This review contains minor spoilers of mid-game mechanics.
Stray is a game I’m confident many who saw it first shown off at the PlayStation 5 announcement presentation in June 2020 have been looking forward to. Commonly known online ahead of release as the ‘cat courier’ game, though now I have played it I’m not sure where anyone got the idea the cat you play as fills the role of a courier, there was a definite persistent rumble of interest for Stray in the build-up to its release.
I expect a significant chunk of its players, myself included, felt compelled to play it almost immediately after launch thanks to it being free to the subscribers of the new PlayStation Plus tiers, Extra and Premium. While I didn’t upgrade my Plus until the end of August, Stray was the very first game I downloaded on day one (of which there were many), and the only title I started that day and would continue to play later on. I went into the game spoiler free, and would encourage any prospective players to do the same as, without spoiling the ending, the unfolding mystery of the world you experience while playing will not be anywhere near as satisfying come the conclusion if you know where it is going. I did enjoy how some late game story issues were overcome in very feline-esque ways but I won’t drift further into plot spoiler territory than that.
To those unfamiliar with the game, you play as a stray cat in a futuristic world where humanity has been wiped out by some unknown event, and human-like robots have taken over. The majority of these robots are not hostile and will speak to the cat as if it is a friend, requesting assistance and giving advice as and when necessary.
Real care has been taken when designing the nameless cat you play as, who I decided against giving a pet name at the start in case it undermined future plot developments and spoiled the game for me. Through organic world interactions, a dedicated ‘meow’ button (circle) and tight responsive gameplay, the development team at Annapurna Interactive have made a very fun and, I would argue, essential game for players to sink their teeth into.
Gameplay elements vary the more you play, with exploration and stealth sections implemented where necessary without feeling like they’ve been crowbarred in to keep the tension up. I appreciated the stealth sections not leading to you being booted back to a checkpoint if you are spotted, with clear run and hide options available at all times.
There are a couple of enemy types encountered throughout Stray, from the floating Sentinels who fire electric rounds should they become aware of you in areas you shouldn’t be in, to the creepy tick-like creatures called Zurks you have likely seen chasing the cat in promotional gameplay videos. My favourite segment in the game is when you acquire an ability to combat the Zurks, meaning you no longer have to flee the second they spot you. I spent that level going out of my way to ensure every single Zurk I spotted was killed, and it felt similar in satisfaction to killing an enemy who had been bullying me for hours in Elden Ring.
Including my brief excursions into side activities, my total play time reached slightly shy of four and a half hours. Thanks to the chapter select and the assortment of collectibles to pursue, which here take the form of memories to provide insight into the old world (our world), I expect I will be able to play Stray for another couple of hours in order to see and do everything I want to. I also think the replay value is moderately high for this experience, and while I don’t expect to be jumping straight back in to restart it immediately, it is a game I can see myself playing through again before long.
I say these nice things as I’m building up to my biggest criticism of the game, which is its retail price. I would go as far as to say this game should only be played by those who have subscribed to the middle or top tier of PlayStation Plus as, at time of writing, £25 for it digitally or £32+ physically is not dissimilar with spending £40 for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (essentially a demo) back in 2014. A lot of smaller games which Stray fits more into the category of typically launch at £16, and as much as I have enjoyed my time with the game I could not justify anyone other than fanatic cat lovers with poor financial management spending more than that. Just buy a month of PlayStation Plus Extra if nothing else the service provides appeals to you, and save yourself some money.
Leaving aside my criticism of Stray’s price and length, I have enjoyed my time with the game from the very first minute to the last, and can give it a robust recommendation to anyone subscribed to Plus Extra or Premium. A pretty game with great neon-lit environments, satisfying gameplay as well as, of course, cats, I score Stray
8 / 10
Written, edited and images sourced by Alexx.
Captions by Will.