Stray is a game which I recently played and fell in love with. It is about a cat that falls into an underground city. With the help of some robots, the cat successfully returns to the surface in the end.
The mechanics in stray is basically what a cat would do in daily lives, which by itself makes the game interesting. As a cat, the player can walk on water pipes, jump up to high places, get through narrow passages, sprint on the streets. Using keyboard to move and jump, the player needs to find a way to the target place, solving puzzles and helping NPCs along the way.
Furthermore, walls and carpets can be scratched at, knees can be lovingly rubbed against, objects can be heartlessly pushed off shelves, and there is even a meow button. All these livelily mimic how a cat, without any supernatural abilities or magic power, would behave, thus providing the player an immersive experience when playing the game.
Another essential mechanics of the game is that the player as a cat needs to run away from Zurks, which is the only type of enemy in the game. The player can adopt different strategies to avoid Zurks, such as dodging or making use of surrounding obstacles. After some time, the player obtains a UV light gun to kill Zurks, which introduces some shooting element to the game.
The story is set in a futuristic environment where walled cities were constructed to combat pollution. Humans invented robots called companions to assist with various tasks. However, a plague killed all people in one of the cities and access to the outside was cut off. Being left alone, companions developed their own personalities and consciousness. It is especially touching when the robots tried their best to help our cat against Zurks, mutant bacteria of human time, and to get out of the city. This rich story constantly engages the player, who are intrigued to know more about this world.
The aesthetic aspect of the game is coherent with its setting and story. It features neon lights, intelligent robots with various styles and design and many other things that give the player a cyberpunk vibe. Different levels also have distinct visual designs. High concentration and warm colours in residential areas are contrasted by cold and dark colours in danger zones, making the game visually attractive to the player.
Since the game is developed by a small and independent studio, it does not use many advanced game making techniques such as ray tracing and DLSS. The animations are hand-made instead of made using motion capture due to animal rights. The game engine utilised is UE4.
The lens of novelty
An ordinary cat protagonist in a role-playing adventure game? Being a normal cat in a cyberpunk world full of intelligent robots is very rare, but we have to admit that being a cat, doing all “cat things”, such as breaking all glass bottles without considering the consequences, can be very satisfying. This novel concept also appeals to cat lovers or cat owners.
The lens of curiosity
There is a robot named B-12 that contains a scientist’s memories. However, the memories are corrupted and our cat protagonist needs to help B-12 recover them by finding out and interacting with items that are not so easy to spot. This inspires the player to explore and find out what has happened to this world. And there is one more question – “wouldn’t you be interested in what are inside those hidden corners when you are a cat?”
The lens of emotion
The robots in Stray have their own personalities and emotions. They can be depressed when they lose their family members, relieved when an old friend returns, and excited when they repaired a useful weapon. The player can easily relate to their experiences and resonate with them. One thing that most of the robots, if not all, have in common is that they are sincere and accommodating. Sometimes the player may feel that they are more humane than human-beings, especially when B-12 sacrifices itself to help our cat protagonist get out of the slum, which is definitely a heart-breaking moment and appeals to the player’s emotions.
The lens of the puzzles
There are many puzzles in the game, such as opening a door, unlocking a safe, and getting an equipment that is heavily guarded. The player is required to perform “cat actions” to solve these puzzles – toppling a pot of paint to break the glass roof or climbing high up to discover a hint – which are closely related to theme of the game. By giving the player a sense of achievement after solving a puzzle, it makes the whole player experience more enjoyable.