Stray is the first game from French developer, BlueTwelve, and ultimately, it’s an incredibly impressive feat from the team. Not only did Stray claw its way to the top of Steam wishlists the day prior to release, but at the time of writing, it currently sits at the top of Steam’s best of 2022, even surpassing God of War.
In the words of The Aristocats, everybody wants to be a cat, or so it seems. However, while Stray’s four-legged feline is at the forefront of the game, I raise the argument that it is not the Outsider that makes Stray wonderful. Jumping around as elegantly as a cat would, and causing as much destruction and chaos as one would too, is just part of the fun here. On the whole, Stray's hook is the story of hope and friendship at the center of the experience – I’d argue it's that which has really brought people together, especially given the tumultuous times that we’re currently living in. I should also warn, if you’re yet to finish Stray, there are spoilers ahead.
Of course, pet owners are rejoicing in the fact that there’s a game for them. I’m not even a pet owner (right now), and this game made me itch to get a cat again like never before. However, I don’t think it is the cat themselves that stirs up this feeling within me. Instead, it’s how this cat touches the lives of everyone around them, including players of the game.
I don’t know why the responsibility of these long-forgotten cities and their robot residents are placed into the paws of a cat. Yet, I do know that the stories I picked up along the way – from the cities inhabitants or the environment (see: the ramen soup in Dufer Bar, any of the abandoned flats) – were undoubtedly what touched me more than the protagonist cat of Stray itself.
As I explored Stray on all four paws (and especially as I came to its conclusion), it was the friendships I made along the way and the robots I knew that I’d managed to help that made this experience so wonderful. The perfect example would be the Outsiders: Momo, Doc, Zbaltazar, and Clementine. During The Slums – Part One, we meet Momo for the first time, and he’s clearly mourning his three friends. They had all made a bid to reach the outside one day, but Momo was left alone in The Slums when everyone went on their own unique missions, unable to reach his friends or find out where they are.
We offer Momo some hope, and while it’s uncertain if he ever ends up physically reunited with his friends, he does get to find out that they’re still alive and continuing their life-long mission to reach the outside. In addition, we later meet the very grumpy Seamus. However, his attitude completely changes once he realises we’re reuniting him with his father, Doc. The value that Momo places upon his friends, the reuniting of Seamus and Doc, and the stories about each of the Outsiders that we piece together as we explore their flats, is just a part of what made Stray all the more whimsical to me – a lot more than this kitty did.
Our protagonist is made to feel like a hero, and while another robot certainly couldn’t move like them, this story feels more about the robots here than the cat. It also feels like this is B-12’s story, more than anyone else. Ultimately, it’s the people you meet along the way and the personal stories that unfold that move you, I just wish there was more of them.
The novelty of being a cat, frankly, does wear off into the later game. I wouldn’t suggest it gets any less fun – as I certainly had a blast dipping and diving between Sentinel Drones – but as you make your way through Midtown and it’s Neco Corp factory, I found myself spending a lot more time getting to know everyone and unlocking B-12’s memories than I did doing cat things. Something as simple as retrieving the factory worker’s keys, or helping Malo with her plants, reminded me that while this little kitty is certainly an enigma, there is so much more to Stray than simply being a cat.
In a way, Stray acts as a reminder to simply be appreciative of those around you. This post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk world, is given life by not only its intricate design, but the characters living within it. Many of them having lost their friends and family – just like our Outsider did at the beginning of the game. As I traversed Stray, each conversation truly made me all the more appreciative of the people around me: I was constantly asking myself ‘how can I help them?’ rather than knocking over cans of paint, and this feeling was certainly carried over into real life with me.
As Stray comes to a close, B-12 calls me his best friend. Funnily enough, I genuinely feel as though I am, too. Alas, when Stray ends, there’s no more helping to be done – this cat has done enough for the robot residents of The Slums and above now. As this little cat goes about embracing the sun they undoubtedly haven’t seen in days, I left Stray all the more grateful for my loved ones. I might not have been able to help every robot of Stray, but I can certainly continue to look out for those close to me, and that’s part of the game’s magic.
Being a cat is great and all, but it is not the most wonderful thing that Stray has to offer. No, that accolade goes to the way the developers managed to write a story that delivers a message of love to all those who play it, and asks us to think about how our actions affect others.