In the indie title you are on four velvet paws to escape from an underground city. Stray enchants with loving details, but leaves room for improvement in gameplay.
All screenshots and video scenes are from GamersGlobal
On the indie game Stray by developer BlueTwelve, a good chunk of the internet was really hot. It’s clear why: cats always go online and in Stray you play a cute stray. I don’t have a house tiger at home, but I’m never averse to cute animals and was accordingly interested in the title, especially since publisher Annapurna Interactive has often shown a very good sense for fine indies in the past.
In practice, Stray always manages to invite discovery and to reward one’s own play instinct with fine details. However, the story and gameplay lag behind.
|At the beginning you are with other cats on the surface. After a fatal fall, you must find a way back to the surface from an underground city.|
Into the deep
In the role of a cat you don’t have a button to clean yourself with spectacular contortions, but meowing on command has been implemented. After an idyllic prologue with your gang of cats, the animal protagonist falls into a deep abyss, finds himself in an underground sci-fi city full of robot residents and must find a way back to the light.
This reminds you at first limbo in a beautiful 3D environment. To get ahead, you solve small physics puzzles. However, the mood is less somber than in Limbo or Insidethe cat will not be in danger if you approach a fan shaft before you block its rotor blades with an object.
Traversing rooms mostly involves looking for surfaces that have the X icon appearing and jumping onto them. That’s not demanding. The gymnastics is implemented quite rigidly. No jump without an icon, you cannot jump freely. Alternatively, you can hold down X while steering, but even then I don’t pace smoothly through the area. But often enough there are edges where I think it should work, but the game has a different opinion and so I have to look for a different route. All in all, it was too sluggish for me and there was no real flow. Finding the right path isn’t usually too difficult, as the level design is easy to read and lights or other identifying features subtly point the way.
Without revealing too much: You also enter dangerous areas and face dangers. This is not only used for nice puzzles, there are also tangible escape passages and it struck me all the more that there is hardly any jumping in these sections – probably because of the rigid jumping mechanics.
|The game clearly states that I can distract this paint bucket slinger by meowing. Instead of letting me try it out dynamically, I have to trigger this scene with the interaction button and only then am I allowed to meow at the right moment.|
Off the leash
You soon team up with the drone B12, who has lost almost all of her memories. B12 gives you an inventory and translates for you what the robots that dwell below say. Shortly thereafter, you can explore a hub with beautifully branched streets and floors and all kinds of robots. Various side tasks and discoveries await you there – the latter including environmental details that stimulate B12’s memory, but also corners to curl up and purr or a paper bag in which your head is stuck, which inverts your controls for a while. Stray lets you off the leash in sections like this and plays like an adventure. It’s also nice to get a feel for the area there and later be able to navigate through the district at lightning speed.
So I experienced a little aha moment when I realized how to get energy drinks. In turn, I knew that the local dealer was looking for them and was able to do something with the exchanged items. Alternatively, I can show the can to one of the surprisingly numerous NPCs, who will either say “I’m not thirsty” or put me on the dealer’s trail. However, it also seems formulaic that many of the robots respond with exactly those two sentences. That’s not surprising given the abundance of characters, but I would have liked some of the more exotic residents to have more say when spoken to. Some of them aroused more interest in their character traits, which were only touched upon, than the robots and B12, which are more relevant to the story, and whose personalities also remain superficial.
Author: Hagen Gehritz (GamersGlobal)
Opinion: Hagen Gehritz
Stray doesn’t take the basic idea that you’re a velvet paw too seriously. This allows you to see the full spectrum of colors (which I don’t think is the common understanding of how these animals see the world) and early on, despite your cat eyes, you’ll need a flashlight. But what suits a kitty as the main character and distinguishes Stray is a certain joy in discovery, where the play instinct is rewarded. Jumping anywhere is a core mechanic, so naturally I want to scramble up furniture and see what I can knock over. I’m also happy when stacks of books tip over as soon as I jump off them. And that the main character is so “gorgeous” is also often woven into puzzles.
Also, small interactions are scattered throughout. They don’t fulfill a playful purpose, but create a cat atmosphere. At the same time, I can’t snuggle up to every robo leg, but can only do so when the interaction marker appears. That could have been implemented more dynamically. It’s quite similar when jumping, where I didn’t get a real flow. I much preferred exploring the open hubs with their lovely details than skipping and puzzling through the linear sections. Even if the game world arouses interest, I was not attracted by the shallow story, which revolves around companion drone B12 and certain prominent robots, which, however, exude little personality.
Due to its charming qualities, Stray is very entertaining and fascinating at times, but apart from the unusual element of the cat as the main character, it doesn’t leave any particularly deep paw prints in my memory.
- Clear control
- Rigid jumping system rarely allows flow to arise when moving
- Strong level design in hub areas
- Fine puzzles
- Discover side quests motivated
- Loving details encourage discovery and play
- Shallow gameplay mechanics, which punch through more in linear sections
- Plate history only lets you encounter superficial robo-figures
- Playing time of only 4 to 5 hours
- Pretty environments with strong lighting
- Scenes change just when they threaten to become too monotonous
- Graphic weaknesses in detail
- Some animations appear stiff
- Unusual soundtrack
- Authentic cat sounds
- Likeable robo samples instead of voice output
Only for trusting loners
- Mouse keyboard
- steering wheel
- Oculus Rift
- HTC Vive
- PlayStation VR
- Copy protection-free GoG version
- Epic Games Store
- Manufacturer Account Connection
- Constant internet connection
- Internet connection at startup