Imagine you’ve been abducted by a mysterious assailant and left in isolation in a dark and dingy room, with nothing but a computer as company. Okay, it’s not too tough to imagine as it sounds more like a familiar situation to gamers in general than it should do – minus the abduction aspect of course. Anyway, that’s the basis for story-driven thriller STAY, but instead of you being the lonely soul, you’re in fact the only aid to the protagonist, Quinn. Will you stay with Quinn and help him escape this ordeal, or will your words of wisdom only cause further distress?
STAY is unlike most games you’ll play on Xbox One, with a premise seeing the main character Quinn seemingly kidnapped, with his only hope in figuring out what’s going on resting on communicating with the player via a chat room. There’s also a webcam feed, to enable a view of Quinn during the discussion, as well as a side-on camera of the place to keep track of his movements and activities. For the most part though, across the 24 chapters included you’ll need to read messages from Quinn in real-time and respond accordingly, taking into consideration that your reply could actually make matters worse.
You see, each and every dialogue option has the potential to alter the mood of Quinn; whether he goes from calm and optimistic to anxious and worrisome rests on your shoulders. A bad decision could possibly lead to a fatal, premature, end – now that’s real pressure. Not every choice leads to the reaction you’d assume to receive though and on rare occasions it doesn’t make much sense as to why such an affect should occur. Anyway, I expected to grow tiresome of endless chat, but the fact that this character is on tenterhooks at your every word is captivating. There are also trust and friendship levels to monitor, as if these are low, then it’ll be tricky to get him to open up in order to ascertain what’s occurring.
Unfortunately Stay knows when you’ve not been playing, and if Quinn is left alone for too long, even for just a few hours, there will be consequences. It’s not ideal for those with other games and things to do, but the saving grace is that should the penalty turn into a ‘game over’, a restart from the chapter is allowed.
What might make you leave and take a breather are the mini-games, because crikey they are incredibly difficult at times. There’s a wonderful amount of variety which sees a mastermind style guessing game, a couple of jigsaw variations, a mirror maze, some pattern arrangement problems and a minesweeper like brick puzzle all included, to name just a few. The problem lies in the fact that there are no clues as to how each puzzle is to be approached; you either get it, or you really don’t. An absolute age can be spent clicking bricks to no avail, whilst not having the foggiest idea as to the layout of a Chaturanga board doesn’t help either. Without the internet to lend a hand, I’d still be enduring both, and a few others. Making challenging brain teasers is great, but not even explaining the aim of them is needlessly pushing gamers away.
But then again, if it we look at it another way, it could be a deliberate ploy from the developers at Appnormals Team to see us feeling helpless, frustrated and confused, much like the main protagonist – in which case it’s a very clever mechanic, but still one that negatively affects the experience. Fortunately, the chat itself more than makes up for it and is rather intriguing as numerous cool references are thrown in – harking back to Lost, the works of Tolkien and even mentioning a few well known films – alongside some really deep and dark thoughts. Quinn has sarcasm ingrained into his personality and it’s fun to read his retorts of this manner, however the serious side of the way he’s feeling isn’t to be taken lightly.
Depending on your choices, it’s possible to achieve one of seven different endings, with multiple playthroughs being the order of the day to see them all and get the truest picture of what STAY is all about. It’s good that chat can be sped up and puzzles skipped to maximise efficiency when attempting to view every one – with the initial playthrough taking upwards of six hours, you’ll be thankful of being able to trim it for future endeavours.
In terms of the visuals, they’re nothing to shout about, with pixel art the chosen form to present the handful of cutscenes and different parts of the environment. And whilst the lack of anything too invasive is found in the sound department, it does the job of creating a tense atmosphere and a certain emptiness to the areas.
Overall, STAY delivers a really interesting script, chock full of dynamic choices to change Quinn’s life for better or worse. There’s truly a range of emotive conversation points to be had, with slightly humorous sections soon turning to more pressing and sad moments. Whilst decisions have some immediate impacts, I question some of the ways it can affect the relationship and trust levels, making little sense at times. It’s easy to become immersed in this world though and it has the potential to make you reflect on life, especially if you can relate to the main themes of loneliness, anxiety and depression. That said, the mini-games are utterly frustrating and pointlessly difficult, which puts a damper on the experience without a doubt.
STAY is completely different to anything out there at the moment, in a good way, and so it’s definitely worth checking out. Just remember that there are people that can help with those darn puzzles!