An adorable tabby kitten he lives with his fellows within an imposing wall system bordering a lost city, once the home of a now extinct civilization. However, under layers of concrete and iron, in the shade of vegetation that over the years has taken over the urban scenery, a beating, mechanical heart beats, made of neon lights and sparkling colored signs. On a day like any other, the little protagonist jumps on the usual rusty pipe that populates the scenarios of his carefree and wild routine. But this time the jump fails: the bolts jump, the iron fails, the rust demolishes that little makeshift springboard, and the unfortunate cat falls into the depths. Awakened among garbage, robotic waste and mysterious organic entities that reign underground, he begins his journey, in search of freedom and the secrets that have destroyed the surrounding world.
As it emerged in the interview with the developers of Stray, the new adventure of Annapurna Interactive coming to PlayStation consoles and PC is a platform adventure delicious and inspired which, while remaining anchored to the logic of an indie production, boasts the creative ambitions of a great colossal. We spent a handful of hours in the company of the sweet four-legged stray, making our way through androids, mysteries and sprawling monstrosities. Finally we can tell you about what was an at times surprising experience, which perhaps it could represent the beginning of a great story.
Curiosity killed the cat
The journey of our kitten, as mentioned, begins inside the walls, in a wild and ruined scenario. It’s just the first stop on an adventure that takes the little furry boy to explore a city with exquisitely cyberpunk colorsfrom the slums to the so-called upper floors.
In addition to rediscovering freedom and the group of his fellows from which he divides himself in the moment of the fall, the protagonist must reopen the gigantic gates of the city to return it to sunlight, after it has been buried under kilometers of concrete following ancient experiments. and an urban renewal project that marked the beginning of its end. Returning the life and warmth of the open air to an entire community becomes the unconscious mission of this furry and very sweet quadruped, who in any case will not be alone. Beside him is B-12, a little robot with no memory intent on recovering lost memories, so as to reveal the mystery surrounding the metropolis and its mechanical inhabitants: an instrument, B-12, which for the player becomes storytelling and gameplay vehicle. Stray is a rich and layered adventure, which in a matter of hours will lead us to discover every single corner of a complex, intricate and fascinating urban system. It undoubtedly is the scenic impact the flagship of what is a production supported by a simply splendid artistic direction.
From putrid and rotting slums to towering high-rise skyscrapers, Stray’s is an effective example of a perfectly pleasing cyberpunk setting. This is an important productive effort for a team of this type, although the adventure on offer turned out to be relatively short: to complete the story – which is essentially linear, even in the conformation of digital environments – it took us about 5 hoursbut to find all the secrets and complete the sporadic optional objectives the game can easily touch the total 7-8 hours.
A rather hermetic work as regards the content but still very dense and satisfying thanks to the variety of approaches and playful solutions proposed from area to area. In the course of the path of the stray, in fact, an emerging narrative comes to life that allows you to discover the mysteries around the origins of the city and the coveted Oltre, a naturalistic place outside the walls that a small group of androids, in the past, has tried to achieve with poor results. The goal of the cat and B-12 is therefore to track down those ancient survivors and help them fulfill their dream. On the writing side, we enjoyed it very much the quality and density of Stray’s imagery: certainly, not too original in terms of lore and story but effective and coherent for the purposes of the narrative.
We must admit that, having arrived at the end of the journey and just before reaching the end credits, we would have liked to have obtained more information on the background of the plot, as well as better deepen the protagonists. Without making any spoilers on the epilogue, we would like to point out that the ending of Stray remains partly open, and that the epic of our tiger kitten could even represent the first chapter of a bigger tale.
When the cat is not there, the mice dance
From a playful dough point of view Stray is a relatively simple adventure, which, however, does not fail to subject the player to some interesting and ingenious platforming phase, made up of puzzles and environmental enigmas to be overcome without too much effort. As already stated, the epic of the stray and B-12 lives on more souls, and depending on the area of the city that is being explored, the game faces different and varied gameplay formulas.
If during the first act of the adventure the cat’s goal is simply to make his way through the sewers, alleys and apartments of the slums – first to join B-12 and then to reach the upper floors of the city – it is in the subsequent phases of the game that the level of challenge rises and the mechanics begin to get rich. Immediately after the incipit, when the drone and the feline join forces to escape to the Beyond, the adventure of this unlikely duo is articulated through two macro-sections, respectively the murky slums of the city and the residential area. and industrial. Each of these two moments provides a small map, in which exploration becomes the backbone of the experience. Wandering through alleys, shops and apartments, the two protagonists must find information about their goal or their destination. In these phases the game takes on deep metroidvania nuances: to get to their destination, the duo will have to complete various tasks and make friends with the friendly androids that populate the city.
