Game review: Stray redefines the adventure genre with a cat’s-eye view

Enlarge / The unnamed star of Stray poses in its strange, new world of mysteries and puzzles. (credit: Annapurna Interactive / BlueTwelve Studio)

The indie gaming genre of “silly animal exploration” has produced a bunch of fun and unique experiences. We’ve loved pantomiming as the following: hellraising goats, car-driving bears, and (if you’ll allow it into the genre) bendy, walking slices of bread.

But three years ago, Untitled Goose Game propelled the genre to its zenith. Its production values, accessibility, and uniquely dry sense of humor were a noticeable step up from the genre’s typical “glitching barnyard animal” gimmick, and the result was a breakout hit. At that point, I quietly wondered: Where else can video games featuring unexpected animal heroes go?

The answer, delivered by this week’s Stray, is quite compelling. This brief yet memorable adventure is a refined take on the concept, as if it were made by an arthouse film studio. It lands somewhere between the eerie, atmospheric exploration of the first Half-Life and the childlike whimsy of a classic Studio Ghibli film. And it stars a cat: not an unrealistic talking cat with bulging eyes and Acme-brand hammers, but a puzzle-solving, nap-taking, tiny-hole-exploring cat who scurries on four paws and pretty much always lands on its feet.

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