Stray focuses on one cat's journey through an underground cybercity while interacting with an AI embodying a small friendly drone, robots called Companions, and the not-so-friendly mutant bacteria that look like glowing ticks called Zurks. As you control this small little orange cat you have to work through challenges, obstacles, and tasks while working your way through the storyline. Stray delivers a continuously intriguing plot that keeps your interest while also pulling at your heartstrings.
BlueTwelve Studio founders Koola and Viv partnered with Annapurna Interactive to publish the game. While the aesthetics of the game were inspired by a particular city in British Hong Kong the main gameplay was inspired by the developers' cats oddly enough. They felt playing as a cat would lead to interesting level design opportunities. Populating the world with robot characters would go to further influence the narrative and backstory. This led to the 2022 success that would be Stray, earning many accolades along the way through The Game Awards, Game Developers Choice Awards, and Golden Joystick Awards. A rumored animated film adaptation has even been in discussions apparently.
B-12 is the first main companion that you make in the game. B-12 is this artificial intelligence that embodies a small drone that travels with you via a small backpack the kitty wears. This drone helps you with remembering important details and memories while also helping you with tasks throughout the game, including opening doors and even fighting the Zurks. Without ruining or spoiling anything about the ending, B-12 also plays a massive part in the finale of the game itself. A bond is clearly developed throughout the lengthy game allowing the player's emotions to become intertwined into the story as it deepens. I feel this steady development is what allows the ending to be as emotionally drawn as it is. Without the continuous growth of their bond, the ending wouldn't make as much sense or have as much pull on the player.
Companions play another big part in this story as the many different robotic friends you make throughout the undercity continuously push the plot further and further. A particular group of companions, The Outsiders, play a bigger part in pushing the plot forward by helping the cat with its journey to the surface and hopefully back to its friends. A task they share a similar interest in. And while it's unclear if any of the Outsiders will ever truly see the outside world their aid throughout the game allows a glimpse of the outside world to finally be seen right before the credits run.
While B-12 and the Companions play a positive role in the plot the Zurks and Sentinels play a not-so-positive role acting as the main antagonists for this game. The Zurks look like glowing ticks in my opinion, but they are intended to be mutated bacteria you as the cat must outrun and dodge their attacks until you are given a UV tool later on to fight them. The Zurks have glossy, wrinkled beige skin, a single large glowing orange-yellow eyeball, and four spike-like legs along with a small oral cavity surrounded by sharp, inward-curved teeth on the bottom of their plump bodies. They were responsible for waste management, but after the humans died off the bacteria mutated into what is known as the Zurks, attacking anything from living to robotic. A singular Zurk will run from you, but in larger groups, they will try to swarm and attack you. Sentinels, however, are small drones installed with a front-facing area scanner, sound sensor, and a railgun loaded with electrical slugs used to incapacitate targets. Usually they either patrol a small area or they may stay in one place. Your job as the player is to avoid alerting and being seen by the Sentinels. A normal sentinel will have a blue light, but if that sentinel has been provoked the light can be yellow, orange, or red. Yellow means an intrusion has been detected, orange means a potential target has been confirmed, and red means a target has been confirmed and the weapons are engaged. The player can use anything from walls, boxes, and even desks to avoid the scanner. If there's a possible detection the player can either run away from the sentinel's line of sight or jump into a nearby box. The weapon can be dodged if the sentinel has engaged with the player, but if the cat gets shot the level is restarted. This danger, whether through the Zurks or the Sentinels, keeps the player on their toes figuratively through the need to keep this little cat from getting hurt.
The undercity, officially named Walled City 99, serves as the main setting for this game. Giving an eery, cyberpunk atmosphere for the cat to run through. This undercity is split into two levels, The Upper Level and the Lower Level, and with that includes particular areas that the player, as the cat, will journey through. These areas are listed as the Dead City, The Slums, The Sewers, Antvillage, Midtown, and the Control Room. This is the particular order in which the areas are accessed throughout the game. The Dead City and The Slums act as the lower-class cities where those in poverty might have lived. The Sewers act as part of the bridge between the lower side and the upper side. This adds suspense and heightened danger to the plot as this is where most of your battles with the Zurks take place. The Antvillage centers around a giant pipe that heads straight up. This acts as the first truly Zurk-free area you'll encounter and is the last stop you make before making your way through smaller pipes to Midtown. Midtown serves as the upper-class city. This is where you come in contact with Sentinels as they briefly take over as the main antagonist. This is where the cyberpunk vibes really pop through with its neon lights, many businesses, and various entertainment venues. From there, you go to the Control Room which serves as the final destination before the cat is free to go to venture to the outside world.
Stray as a whole is an intriguing and captivating game that draws your attention with its cyberpunk atmosphere and emotional points. Focusing on a small orange stray cat only adds to that emotional pull in my opinion seeing how animals in pop culture have always been a topic of emotions. The stereotypical dog movie and the animal in a horror movie are two very well-known tropes. Stray pulls away from typical points in those tropes by putting the life of the cat in the hands of the players. Allowing the fate of said cat to be left up to the player. The added dangers of the Zurks and the Sentinels made me, at least, want to push through and avoid harm to the cat. It made me focus more on what I was doing and how I was venturing through the different obstacles. The added sense of affection whether it be through the different Companions who help you along the way or through the steadily built bond with B-12 made each separation bitter-sweet and at some points invoked emotional responses. Yes, I cried. These emotional moments paired with the brilliance of the storyline, the loveable main character, and the depth within this cyberpunk atmosphere helped to make this game as cherished and adored as it is. In my opinion, Stray exceeded every expectation I had and remains one of my favorite games I've played. I actually look forward to replaying in it the future.
About the Creator
Hi, I'm Katie. I'm a 27-year-old musician with a passion for writing and streaming. Aside from writing on Vocal, I stream on twitch. I play a variety of games. In May of 2021, I lost my dearest grandfather and it's forever changed me.