I was enamored with Stray from the moment I joined a recent hands-off preview of over 30 minutes of BlueTwelve’s upcoming cat adventure. Idling on screen before the demo began, Stray’s pro-cat-onist sat waiting for the player, pawing at something in the air, stretching out to get comfy, and, well, generally behaving like a cat.
Thankfully, the demo showed me more than just a snoozing cat, though I did see more of that later, too, and I’m quite intrigued by the impressive world on display, and the many surprising ways BlueTwelve has made playing as a cat look so fun. More importantly, it showcased a beautifully designed world and some inventive ways to incorporate a cat’s behavior into gameplay. The developers are keeping silent on much of the story players can expect, but the many slices of life I saw promised a potentially cat-tacularly good time.
Stray starts from a relatively simple premise, but finds ingenuity in how strange it actually is the moment you start exploring it. It’s an adventure game through a cyberpunk world where you play as an unnamed cat, having fallen into this unfamiliar cybercity full of robot citizens. As the unnamed cat protagonist, you’ll explore the world, try to understand and find your way through it to reunite with family, and perhaps help some robots along the way.
Exploration is a big part of what you’ll be doing in Stray, whether it’s through more authored locations, pushing you along the main path or forcing you to outrun trouble, or via wider hubs that will slow down the pace a bit to really let you immerse yourself in the world.
Something quite striking about all this, especially if you’ve seen any footage of Stray, is that you’ll see its main cat hopping around the world, up and down machinery and architecture to get from one spot to the next, but during our session, the developers made it clear Stray isn’t meant to be a platformer. Spots to jump to, like from one barrel to another, or even up the side of a building via air conditioners and fire escapes, are highlighted on screen with a prompt. While there is challenge to Stray, the developers found in testing that having people miss jumps often or not find the right paths didn’t really feel true to the experience of a cat.
So your stray will jump with a bit more certainty, but that ethos of translating how you’d actually expect a cat to behave is pervasive in much of the gameplay. (And there will be multiple paths to specific points, for those worrying the experience will be too simple.) You’ll have a dedicated meow button, because how could you not, but you’ll also find little interactions or puzzle solving tied to expected cat behaviors. In one puzzle I saw, the stray could knock bottles off a ledge, which, in any other situation, would be a typical mischievous cat move. But, here, it teaches you to knock a can of paint through a window so you can drop down into the apartment below and continue progressing.
Behaving like a cat also helps showcase how much of the world is designed to allow you to get to places its robotic denizens otherwise couldn’t, like climbing up thin branches of a tree to find out-of-reach places. You can sleep on designated spots when in need of a cat nap, which seems to be more a cute novelty than a gameplay requirement, and you can even scratch at various surfaces. Sometimes, that scratching is just to tear up a bit of a couch, as any good cat would, but at other times it can be a helpful mechanic, such as when you scratch a door, and a robot inside opens it up to inspect the disturbance. And though I didn’t get to experience it myself, BlueTwelve explained that using the DualSense on PS5 will simulate the sensation of the scratching, as you control this mechanic via the adaptive triggers.
One thing we didn’t see was much in the way of comcat… sorry, combat, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be without tension in your quest. BlueTwelve showcased one chase sequence against hordes of mouse-like foes that evoked Crash Bandicoot-like moments of running toward or away from the camera (in this case running away from), as well as hints that stealth will be required by hiding out of sight under objects like cardboard boxes lying about.
But the bulk of what I saw in my demo, and what grabbed my attention most, is the impressive world BlueTwelve is building around Stray. The small team’s use of lighting, color, and dense detail to build its new world is stunning to look at, and they’ve found surprising variety in what could have been an otherwise homogenous world. Ramshackle and dilapidated alleyways give way to community hubs filled with robots finding their way in life, while others carved out a community in The End Village, a unique city built atop a pile of trash from which the robots take the resources they need.
I also saw a glimpse of a higher-end city location, with dazzling light fixtures and impressive statues and fountains dotting the city streets. BlueTwelve’s world design is at once cohesive but offered enough definitive spaces that I’m curious to see how it all strings together in an experience that promises no loads, according to the developers (save for brief reloads after a death in a potential chase sequence, for example). And those locations are meant to be explored – the team has tucked away a handful of collectibles, some relevant to progressing through the story, others simply letting you learn about this unique civilization. Along the way is B-12, an adorable little robot who resides in a backpack your cat will find early in the adventure. It’s an aid in exploring and interactions, storing bits of data known as memories, collecting items for you, or helping to actually translate what these robots are saying or what signs say. (Cats are smart but this one doesn’t just inherently know robot!)
I saw a few glimpses of this in my gameplay demo, as the stray and B-12 hunted down clues, leading them from one robot of importance to the next, but BlueTwelve purposely kept much of the actual story hidden from me so as to not ruin the surprise of its journey. I’m certainly left curious as to what that actual 7-8-hour journey will be, but I’m confident in the love and care the developers have for cats, and for translating that into a journey worthy of them. BlueTwelve’s world and exploration of mecatnics – sorry, mechanics, I promise that’s the last one – looks clever and promising in ways that’ll have me aimlessly scratching at sofas until I can get my hands on it.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He’s the proud dog father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.
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Author: Jonathon Dornbush