Stray Review – This Catpocalypse Game Works Best When You’re Not Playing It

This review contains spoilers for the end of Stray.

It says a lot about BlueTwelve Studio’s enjoyably slight cat-and-android game Stray that it works best when you leave it alone.

About a third of the way into this post-apocalyptic story, the titular stray – a charming ginger feline pal – finds themselves lost in a world of squishy parasitic bugs and genial robots who live in the towering slums of the generically named Midtown. The human-replacement robots maintain the quiet city after they were left to endure the world after humanity has died out. Some sweep the streets, others sit strumming a guitar, others bartend or wallow in whatever digital misery they live with day in, day out. One robot lays on a bed under the darkness that looms above, hands under their head, looking up and pondering the existence of the world outside the fortress they call home.

One of the context sensitive options that you have as the stray is to sit next to one of these robots and just… sleep.

Sure, if you do this for an hour you get an achievement for doing so, but outside of this participation trophy there’s a soothing aspect to seeing your feline avatar resting next to a chosen companion. If you sit and watch this take place, the camera will gradually pull back, revealing the grander world around you, encompassing you in a humility that says: “You are but one aspect of a grander world. Peace is always nearby.” The controller quietly rumbles in a smooth purring tone, with the sound design letting the ambiance of the world wash over you.

In this moment, you get the greatest impression of what it must feel like to be a cat.

Here, the sleeping cat rests alongside a stranger, adapting to an environment it is forced to live within until circumstance and narrative necessity push it down a path of peril and resolution. Other context sensitive actions for the cat include clawing at doors, carpets, or couches, meowing incessantly, or knocking glasses off high benches and playing with the occasional toy.

It’s pointed that none of these actions impact the narrative at large, instead acting as neat appendages to that give you enough of a taste of being a version of a cat without leaning completely into the role of ‘cat simulator’.

As humans we will never truly know what it feels like to be another animal. We can only make assumptions and educated guesses as to how they see the world. But, through the medium of video games we’re able to immerse ourselves in an approximation of what it feels like to be something other than who we are.

In an interview with ScreenRant, Blue Twelve Studios’ Producer Swann Martin-Raget stated:

…I think it's also important to mention that we do not aim to make a super 100% cat simulator, which a cat specialist will actually agree with. There definitely are some situations, and even the drive of the story, that are made to keep the adventure interesting and believable. And we're not cat experts by any means. We're just a lot of people that have cats, and people that have adventures with them, or have things that happen to them and their cat.”

Swann Martin-Raget Interview: Stray (

This comment helps highlight why the narrative from the cats perspective is slight. At the start, while playing in an overgrown wasteland with its feline pals, the cat slips after a jump and tumbles into the underworld of robots. After some nice atmospheric world building, you’re saddled with an android named B12 in the form of a backpack that occasionally doubles as a drone that can read signs and push buttons. B12 effectively usurps the cats’ journey of ‘getting back home’, with the focus instead being pushed onto discovering who B12 is and whether there is any hope of the robots being allowed back into the overworld.

B12 can translate signs that are written in glyphs and Asian-inspired characters, and frequently parrots requests to the stray. It’s never entirely clear whether the cat completely understands what needs to be done, instead giving the impression that B12 is speaking directly to you as the player. We understand what B12 says, and as such, can navigate the cat to perform the actions required. But the answer as to why a cat should care about what a sign says or where a bar is never answered.

Speaking with Inverse, Martin-Raget said about the choice to include B12:

The initial inspiration was really having a set of abilities that naturally complete the cat's natural skills. Cats are not really good when interacting with technology. This allowed us to have a lot more interesting and surprising things to do in the game. It also makes a very interesting character. He has his own developments in the game and his relationship with the cat also is something quite important that unfolds as you progress in your journey.

‘Stray’ producer on how a design limitation led to being “utterly inspired” (

While the narrative of discovering what happened to this world and the role that B12 played in it is curious enough, it also leads to Stray’s frequent neglect of the narrative of its titular character. Instead of being a captivating creature with its own wants and need, the moggie is transformed into a cat-shaped vessel that allows B12 to interact with the environment and assist with progressing his narrative. The climax sees the cat become a mere tool that steps on keyboards and scratches computer wiring in a bid to ultimately reunite the once divided slum of the underworld with the lush green of the overworld, with B12 being destroyed in the process. Visually, Stray is a marvel to witness with the cat slinking around the city with ease, traversing the heights of apartment buildings comfortably and manoeuvring through tight gaps like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2.

As cat owners, we pat our cats and get a dopamine hit from their reaction: purring, arched backs, curled tails, closed eyes. As a cat in Stray, we can instigate that reaction from a robot by brushing against its leg and causing that weird, tingly sensory reaction. The joy isn’t ours, but we made it happen. ‘Cat causes joy when it brushes up against a leg. We can make that happen. Look at the joy it makes the robot feel. I now feel joy.’ Push button for pleasure. It’s these small and inconsequential interactions that help create a character and in the context of Stray remind the need for companionship for the cat. There’s a reason why the Nintendogs games were so soothing and enjoyable.

Yet, it’s quite possible to play through Stray without ever actually engaging in these context sensitive moments of connection, amplifying the realisation that the cat is a tool for B12’s narrative and not its own entity. Video games afford players the chance to inhabit the body of anything and empathise with these characters, but Stray prefers to lean into the human perspective than that of the cat. Here, the cat has done its duty by reuniting the human-conduits (the robots) with nature. Well done. As such, the end of Stray carries a cruel tone as it closes with the image of the cat surrounded by greenery, curled up alone and bereft of company. It’s this bittersweet closure that says a lot about how the developers were drawn to the story of robots and a forgotten city, rather than what it means to be a cat to live in the world.

Shorter narrative games like Inside, Umurangi Generation or the animal-focused Untitled Goose Game utilise the world around the main character to inform who they are and what their role is in this world. For Stray, that focus feels almost non-existent, as if the developers were tied to the notion of playing as a cat but were swept up with the story of robots in a post-apocalyptic world. The presence of B12 and his need to translate the world around him ultimately feels like handholding, rather than letting the player interpret the world in their own way, creating a decidedly linear experience that stifles rather than excites.

I know that you’re supposed to review the game you play and not the game that you wanted to play, but the focus of the robot narrative pulled so drastically away from the story of the cat that it felt like I was playing two different games at once.

While I enjoyed my time with Stray, and delighted in the way that clawing at a carpet felt with the PS5 dual sense controller, I enjoyed it the most when I left the game by itself, just watching a cat sleep next to a robot strumming an out of tune guitar in a post-apocalypse world. We may never truly know what it feels like to be a cat, but we most certainly know what it feels like to have your feline companion curled up next to you, purring as it sleeps, and I can safely tell you it’s one of the most glorious experiences in the world.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!