Don’t know about you, but as for me, seems like I have already found my personal main game of 2022. It’s Stray. First of all, there is a cat in it. Secondly… what else do you need, having such a first thing?!

Game Stray
Genre action/adventure
Platforms Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Languages English
Developer BlueTwelve Studio
Publisher Annapurna Interactive
PlayStation Store, Steam

The main character in Stray is a red nameless stray cat, which is good at meowing, licking, sleeping sweetly and even sweeter stretching himself after sleep, rubbing against the legs, arching the back, jumping on the table and shelves, throwing things onto the floor, clawing against the walls, carpets, and sofas, walking on the computer keyboard and the piano, carrying things in his teeth, climbing to a crazy height, hiding in a box… That is, it is an ideal cat, almost a standard one. This cat is the editor’s choice!

And our red mischief can (with the help of a companion) participate in commodity and monetary relations, communicate with people around, hack computers and code locks, rob, hide, run away and even destroy the enemies. A kind of Puss in Boots, but sci-fi, not a fantasy version. A beautiful cat everyone needs!

The fact that Stray will be a cool game became clear from the very first short videos that Koola and Viv, that is, the authors of the game Kolas Kula and Vivienne Merme-Ghiene, published on Twitter seven years ago. Thus, the developing process of Stray started back in 2015! The only question was how cool the final version would be and how the real action/adventure gameplay would be combined with the fantastic atmosphere of the prototype. We report – the same atmosphere has not gone anywhere, and the gameplay has turned out to be diverse and very interesting.

That is, the authors managed to squeeze so many different gameplays into 4-5 hours of play that it is frankly surprising. There is parkour in the spirit of Assassin Cat, and not the worst stealth, solving simple spatial puzzles, a race with death, a classic leisurely adventure with the search for items and chats with NPCs and inventory. And all this is very organically combined. Each of the gameplay mechanics does not give time to get bored, changing one another every half hour.

Actually, Stray is not a very big game. It took me a little over 5 hours, an evening and part of a night with air alarm, to complete the game. Most YouTube letsplays are about the same length. But if you want, the game can be played in 2 hours, for this they even give a special bonus, but in this case, you will hardly see the incredible world of Stray. Besides that, a separate score can be obtained for an hour of peaceful sleep on a blanket, as well as for sharpening claws in each of the acts of the game. And you still have to rub against the legs of all the robots you meet, throw down all the books, shortly saying, the life of a cat is eventful!

Regarding the atmosphere and world of the game. Stray starts as a cat simulator walking around by himself (albeit with friends), but very quickly becomes a slightly sad but surprisingly light-hearted story about friendship, humanity (as strange as that sounds for a cat and a robot) and death. In creating a protected robot city, Koola and Viv, like many authors of cyberpunk books and films before them, were inspired by Hong Kong’s notorious Kowloon Walled City, as well as classic Blade Runner 1982, Fallout, Sleeping Dogs, Half-Life, design of the 1980s and a dozen other various sources.

This resulted in an incredible mix of cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic – a small living town in the game is simply interesting to explore. Climb up the air conditioners and window sills from the basements to the very roofs, rummage through the backyard in search of hidden secrets and references to other games. In Stray, you want to find every NPC and talk to them with at least one phrase, these fictional works are so colorful and vivid. And there is also a fantastic and very atmospheric soundtrack that can be played instead of Lo-Fi as a background during intellectual work.

In fact, I would gladly exchange all the action episodes of Stray for an additional opportunity to calmly explore the city, communicate with its inhabitants, and look for new pieces of the history of the fall of this world. Why do former cleaning robots imitate people? Where did the people themselves go? When did it happen? Is life possible outside the protected city? Where did Zurka come from, similar to the famous head crabs both in appearance and behavior? Who is this assistant robot, who in turn is helped by a stray cat? You will get answers to all your questions at the end of the journey, but we do not guarantee that you will like them.

In general, in terms of atmosphere, this journey into the past-future for some reason reminded me of two completely different games – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Ninja Theory and What Remains of Edith Finch by Giant Sparrow. By the way, the latter is the first publishing project of Annapurna Interactive, whose management really knows how to choose touching stories. And Stray is guaranteed to move you, unless, of course, you are a sociopath with zero empathy.

Someone will say that Stray is too small chamber game to claim the title of Game of the Year because there are still various AAA projects, both those that have already been released and those that are planned for the second half of the year. That’s right, but Stray is exactly the case when the game is made with soul and, as they say, sinks into the soul. Yes, she is a bit sentimental but very frank and open. Such games are remembered forever, unlike AAA blockbusters with a nine-figure budget that come out every year, and which you will not be able to distinguish from each other after a few years.

Let’s not pull the cat by the tail. Try Stray, the red mischief and his loyal sidekick robot are worth giving them a chance to take up a place in your heart.