Stay is a unique game. In fact, Stay is much more of an interactive experience than that of a traditional game. That’s not to say that it’s not compelling, on the contrary it’s quite tense and engaging, but it has to be said that this isn’t going to be for everyone. Stay follows main man Quinn, a chap that’s in a battle with his emotions and is clearly struggling with every day life. The game starts out by introducing the player to the troubled Quinn and before long, Quinn finds himself abducted and wakes up, isolated within the confines of a dimly lit room.
Quinn stumbles upon an old computer and manages to make contact via a chatroom with an unnamed character; the player. From here on out, it’s down to the player to guide Quinn through his ordeal via the use of several predefined dialogue options. Players will allow Quinn to confide in them, offer him varying advice and ultimately keep him grounded as he seeks an escape route. There’s very little outside of this functionality to begin with, save a handful of well developed puzzles and item-finding somewhat later into the game.
One of the game’s most interesting features makes itself apparent early on, which is to say that the game plays out in real time and comes with consequences that are tied to that. Every minute that you spend away from the game is a minute that Quinn is left all alone, leaving him to digest his unfortunate predicament, alone. The game also introduces players to Quinn’s empathy system; a system that evolves based on your responses. Utilize this correctly and Quinn will begin to trust you, gradually opening up to you as the game unfolds.
However, offer up bad remarks or ill advice, and Quinn’s spiraling mindset will work against you. This system is a bit hard to get to grips with at first, but it doesn’t take too long to bond with in the long run. Irrespective of whoever abducted Quinn, this very system is the true enemy here. Quinn’s constantly altering mood will make or break his reactions and his bond to the player, and even his overall behavior. This, I firmly believe, will ironically be the make or break point for those that invest in the game, fortunately, I rather enjoyed its uncertainty.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I found myself locked in a room, I would spend less time yapping in a chat room and more time trying to locate an escape. Quinn seems to be the polar opposite. He’ll often explore his surroundings, based largely on the player’s motivation, but will periodically respond in a philosophical manner or become far too agitated to talk to. It’s as though Quinn, a therapist, needs telling what to do at every turn, more than you would expect for a man of his stature. Still, it works to great effect throughout the entirety of play.
On the flip-side, this will often piss you off too. Quinn isn’t what I would describe as a likable character, initially anyway. However, on the basis that Quinn can draw so many emotions from the player, that’s quite an achievement on the developers part. Sure, he lacks a sense of humor, he’ll moan and groan more often than not, his “ah-ha” moments come few and far between and he’s generally morbid, but this all goes hand in hand to produce a running dialogue that does well to hold up the experience. Though, this is a game that never stops.
It’s always wise to remember that. Quinn will often leave the computer of his own free will and do his own thing; explore the environment or sulk in a chair. This typically immediately follows or precedes a fallout with the player. For me, this largely encouraged me to turn the game off and leave him alone. Though, much like Quinn, I often contemplated what consequences would await me when I turned the game back on, prompting me check in on Quinn periodically. Stay gets in your head, even though you don’t realize it at first, it does.
The aim of the game outside of keeping Quinn grounded is to steer Quinn to safety. As aforementioned, this is done via encouraging Quinn to explore and interact with the environment, as well as solve a range of gradually complex puzzles. This typically amounts to advising Quinn to; peel wallpaper, peep through keyholes, search toilet trays, rearrange broken pottery and so on and so forth. Stay is a very taxing game, but equally as rewarding if you immerse yourselves and allow the game and its interesting mechanics to swallow you.
I dare say that one of the game’s biggest downsides is the dialogue itself. It’s not that the dialogue is poorly written (though, the humor is somewhat stupid), but it can soon outstay its welcome. It doesn’t help matters that if you accidentally kill Quinn, you’re forced to go over the same dialogue from your last checkpoint – the start of each short chapter. Furthermore, Quinn’s constant spell-correcting text only further highlights the lengthy conversations. It’s easy to overlook if you’re a patient player, but those less so will no doubt be left seething.
Still, when all is said and done, Stay is one of those games that deserves a recommendation, simply due to its unique functionality. Indeed, the puzzles can be somewhat hit and miss, the dialogue can drag on and the overarching pace can halt to a grind, but this is truly like no other game. The constant battle to maintain Quinn’s mood, grouped with dominant pressure to get Quinn to safety, is truly tense and engaging. Again, Stay isn’t going to be for everyone and it’s far from perfect, but it gets enough right to justify the investment of time and money.
There’s also a lot of replay value within, given the different routes, endings and dialogue choices that players can chase after. It goes without saying that there’s enough content-for-value, that’s for sure. This leads me to the one and only technical issue that I had to contend with on a frequent basis. There’s a delayed input when selecting dialogue choices. It’s easy to bypass by just re-selecting the option, but something I wanted to make a note of. With that to the side and overall, Stay offers up an intelligent experience with some excellent dark pixel art to back it up.
Stay isn’t going to be for everyone. This is less of a traditional game and more of an interactive dialogue-heavy experience with a theme that largely revolves around motivation, self-esteem, will-power and anxiety. Stay’s clever “the clock is always ticking” mechanic holds up really well, as does the main character’s mood system. Though, issues with delayed input and the, at times, irritating pace, holds it back slightly.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.