Dead City is a dystopian land filled to the brim with robots, killer bugs, and perilous puzzles. You play as an unnamed protagonist feline who just had a horrible day. They fell from a massive height and are now trapped in one of the worst places they could be. If things couldn’t get any worse, you need to contend with the Zurks. These bug-like creatures are out for your blood. What is a defenseless cat like you to do in such a massive city?
The story of Stray quickly unveils itself to be about a race of artificially intelligent robots who have lost the will to see the outside world for fear that it is uninhabitable. Your mission is clear: open the city and free the world, saving yourself and your companion B-12 in the process. Run, jump, and claw your way to freedom and be thankful that you have nine lives to get you there.
A small cat in the big city
The world of Stray is immense with many avenues to explore, paint cans to knock over, and places to nap. The scale of the city makes you feel small, lost, and in need of help. It’s amazing that cats can even survive in the city, but the cat in Stray really pulls through.
Where most games have a tendency to copy and paste NPCs to save time, you can really tell that the developers at BlueTwelve Studio took their time to make every robot feel unique and worth talking to. No matter what part of the city I explored, I never felt like there was a single dull motherboard. As you interact with the robots, you can see their LCD screen faces light up with joy or weep with sadness. Their clothes look hand-crafted and worn. The metal the robots are made of shines with the light of the humans who built them.
The environment of each location felt vastly different than the last. While the game starts you off in an overgrown area covered in moss, you quickly transition to subterranean sewers, back alleys, shanty towns, and cyberpunk-esque cityscapes that stand out from one another in a huge way. This helped make the world feel alive and ever-changing. On top of all of this, the team behind the music did a fantastic job implementing instruments and computer noises to create a soundtrack that fills the city air with an unforgettable aura.
The basics of being a cat
One of the biggest parts of the game that I was most worried about was the movement. This isn’t the first time a studio has attempted to make a game where you play as an animal, and ones in the past haven’t necessarily gone too well. I am no developer, but it seems like it would be much harder to replicate the movement and liveliness of a cat than a shark, goose, or dolphin. It can definitely be said that the team behind the game really understood what it means to live life as a cat, and the movement — while not perfect — is well-tuned to the point that the slight bumps and missteps are harder to notice.
There are plenty of small details that are easy to overlook when trying to quickly get through a game. Stray is one of those games where it’s okay to take time and explore. You should be curious — you’re a cat after all. The developers added plenty of small details that help enhance the experience. Throughout the game, you can claw up furniture and rugs, sleep all day on comfy pillows, play with cat toys, meow till you annoy every last robot, nuzzle your robotic pals, and more. If you happen to be playing on PlayStation, your controller will even purr when you lay the cat down for a nap.
In terms of structure, Stray consists of various puzzles to solve, areas to explore, collectibles to find, and heart-pounding chases to overcome. Whether you are knocking over books, discovering secret messages under lava lamps, or hacking the mainframe of a computer, with so much variety, Stray never feels stale.
A story about freedom
At its core, Stray is about a cat trying to get back home, and a group of robots called The Outsiders who want to free the city and allow everyone to see the outside world again. Out of all the main aspects of Stray, the story felt the weakest. That isn’t to say that it is bad, but there could be a few touch-ups made to it.
The reason why Stray’s story doesn’t feel as strong is because of how short the overall game is. Throughout the game, you can pick up memories to learn more about the world and what became of it. You learn many details from your progression as well from your companion B-12 and the surrounding robotic citizens. While all the information they give forms a cohesive story that is filled with emotion, none of the memories, dialogue, or scenery truly conveys all of the information about the world. Instead, there is a lot of room for interpretation. Hopefully, we get DLC in the future to explain more about how the world ended up in its current shape.
Even though the story of Stray feels slightly incomplete, the overall experience is well worth the price you pay for it. The developers built a large, well-constructed city that gives you a great experience of what it’s like to be a cat in a world built for creatures larger than you. Every segment of the game comes together to show you a world that was carefully built with the passion and love that a development studio should show all of its projects. You can tell that a lot of time and care was put into Stray and that makes it an absolute joy to play. After a project like this, the developers behind the game deserve a nice peaceful catnap.
8.5 / 10
|+||The world is immersive and the environments never feel static|
|+||Playing as a cat in the big city gives you a good change in perspective|
|+||The soundtrack is a perfect blend of instrumental and computer-generated sounds|
|+||Every NPC feels unique and stands out in the sea of metal and screens|
|–||The story doesn’t stand out amongst other dystopian fiction|