I’ve been interested in STAY for quite a while now. I obtained a PC code many months ago but since I heard there was a PS4 and PS Vita version coming shortly, I held back from playing it past the two-hour mark. It turns out it wasn’t ‘coming shortly’ as it’s taken four months to hit Sony’s platforms (and the Nintendo Switch).
However, I’m glad I finally got to play this title on my preferred platform as I was hooked for the entire six hours I played – only stopping briefly to grab something to eat before resuming once again. I think it’s safe to say that STAY is rather unique in both it’s delivery and mechanics, at least when compared to Console games in the same genre.
STAY is an unusual and clever little indie game which revolves around trust, bonding, honesty and empathy. Our main protagonist is you. I think some may say Quinn is the protagonist, but I would state otherwise and say that you’re actually the protagonist of this interactive ‘visual novel’ style adventure. Quinn is merely your co-star in this affair as you have no direct control over him and getting him to follow your commands can sometimes be as reliable as asking a traded Pokemon above your level to issue an attack command (I wonder how many of you will get that reference?).
Whilst asleep, Quinn is taken from his bed and dumped within a seemingly abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. He awakens in the middle of the night to find he is locked inside of a small room with no lights, no phone, no windows, and Quinn himself has no idea what’s going on. All that he can find in this dark and gloomy room, is the light of a PC flickering away as if to call him over. Upon randomly typing in the bespoke chat messenger on the screen, he surprisingly receives a reply to his desperate plea for help. This is where you come into play. You’re the person on the other end of the PC, you chat away offering encouragement and advice on what to do next. However, will Quinn listen to you and be your obedient puppy, or will he disobey you and do as he wishes? Well, that all depends on how well you treat him…
STAY is a visual novel of sorts. Ignore that for now though, recently there has been a spike of ‘mobile phone SOS’ games on both mobile app stores and via PC indie developers. STAY is very similar to those. If you don’t know what I mean, there are games out there which imitate a mobile phone or something like Skype and have you talking to a fictional character in order to help them out of a tricky situation – usually involving them about to die or being haunted by spooky things. In STAY, you have a fictional messenger app on the screen which Quinn uses to talk to you. At certain points, you can choose which reply you wish to send to him – this is the core gameplay mechanic.
What makes STAY stand above the rest though is the empathy and trust meters. Sure, you can tell Quinn to do whatever you want – tell him over and over to eat a mouldy cookie if you want, he probably won’t do it, but you can tell him to. However, the more you’re nice to him, think about his feelings above anything else and actively go out of your way to calm him down and be nice, the more he will trust you and emotionally begin to bond with you. This is both a good and bad thing for the same reason – the more he trusts you, the easier you can get him to do what you say. Let’s just say, Quinn may have died about 7 times on my playthrough due to him mindlessly doing what I told him to!
STAY with me:
There is a really important mechanic in play within STAY, a mechanic which doesn’t actually work very well on the PS4, and I imagine the PS Vita as well. As you can tell by the title, Quinn wants you to STAY with him and be there for him all the time. At certain points in the game, when it begins playing mini cutscenes of Quinn pacing and trying to keep himself from going insane, a pop up will appear at the bottom of the screen advising you that you can leave, but it wouldn’t be advised. On PC, if you left at this point and then came back later, Quinn may have done something to himself or things may have happened behind your back. On PS4, if you go into Rest Mode, time stands still. Thus kinda breaking the core mechanic.
If you leave the game, by either pressing Options and the tick, closing the game on the dash, or turning off your console, then time always continuously ticks away. The rest mode of the PS4 (and possibly the PS Vita) doesn’t seem to abide by the laws of time though. When the mechanic is working (if you shut off the game/system) then Quinn always welcomes you back like he was surprised you’d ever return to help him out.
However, as I mentioned above. As soon as I started playing STAY, I couldn’t stop as I was hooked and I wanted to see it through to the end, even if that meant playing it until around 3 am.
A choice of puzzles:
STAY is a dark game – it’s all about our protagonist trying to deal with his anxiety, depression, pain-killer addiction and other things I wouldn’t want to spoil for you. However, the developers throw in the odd joke here or there both from Quinn and the end-chapter checkpoints. It seems a little out of place but I get that they’re here to stop the game becoming a virtual representation of a Morrissey song! As such, at the end of each of the 23 chapters (as the last one doesn’t have one), you get a Telltale-esque percentage gauge which shows you how many people chose the option you did, all whilst displaying a cheeky comment underneath about the option you chose.
For example, at one point I asked the protagonist for his name – the end card said: “61% of the users, including you, didn’t pay attention to the credits at the beginning of the game.” This is quite amusing and makes you want to pick the other option to see what that also says.