He will then be asked to deviate from the main road and then retrace his steps, unlock previously forbidden accesses or obtain the help of a new supporting actor. Both in these scenarios and in the more linear sections, Stray is littered with collectiblesavailable in the form of memories that the drone can channel into its memory to acquire information on the Beyond and on the civilization that existed before that of machines.
Between the slums and the upper city, however, the game also offers more linear chapters but nevertheless never inferior to the “open map” phases in terms of richness of the settings. From the sewer system to hidden villages, up to the suffocating tunnels of corporate factories and homes, laboratories and subways. Depending on the progress of the story, as already mentioned, the adventure of Annapurna puts us in front of different variants of gameplay, functional and consistent with the narrative and the scenario.
The slums, for example, are populated by a slimy and lethal organic life form, consisting of carnivorous creatures the size of a pantheon called Zurk. These are absolutely lethal monsters for the poor cat and until you are properly equipped the only solution to avoid being devoured is to escape. During the second act, however, B-12 comes into possession of a special neon device capable of emitting a deadly beam of light for the Zurks, triggering a shy shooter dynamic which consists in pointing the gadget in the direction of the hordes that come towards us. The weapon must still be dosed, since keeping it activated with insistence leads to overheating of the same and will not be available even for the entire duration of the adventure.
In the later stages, in fact, thanks to a specific plot twist, the stray must move stealthily to escape threatening repressive drones, a situation that in fact makes the game a a funny four-legged stealth, in which the silent paws of the cat become essential in order not to alert the enemies on guard. Whether it’s shooting or hiding from enemies, anyway, Stray never loses its platform soul: Interaction with B-12 is crucial for solving small puzzles, activating switches, translating writings and speaking with the androids, but the agile and snappy movements of our little feline are essential to move in this bizarre world. Whether it’s in its most action form or in stealth phases, the soft step of the little furry friend it represents the heart of the whole experience. The cat can climb almost any surface, from pipes to ledges, from window sills to signs. Stray, in this sense, immerses us completely in the behavioral routine of a real cat: from the most frivolous and optional actions, such as purring rubbing on the legs or scraping with claws on carpets or doors, to the feline leaps that allow the protagonist to easily reach elevated points, or even to slip into tunnels inaccessible to others living (or mechanical) beings.
Don’t say cat if you don’t have it in the bag
It is now appropriate to spend a few more words on the visual and technical sector of Stray, which undoubtedly raises the qualitative bar not a little for medium budget videogame productions. The title of BlueTwelve Studio remains strongly anchored, both for mechanics and for the breath of the production, to the trappings of the independent panorama but in terms of the scenographic impact the work done by the development team has proved to be impressive.
The settings rich in detail, large and at times complex, are a kaleidoscope of colors, lights, fumes and signs. A meticulous and valuable work in the interiors, rich and full of details, but also breathtaking for the external ones, for the landscapes, for the views of a decadent and decayed city that takes all the best of genre narration, with breaths of extraordinary cyberpunk. Playing on PlayStation 5, exploring the world of Stray is in itself an intoxicating experience for the eyes, accomplice global illumination of absolute depth. The jumble of red, blue and yellow lights that stand out in the darkness of the half-dead city is undoubtedly perfect for reflecting the fascinating impact of light on surfaces. If we combine this with the painstaking work of BlueTwelve Studios on environmental textures and the rather realistic management of shaders, the result is a graphic and artistic framework much closer to that of triple A productions. Stray’s “limits” mostly emerge in the small details. For example in the rendering of the animations of the protagonist or robots, especially as regards the interaction with the environment, or in the polygonal moderation of the same. In any case, we are talking about edges that, when compared to the magnificence of digital sets and combined with the simplicity of the mechanics and the low longevity of the adventure, indicate what Annapurna’s work wants to be: a splendid, delicious and spectacular indie, on the in the wake of other previous collaborations between Sony and the undergrowth of emerging studios (here you can read our review of Kena Bridge of Spirit to understand what we are talking about). And basically it’s okay like this: between a stretch, a few purrs and hundreds of tender meows, the brave stray of BlueTwelve Studios will be able to sweeten you with a single glance.
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