Stray does miss the mark with accessibility in various areas, but it does offer some clever puzzles that are rewarding to solve and encourage thinking outside the box.
- No reliance on audio
- Haptics can indicate nearby enemies
- Clever puzzles
- Lacking in areas for controller mobility
- Button mashing for Zurk encounters
- Lack of visual aids such as a map
Stray is often classified as a platformer, however, this designation isn’t entirely warranted, because whilst the game does possess jumping, jumps are small and pre-determined and don’t feature any bottomless pits, obstacles, or anything you’d expect from the typical platform game. However even with all of this taken into consideration, Stray, for accessibility, may yet prove challenging for individuals with motor impairment.
Stray is a 2022 narrative-driven adventure game developed by independent studio BlueTwelve and published by Annapurna Interactive. It is arguably one of the year’s most anticipated and unique titles and one that is well worth the following it has garnered since its 2020 reveal. Stray allows players to assume the role of a cat separated from its family after an environmental mishap and must find their way back to the surface after falling into an underground cyberpunk dystopia sealed off from the outside world and populated by robots.
Zurk Mobility Struggles
Early in the game, players encounter sections populated with aggressive mutant entities called Zurks. We previously highlighted these areas in our Twitter thread. These creature-filled sections are one of the reasons that I cannot recommend Stray to those who are motor-impaired. While these sections are sparse, later ones grow to have very unforgiving checkpoints. In addition, there’s a lot going on for mobility here and while Stray does have controller remapping, it’s largely ineffective for reasons I’ll elaborate on.
The bulk of Stray’s encounters with the Zurks involve running and since there is no way to set run to a toggle, and Zurks attack in droves, these sections are particularly difficult. If the player is grabbed by a Zurk it requires rapid button-mashing which cannot be changed to a hold making it certain death for anyone whose dexterity is limited. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier upon unlocking the weapon later on that burns Zurks because the weapon’s charge is incredibly finite, forcing me to retreat in order to recharge. There are often too many to handle as well as the fact that some —albeit small— jumping and interact prompts don’t appear at all and some interactions require rapid pressing of the triggers.
On the visual side of things, I consider Stray to be partially accessible. As mentioned in the paragraph above, interactive prompts appear small and their size cannot be changed. Sometimes they have a tendency not to appear at all. Perhaps the biggest thing this title has working against it is that it doesn’t feature any sort of map or directional indicator. This is especially prevalent in the early stages when the cat must find three sodas at three different vending machines.
Simpler still, anytime you complete an objective and must return to an NPC or location and can’t recall how to get back, there’s no guidance. There’s also a feature that allows me to zoom in and look at my environment. This may help some players with observing the distance, but with no non-diegetic visuals, it’s just a zoom-in feature.
Thankfully speech is presented in fairly large, easily legible boxes that don’t blend in with the environment in most areas. These boxes also highlight names and objects of interest.
As far as auditory accessibility goes Stray does not focus its gameplay around the requirement of audio. However, that doesn’t mean to say that it’s not perfect to play without sound. There are no intelligible spoken words of any kind, the only spoken words are portrayed in gibberish. Zurks and automated drone enemies each provide distinct tactile feedback when near, so what approaches is known from feedback alone. Tactile feedback also applies to contextual interactions like sleeping, scratching a couch, or even the surfaces you walk on.
In saying that, Stray has a vast world in play where players are clearly encouraged to explore. However, those playing with no audio may miss certain cues such as a door opening when they run past, or hearing nearby danger before it’s attacking. Captions could have really brought the world to life.
BlueTwelve studios’ first effort with Stray isn’t perfect as it does miss the mark with accessibility in various areas, but it does offer some clever puzzles that are rewarding to solve and encourage thinking outside the box. It is these moments that lead me to believe it is more appropriate to call Stray a puzzle game than a platformer. It is a well-made title that simulates being a cat, and their agility with remarkable accuracy, and uses this as an effective tool for exploring the nature of friendship and the effects of guilt and loss. However, those looking for a more guided experience won’t be finding it here.