tastic title.
It’s not flawless by any means. There are issues with platforming and the camera at times; exploration isn’t always rewarding, the larger areas like The Slums and Midtown can be a labyrinth, and the game doesn’t actively reward players for completing side-quests like other titles might. However, these small gripes are just that, and when you put these to one side, you can see just how impressive Stray is.
This game could have easily been a gimmick, but instead, it’s potentially the best indie game we will see this year. One more cat pun for the road? Okay, Stray is a game that you won’t soon fur-get!
Are you done with Stray? Here are some of the best games like Stray that offer similar gaming experiences.