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Stray is the best argument for the PS5 controller’s flashy tricks

Scratch sofas, break things, meow infinitely

A orange cat stands on top of a keyboard, in a room with several monitors and orange wallpaper Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

I’m only a few hours into Stray, but I’ve already completely fallen for the orange cat at the game’s helm. So much of the game’s puzzle solving and storytelling comes down to doing mischievous cat stuff, like jumping from ledge to ledge (and almost falling) and pushing things off of shelves. It’s all pretty classic orange cat behavior, and I often shout, “Look at this little guy catting!!!” while I play.

It’s also an absolute joy to play on the PlayStation 5 controller, one of the most responsive gamepads I’ve ever used. The haptic feedback takes catting (the verb form of cat, of course) from good to great thanks to a mix of rumble types, the adaptive triggers, and the game’s sound design.

My favorite function is the “meow” ability. Hit the Circle button any time you’d like, and you can meow in the game — a sound that comes out of both my entertainment system’s speakers and the controller’s speaker. It’s a huge innovation in meow technology, especially for a person with my priorities (being a cat and meowing a lot).

An orange cat arching its back as it scratches a carpet Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive

The adaptive triggers come into play when you scratch surfaces like mossy poles, sofa arms, and rugs (is the latter actually “doing biscuits”? I’ll count it). To scratch, I alternate the left and right triggers, which take a satisfying amount of pressure to push down, before yielding with a little controller rumble as the cat peels away from the surface with his claws. It’s fun to see these adaptive triggers used in a variety of settings — Horizon Forbidden West is the last game I played that used the feature so well, creating a sense of increasing tension as the bow was pulled taut. In Stray, it’s mostly cause for delight.

The haptic feedback’s varying intensities, as you get up to cat antics, read as practically invisible and delightfully immersive. When the cat pushes heavy paint cans over a skylight in order to break the glass and break in, I can feel the weight of the can and the shatter of the glass. The cat goes entirely limp the first time he wears his little cat backpack, doing the weird little crouch-walk that any cat owner who is harness-training will recognize. Also, getting the cat’s head stuck in a paper bag makes the analog sticks trigger completely random movements, making for an appropriately disorienting time.

I have made little official in-game progress because I keep pausing to dedicate time to scratching, meowing at things, and getting a paper bag stuck on my head. So much of the game succeeds thanks to its faithful renditions of feline movement and behavior — the catting of it all, you might say. Life is short, and it’s important to enjoy catting to its fullest. Stray executes on these subtle shivers, chirps, and leaps, and the PS5’s haptic feedback makes the experience joyful and immersive.