A reader enjoys indie hit Stray but feels the joys of controlling a cat would’ve been improved if the game’s setting wasn’t so drably depressing.
Upon completing Stray I believed what I had just experienced was one of the best games of the year. I loved the fact you played as a cat, and I got a kick out of witnessing all of its mannerisms and cuteness sprinkled in with mischievousness. I relished in the game world and admired its inscrutable qualities and it kept me wondering what the history of Midtown and the cats are, all the while galloping or otherwise briskly walking through the illuminating neon-lit streets and dark, suspicious alleyways.
After some careful rumination however, I feel that Stray catches itself in a trap that it couldn’t escape from. I discovered that what I had been playing, whilst polished and satisfying, was a dank, grimy, and predictably triple-A video game, albeit one that takes two to four hours to complete, instead of the conventional 10 or more we’re accustomed to from big releases.
As stated, I really like some elements of Stray, in particular the cat mannerisms. Seeing the feline scratch into carpets, trees, and other surfaces is sweet, and watching it use its paw to knock objects to the ground is equal parts adorable and hilarious.
However, the absence of other mannerisms such as the licking of the legs and paw behind the ear, coughing up furballs, playing with yarn, chasing mice, and cat fights are all missing. You’d think a dank and dingy game where you play as a cat would at least have some cat fighting, but I admit all this is nit-picking.
What isn’t a minor gripe though, is that Stray is a game where you pounce through solely dark environments. In a game where you play as a cat, you’d think there’d be some brightness and cheeriness to go along with those lovely foibles, but nope. Bright blue skies, summery streets and cozy, loving family homes aren’t what gamers want, they crave excitement and familiar thrills – and when you add a cute kitty to the mix everyone’s heart just melts, even if the substance is left picking shrapnel out of its deserted backside.
Most of what you do in Stray is either running, climbing, escaping, evading, and eviscerating those parasitic Zurks. Yes, there’s a bit of puzzling, stealth, and a general sense of variety, but it all feels rather textbook. The finnicky clambering is a momentary frustration every now and then too. So what I’m getting at here is that while Stray does what it does well, it’s all rather familiar save for the obvious playing as a cat part.
I also get the wafting aroma of Uncharted and The Last Of Us in Stray. Whether it’s climbing, the environments or the chapter diversity, it seems at times like a loose meowing imitation of those Naughty Dog classics.
With all my criticisms laid bare I will reiterate that I do like Stray, it’s a purr-leasing experience and of course it encourages plenty of cat puns, but I do feel it could’ve been much stronger if it wasn’t so dark and dreary. We get enough dark and dreary games as it is, it’s as if having cheery triple-A games are passé because now they’re either depressing, emotionally evocative or hard as nails.
I am glad so many people love Stray. I genuinely am, and if you get hung up by my words here don’t let them get to you, these are my hang-ups they don’t need to be anyone else’s. I certainly feel like Stray is still a breath of fresh air amongst a horde of familiar triple-A releases. Most of us know Elden Ring is licking its lips for plenty of Game of the Year nods this year, but to some I’m sure Stray will be a better alternative – and that’s something I support.
Stray at least dares to be something different from what we’re accustomed to, I just want it to spread its wings and fly – y’know, like a cat-pterodactyl hybrid so we can see Stray truly mark itself out as a true alternative to the triple-A norm.
By reader James
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