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Sci-fi game Stray delivers the ultimate fantasy: a cat who listens

Stray’s heroic cat leaps across the uncanny (feline) valley

The unnamed orange cat of Stray sits, wearing a backpack, with a humanoid robot and a neon-lit city behind it Image: BlueTwelve Studios/Annapurna Interactive

There is a dedicated “meow” button in Stray, developer BlueTwelve Studio’s upcoming cyberpunk adventure starring a stray cat, and you can press it as many times as you want.

When playing as this unnamed orange kitty, you can be your most authentic and annoying cat self — or you can nap, pausing your adventure through a sci-fi city populated by machines, for an indeterminate amount of time. Just lay there, doing nothing, contributing nothing.

These actions (or inactions) highlight the developer’s commitment to cat authenticity in Stray, a game where players will experience a sort of power fantasy of laidback feline life.

The PlayStation and PC game’s developer appears to be exploring every aspect of moving through a world as a cat, from platforming — there’s a high amount of verticality in Stray’s level design — to communication with other characters. There’s the aforementioned meow button, but players can also claw at doors to get the attention of residents of apartment buildings and businesses. The cat can use its mouth to pick up small objects, like a bucket, or its paws to knock things off of ledges, as cats are wont to do. In one puzzle-solving sequence we saw during the demo, the cat knocked over paint cans from a roof ledge, smashing a glass enclosure and gaining access to a new area.

The unnamed cat of Stray looks up at a humanoid robot in front of a neon sign Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive

Not all of Stray’s cat behaviors are strictly gameplay-related; players can claw at rugs and couches, similar to how they would claw at doors, using alternating L2 and R2 trigger pulls on a PlayStation controller. Or they can knock over stacks of books or paint cans at their leisure, traipsing through the mess and leaving colorful paw prints through levels.

It seems that a lot of the appeal of Stray will be, simply, doing Cat Stuff.

But there is an overarching narrative in Stray, and an “ancient mystery” to uncover, according to its developer. The cat’s mission in Stray is to escape the walled cybercity it inhabits, and it will enlist the help of a small drone named B-12 to accomplish that goal. The flying robotic buddy, earned at some point in the game, is worn like a harness and can interact with technology. It serves as a flashlight and a translator, communicating with the humanoid robots in the city and assisting in fetch quests and errands. Through these quests, the cat will unlock memories to learn more about the world and its inhabitants.

BlueTwelve Studio producers kept much of the plot and unlockable memories of Stray secret during our preview in an attempt to preserve the story. Our look at the game was more focused on mechanics, like puzzle-solving and contextual jumping. As for the latter, Stray is not a challenging platformer, but will instead let players safely jump from platform to beam to air conditioning window unit to makeshift gondolas without fear of falling to one’s death. (There was also at least one thrilling chase sequence teased, in which what looked like Half-Life headcrab larvae pursued the cat through sewers.)

The unnamed cat of Stray, wearing a harness, licks itself while sitting on a pool table. A humanoid robot wearing a puffer jacket looks on, annoyed. Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive

The lengths that BlueTwelve Studio is going to to sell the opportunity to believably be a cat in a video game feel rare and impressive. Stray’s starring feline struts like a cat, startles like a cat, cleans itself like a cat, and even gets the zoomies like a cat. To be able to lazily explore a 3D, semi-open world with the style and sassy demeanor of a cat is an incredibly compelling starting point for a game. The rest seems like gravy. Or, if you’re a cat, wet food.

Stray comes to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC, courtesy of publisher Annapurna Interactive, on July 19.

In the meantime, check out the gallery of images of Stray below. There’s some really great-looking stuff in there.

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