STAFF REVIEW of Stray (Xbox One)

Monday, August 28, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Stray Box art On August 10th, Xbox owners were finally able to get their paws on Stray. Developed by BlueTwelve and published by Annapurna, it’s been available on PlayStation since last year, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival on Xbox. I was blown away by the gameplay I had seen and was hoping that controlling a cat in a dystopian future world would be as much fun as it looked.

You play as the ginger cat seen in the marketing images and cover art. Unfortunately, you can’t change your appearance, but it’s adorable so it’s okay. Your objective is to survive and reach the outside world. This isn’t just a simple task though, as you only have your wits, your cat instincts, and a few small weapons earned through your adventures.

The beginning of the game absolutely blew me away. I was sitting and watching the gorgeous cutscenes and then realized it was actually waiting for me. The gameplay segments looked just as stunning. The rain pouring down, the lush vegetation all around the cave, and pipes in the area outside. You are with your family group and you start exploring. But first, you play and interact with each other in some of the most endearing ways. It was so perfect that you just knew something was about to happen, and it does. I won’t tell you exactly what the event is, but you end up separated from your group and on your own in the underground section of the city.

With a cyberpunk aesthetic, the city is occupied by robots and technology. By simply being a living being, you stick out in this world. With the third-person view, you can take in every action your cat takes as you navigate through pipes, climb up over platforms, sliding down slopes, or down narrow paths and corridors of the ruins of the once-occupied city. When climbing around buildings etc, you can’t jump anywhere you want at any time. You can find the places you can jump to when you look around and get a highlighted button prompt. While that may seem like it might limit your movement at first, it was an excellent mechanic. Cats are often portrayed to be pure chaos and recklessness, but they are extremely calculated and purposely plan their routes.

I was enamoured with how life-like the movements of the cat were. Not just the movement but the ‘cattitude’, if you have had the pleasure of a feline companion, you’ll know what I mean. The pouncing, the twitching, the arched back and hissing, scratching, the swats, and the knocking things off high places. It's all there in Stray. It’s important to think like a cat when moving through the world.

Early in the story, you meet your new friend and companion, a small drone by the name of B-12. He lives in your vest that houses his charging port. The scene where you first put the vest on the cat is one of the best moments in the game. As you unravel puzzle after puzzle, trying to find out what happened to the humans and how to get to the outside, you rely on your skills as well as help from B-12. The relationship between the two of them is endearing.

The difficulty was not at the top of kind from the developers in Stray, rather they wanted you to be fully immersed all the time. There are small signs scattered around so that you are never really lost. There is no way to truly get stuck while trying to decipher puzzles, and while they may twist your brain at times, the solution is often far more obvious than you think it is.

I truly can’t believe that Stray is an indie game and doesn’t have a AAA budget. It’s easily one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in 2023. With neon lights and cluttered buildings and streets, the world is full of small details if you take the time to look around. Between the multiple chapters of the game, it should take you around 6-7 hours to finish, longer if you want to complete all the achievements. One specific achievement will add an hour of real-time to your gameplay should you choose to pursue it.

It’s largely a linear game and once you finish the game there isn’t much else to do, but that’s alright. It’s the purrfect length of time for a game like this. Besides the main quest, some smaller side quests are optional like collecting music sheets for a guitar-playing robot that helps round out the real-world feeling of the city you explore.

While some sections of the city are pretty quiet and allow you time to explore at your own pace, others are fast and slightly stressful as you try to escape and avoid the Zurks that are infecting areas. These small creatures will attack you on sight. Normally your best defence is to simply run and shake off any that cling to you. Getting away from them isn’t particularly difficult, but my heart was racing while escaping since they can easily kill you if you don’t shake them off quickly. Other sections require stealthy activities, including the mandatory activity of your cat hiding in a box. I found there to be a nice variety of gameplay activities so that I was never really bored.

Although short of gameplay time, Stray is a beautiful and engaging game that has definitely made an impression on me. I will be going back into it to pick up some more of the achievements and also to just spend some time as a cat. Whether you’re a cat person or simply enjoy adventure games, Stray manages to scratch so many boxes. Like an adorable cat looking for attention, I encourage you to pick this one up.

**Stray was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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