Another thing you’ll come across quite a few times are the puzzles. STAY has some rather difficult puzzles with no hints or guidance on what to do, it’s just Boom – do this! I won’t lie here either, I actually had to look up hints online for two of the puzzles because I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing at all. I believe this is both a strong and weak point of the game. It does a good job of representing Quinn, being in an unknown place with a cryptic puzzle thrown at him with no hints or clues on what to do. However, as it’s a video game and not real life, a little hint as an option may have helped me out in a few of them. For example, if the bookcase one had just said “Hmmm, look at the spines on those books”, then I probably would have worked it out for myself.
Again, this isn’t a negative as most people will love the puzzles and really enjoy the fact the answers aren’t on a plate and it isn’t a push-over. It just threw me off a little as I hadn’t expected them to be quite as tricky as they were.
A room with a view:
As you progress through the game, after about 90 minutes or so, Quinn will begin to venture out and explore the house. This is when the game really begins to get more interesting as you really feel the fear and anxiety coming from him as he struggles to communicate back to you. I love the way the developers have done this too. As he becomes more scared and paranoid, he’ll begin to spell words wrong by accident and then correct them the line below with an asterisk like this:
I’m raelly scared…
It just adds a level of realism to the pixel-art style which a lot of games will have overlooked. Anyone on my discord will know how many times I have to correct what I’ve typed because I was in a rush typing the initial message – it’s nice to see an in-game character do the same!
Cutscenes are handled as a side-on view of Quinn as he explores the spooky house, as well as some full-screen pixel art images which wouldn’t look out of place in an old Lucas Arts point-and-click adventure game. The deeper you get, the more things you’ll find which will kill you and offer new clues as to what’s going on. The one complaint I would have would probably be the deaths – there is a lot of them and you never know it’s going to happen until it does as the majority of the game is the screen with you looking at Quinns face and not the surroundings (which again, I can see the developers thought process, as we are seeing about as much as someone really in our position would see). One example is in the kitchen…
Quinn is hungry, so you can tell him to open the fridge. He is hesitant but he’ll do it if you ask a few times. However, the freezer has defrosted and the water is carrying a current into the fridge from a near-by electrical source.
As Quinn has no shoes or socks on, as soon as he grabs the metal handle of the old fridge, ZAP!!! Dead. However, because we couldn’t even see the fridge before picking that option, we had no idea it was going to happen.
Not much to say in regards to the graphics and sound quality of STAY if I’m being honest. Both aspects are great. I’m not a fan of Pixel art but STAY utilises the fine-dotted pixel art which scales well to the big screen. The animations are very reminiscent of old-school adventure games and everything looks creepy yet detailed in the dimly-lit areas. Sound-wise, I’d recommend you wear headphones – as does the game. There is no talking in the game but there is a lot of ambient sounds and atmospheric audio cues which really adds to the immersion and overall atmosphere.
I really enjoyed STAY for the six hours I played it for last night. It’s a shame the time mechanic doesn’t work exactly as intended when the console is placed into rest mode, but if you do want to play the game as intended just be sure to close the game or turn your console off instead. The narrative had me hooked and I was in it for the long run as I carefully watched Quinn laugh, cry, become aggressive, happy, crack jokes, and even die over and over again. The puzzles had me stumped for a while but when I managed to figure some out for myself, like the chess piece one, they came with a nice feeling of satisfaction. However, the wall one makes no sense, even with the many explanations online.
Would I play this game again? Yup. I received ending number four out of seven in my first playthrough, so I still have six more to discover – which I’m looking forward to working out soon! The game also hits the PS Vita soon, supposedly with separate trophy lists for each region – with an Asian and Japanese version coming later this year. So, with the help of a guide, I would imagine this is one for the Trophy Hunters – it doesn’t appear to be cross-buy this time though as PQube published the PS4 version.
STAY is a really fun and immersive indie game about trust, bonding, depression, and anxiety. If you’re like me, as soon as you hit ‘connect’ on the main menu, you won’t want to leave Quinn alone for a second without you there to watch over him. However, if you do leave the game via any means other than ‘rest mode’, try not to stay away too long or Quinn may get a little upset. The majority of the game revolves around visual novel style gameplay with a hint of Telltale in the conclusion screens, with the rest of the gameplay consisting of rather tricky puzzles to complete. These puzzles aren’t the usual mindlessly easy ones either, some of them will really make you think in order to work out the solutions.
If you enjoy old-school adventure games, narrative-driven experiences, or just enjoy niche indie titles which make you think about things, then you should pick up STAY today. Don’t wait too long though, Quinn’s all alone and needs your help…
- Really immersive and interesting narrative
- A great combination of both comedic moments and serious suspence
- [When it works] The 'away' mechanic is a great addition and adds to the immersion
- The audio helps create the eerie atmosphere and creepy environments
- At six hours a play-through, it feels the perfect length
- The 'away' mechanic doesn't work if you put the PS4 into 'rest mode'
- Some of the puzzle 'reasonings' are a bit out there
- Some people may want for more interaction [I was happy with it though]