Stray is catnip for cat lovers

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

Stray producer Swann Martin-Raget sells BlueTwelve Studio's upcoming indie game without even trying in a single, pitch-perfect moment during our hands-off preview. After pausing mid-way through the demo, he takes questions from journalists in attendance. "I'm not good at talking and playing, I'm not a streamer," he admits, letting the game's protagonist (an impossibly cute orange tabby) go idle. As he discusses BlueTwelve's growth during the development process, a robot NPC trips over the cat, who is standing in the middle of the street. The robot lets out what I can only imagine is a string of robot-language expletives. "Oops, sorry," Martin-Raget says as the robot angrily walks off-screen.

This is Stray, a beautiful, bold indie that is part platformer, part puzzle game, and all sorts of purrfect – especially if you're even somewhat familiar with felines. Here's what else we learned during our preview about Stray's story, gameplay, and its astonishingly realistic feline protagonist.

Stray-nger Things 


(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

Stray puts you in the paws of a cat who has been separated from his family and somehow ends up in a neon-soaked world inhabited only by robots. Martin-Raget purposely avoids telling us any real story details, aside from the fact that this protagonist is a stranger in a strange land and is trying to make his way through it to be reunited with his feline family members. There are several levels that players will make their way through, and although Stray's story progression is linear, there's room to explore and discover. It'll take you about seven to eight hours to finish at what Martin-Raget calls a "normal pace," and closer to nine to 10 for more "curious, exploratory players." 

Think of Stray as yet another one of publisher Annapurna's brilliant linear storytelling feats that superbly blends tight and simple gameplay (sort of like last year's The Artful Escape). There's platforming, but here it's more feline-focused than about pulling off well-timed jumps - you can't really mess up as BlueTwelve felt doing so would be decidedly un-cat-like. Players can use the tried-and-true cat method of knocking stuff off shelves to help with simple puzzles and jump in a can attached to a rope as an elevator of sorts. Later on in the game, you'll get an adorable backpack outfitted with a drone called B-12, who can translate the alien language scattered around the environments, shine a light wherever it's needed, and remind you of your objectives. 

In one sequence, the cat slides down a swampwater-filled reservoir on a cart, steering his way through it to avoid hitting walls and these weird little bug robots that can "kill" you. I ask for clarity from Martin-Raget on this specifically but am only told there are several places where you can be killed by enemies, but the cat (thankfully) instantly respawns. "We're not aiming for a hard game," he reassures. "Expect the story to progress with a nice, steady rhythm." 

For the love of cats 


(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

Stray is a gamified love letter to cats, one that I reckon cat owners worldwide will flock to just to find out how impressively real this little cat is.  During our preview, we watch the protagonist push paint cans off ledges, lap up water, nap on a robot's chest ("sleeping forms the majority of a cat's schedule, so that's obviously something you can do in the game"), and do a sleepy stretch post-nap. During the preview, Martin-Raget assures us that you "can still be a cat and be very annoying to everyone" as he jumps up onto a surface where robots are playing some type of tabletop game, sending chips flying everywhere. They beep angrily in response, and over a minute later they're still picking up the chips as the little orange tabby trots on.

There's even an opportunity to use the triggers on your controller to pull on the back of a couch, something every cat owner knows is a cat's favorite pastime (glances longingly at my destroyed leather chair). When playing on the PS5, the cat's purrs will emanate from the speaker in the DualSense controller, which will also gently vibrate so it feels "like you have a cat in your hands." 

"When playing on the PS5, the cat's purrs will emanate from the speaker in the DualSense controller, which will also gently vibrate so it feels 'like you have a cat in your hands'."

And the cat itself has been designed and animated with attention and affection by a sole animator at BlueTwelve known as Miko. Miko's Sphynx cat served as inspiration for their animations, which are so lifelike and detailed they will amaze you, from its adorable little trot to the very specific tip of the tail twitch all cat owners know so well. The attention to detail is so impressive thanks to BlueTwelve's universal love for cats – not only are many of the team cat owners but there are even office cats who wander around during production.

Thanks to their incomparable IRL references, the team can see small details that aren't working properly to ensure this cat is like no other game cat you've ever seen. "Having cats around us is really helpful because we get so used to seeing them move around, we can instantly see when something is a bit off with an animation, or if a sound is not really convincing, or if a certain situation is too unrealistic for an actual cat," Martin-Raget explains. When asked if they're paid fairly for their efforts, he quips "they are paying us, they're the boss of the studio."

Stray releases July 19 for PS4, PS5, and PC.

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Alyssa Mercante

Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Prior to entering the industry, she got her Masters's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University with a dissertation focusing on contemporary indie games. She spends most of her time playing competitive shooters and in-depth RPGs and was recently on a PAX Panel about the best bars in video games. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practices her Italian, and plays soccer.