Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Appnormals Team
Release Date: Sept. 12, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Stay'

by Fran Soto on March 22, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Stay is an atmospheric adventure game featuring pixel-style graphics and a gripping thriller-like story.

Buy Stay

Cause and effect is a basic principle in games. One could argue that it's the main reason why a game is, well, a "game." The choices we make in games could have a lasting impact in our story or even in the relationships we make within our digital worlds. It's a formula we follow as we play: What choices can I make that will maximize my outcome in succeeding (or reaching a goal) within a game? These choices are often limited to the game itself. Once we log off, we're no longer dragon slayers, combat tacticians, or zombie killers. We return to our normal lives and don't worry about the game world suspended in time. When we come back, everything is how it was when we left it.

Stay is a title that does not believe in the suspension of time. Time is both a resource and a constraint within the game. Not only do our decisions affect the outcome, but the time we spend away from the game also has consequences. Booting up the game flashes an instruction screen explaining that the title is best enjoyed in a solitary, dark environment with a headset plugged in. A cryptic message states, "The longer you are away, the more time your character spends alone." Stay bends the rules by breaking down the fourth wall and asking players if we're willing to walk away when a life is on the line.

We open with a young man named Quinn. While the opening sequence has no dialogue, we get a sense that he's an unhappy person. He's buried in work, and stress is showing on his face. He decides to leave his study and go to sleep; maybe dreams might provide some relief. Unfortunately, a masked intruder has other plans, as Quinn is knocked out and taken to a remote location. Upon waking up, Quinn finds that he is in a dank, dark room with nothing but a computer. He's able to log on and start a chat with an unknown person who turns out to be you, the player. It's a game that begins shrouded in mystery. Our player actions are limited to the online chat and solving puzzles that Quinn finds along the way. Through the use of conversation, we must help Quinn navigate his way to freedom.

It seems unorthodox to be playing as a bystander, but by choosing dialogue options to earn Quinn's trust, we're able to navigate him away from danger and into other parts of the building. There is a meter to determine levels of trust and friendship. Things we say will have an effect on Quinn's mood, his disposition, his trust, and even his safety. If the trust is too low because the selected dialogue options go against Quinn's character, it could easily end up killing him. High trust and level of friendship make him much more receptive to our suggestions, without him even questioning the things we say.

However, this mechanic is tricky because it also forces us say things that Quinn may not like or agree with out of concern for his safety. It's not enough to just say the things Quinn wants to hear; sometimes, we need to be a little harsh with him for his own good. In one playthrough, I thought I had chosen good dialogue options because of his positive responses, but this ended up killing him. I also tried to choose the less positive, but still optimistic dialogue option, and that also ended up killing him. On the third try, I gave negative responses, which then produced newer options that allowed me to navigate around the danger without killing him. It was an interesting addition to the gameplay mechanics, as it follows a more traditional conversation where we may not always say the things people want them to hear out of concern for their safety.

Sitting alone in a dark room with my headset for a few hours left me with a lasting impression of the game. In between choosing dialogue options and navigating the environment, Quinn and I talked about some serious topics: anxiety, death, mental illness, and even suicide. After a while, Quinn stopped feeling like an NPC and actually started feeling like a person. He suffers from things that real people face every day. He reacts to them like a real person would. Personifying Quinn as a fully fleshed-out "everyman" character makes Stay an immersive title. Because of this personality, it makes it even more stress-inducing to stay away.

The game doesn't end once we log off and go back to our real worlds. An "away" timer starts ticking for every second we aren't with Quinn. This time has consequences depending on how long we've been away. A couple of hours, and Quinn's trust in the player has dwindled because he believes that we've abandoned him. Working a demanding job, I found myself having to stay away a few days (I actually maxed out my timer at 99 hours). Coming back to the game, Quinn had lost all hope in me by saying, "I've been thinking about our relationship. It's probably better if I'm alone." He logs off with no way to communicate with him, and it's game over, forcing us to restart from the last chapter. However, time away isn't the only thing that may cause Quinn to distance himself from us. Choosing discouraging dialogue options or sending Quinn down an incorrect path may also cause him to lose faith in the player and abandon us. The game is a delicate balance of emotional intelligence and interpersonal connection.

While Stay creates a unique situation by giving us a high-maintenance Tamagotchi pet, it fumbles some of the gameplay by creating nonsensical puzzles in quite a few cases. As Quinn moves around his environment, we need to help him bypass areas by solving puzzles for him. Without giving away too much, many puzzles are very intuitive and provide a fun experience. There are too many puzzles, however, that make no sense. Pure luck played a role in solving certain puzzles, and by then, so much time had passed in my attempt to solve the puzzle that it diminished the flow of the game. It was a shame to encounter such puzzles when the rest of the game itself creates an excellent atmosphere of solitary experience.

Stay is a title that commits to tackling real, human issues through a gripping narrative and detailed character-building. Our main protagonist, Quinn, is a relatable character whose struggles with anxiety, depression and thoughts of death resonate with a wide audience. Our ability to communicate with Quinn through a variety of dialogue options keeps the story going and allows us to maintain a relationship with our captive protagonist.

By creating a timer feature that tracks how much time we're away from Quinn, Stay extends its memorable experience beyond our gaming monitor and asks us how long we're willing to stay away when it has negative consequences. With great narrative and relatable content, the title falters in creating far too complex puzzles that transform the game from Stay into Stuck. However, Quinn's story (and our story) create solid and thoughtful gameplay that keeps us coming back for more. If one can overlook the puzzling mishaps, Stay is a title that reaches out to all of us and creates a worthwhile experience.

Score: 8.5/10

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