Stray was released in July 2022 and has since been critically acclaimed (10/10 on Steam) and went on to win the best Indie Game and Best First Indie Game at the Game Awards in Los Angeles in December.
Beyond critical acclaim, there is commercial acclaim as when Stray came out; the game had at one point over 50 000 active players on Steam (www.steamcharts.com).
The game was the first title made by BlueTwelve Studio, a small indie studio based in Montpellier (France) and published by Annapurna Interactive (USA).
The story follows a cat in a post-apocalyptic world, falling into a long-forgotten closed city populated by androids and drones.
The player sees the world through the eyes of the cat and has to uncover the mystery of why this closed city exists and how to open it, to go back to the surface.
The story is an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic setting as [/spoilers] the closed city was made to protect humans from an inhabitable surface, but this was so long ago the human population has since died out, and highly intelligent androids are the only ones left with no way to leave [/spoilers].
The gameplay itself is a mix of puzzle-solving, parkour and fights. It can be played on PC and Playstation, allowing a wide range of potential players; it has also been translated into 16 languages and is a rather short gameplay experience (a few hours are needed to finish the story).
What makes Stray stand out?
The story plays into the post-apocalyptic genre while meeting various inhabitants of the closed city and sneaking around a tyrannical government, and overall plays into players’ love for cats.
Seeing the world from the perspective of a cat hasn’t been done so well in video games before, and the setting allows players to do things a cat wouldn’t be able to do thanks to a small drone who can translate cat-android and help the cat along the way by hacking into computers and fighting zurks.
Social Media Phenomenon
Stray benefited from the viral factor of cats, and hundreds of thousands of people watching videos of cats reacting to the game (https://youtu.be/_yFCcCFZkvs).
The game offers various ways to progress and varying levels of difficulty, allowing most people to be able to complete it. From running around to puzzle solving, fighting zurks and uncovering the mystery.
The experience feels immersive, slowly uncovering why the city exists, why only androids inhabit it now, while trying to find a way out.
Players can also spend time just walking around and exploring if they wish, giving a lot of freedom to the experience.
The progression and difficulty are well balanced, the story is immersive and makes players want to know more, while the gameplay is varied and easy to grasp.
The player is guided throughout the game, with subtle clues such as arrows in the environment design, which will help lost players without breaking immersion. That guidance is necessary as the game doesn’t provide a map to players.
In addition, the world relies on verticality more so than a large map on the ground, allowing players to climb up high and see the whole city/area when needed so they can refer to landmarks to find their path.
Art Style and Appeal
The art direction can be described as soft cyberpunk, while there are classic cyberpunk elements (androids, drones, neon signs), the colour palettes manage a softness making the gameplay experience comfortable and warm.
The central appeal of Stray is the feline main character. People, all over the world, love cats and have loved them for thousands of years (see: Ancient Egypt) as cats have been a part of people’s lives since the 8th century BC.
Stray allows players to see the world from a cat’s eyes, and doesn’t forget to allow players to do all the classic cat behaviours: stretching, scratching, meowing, climbing, running, etc. Even without humans in the game, the androids fill in the role and pet the cat (a reverse of the usual ‘Can I pet the cat?’ question in video games).
This was well done in part because the main character was modelled after a real cat.
Murtaugh is a real-life rescue of producer Swann Martin-Raget.
A great title well worth the wait!