The adorable game where you play as an orange tabby inexplicably wearing a backpack was announced in 2020, and wouldn’t be released for another two years. I was immediately drawn to the world in which Stray takes place, with it’s abandoned cities and fascinating sentient robots. It felt cyberpunk, but also post-apocalyptic. Beyond that, I had no idea what it was about or why the world this adorable kitty inhabited looked so broken. What I found within were interesting robots to meet, places to explore, and vague story elements to unravel all wrapped up in the game’s six hour adventure.
Stray takes place in an unknown year far into the future where, presumably, humans had destroyed themselves after creating underground cities which closed them off from the outside world. While living in these underground cities, scientists created a compound which broke down trash that was starting to crowd the cities with no way to dump the trash since the cities were completely locked down. It’s not entirely known why the humans needed to close themselves off from the outside, but that wasn’t really the issue. They were safe in their new cities, until that strange compound mutated into organisms which fed off everything except for metal (at the time.) This is heavily hinted at to be the reason for the lack of humans in the game. Instead, when the cat finds its way into the slums of such a city, we see that the only “people” inhabiting it are robots each with their own quirky personalities. They are initially scared of the cat being that it looks like one of the Zurks, the name for the creature who mutated from the strange compound.
The game is filled with inspired environments each with its own theme. The cat is accompanied by the AI B-12 near the beginning of the game, and he helps to communicate with the robots and has several useful tools to help the cat reach its goal of reaching the surface. While playing the game I got a sense of what happened to the humans. Especially considering the key detail of the Zurks being unable to consume metal. The humans were somewhat advanced, and had robotic helpers at the time of their extinction. These robots were not sentient or particularly intelligent, but they could perform their function such as cleaning or as security. However, the robots we see in the game are self-aware and intelligent. They act entirely human and, through having conversations they sleep and dream. They can even describe certain smells, such as drying paint, even though they will then admit they are not sure they have ever smelled anything. To me, this hints at humans uploading themselves into whichever robots were available at the time. A side effect of the upload seems to be memory loss, as they always speak of humans in the past-tense. A supporting argument for this is that B-12 himself realizes that he was once a human after recovering enough of his memory through playing the game. Maybe this would be true for other robots?
Of course, Zurks have evolved in the hundreds (or many thousands?) of years since they were created. They can eat metal, which means they are a threat to all the robots living in the closed off city. The outside world is but a myth, a beautiful lie that almost every robot dismisses as a ridiculous thought. By reaching the end of the game, the cat and B-12 manage to open the city for the first time in possible thousands of years. UV light is deadly of Zurks, thus the city is saved.
This was a very short but memorable game with interesting themes. I loved the mystery surrounding the humans and what happened to them. I’d like to think I figured it out and that the humans never really left, they just switched to metal bodies. I finished the game wanting to explore the outside world, and return to the changed city and talk once more with all the friends I had made along the way. Stray seemed to end on a cliff-hanger, so I have hope for a sequel.