As I reached one of STAY’s seven possible endings I felt an odd mixture of relief, satisfaction, confusion and frustration. My six-hour journey to this point and my relationship with Quinn had been rife with ups and down and I was left with no resolution, yet I felt I only had myself to blame.
Having been knocked unconscious and kidnapped, therapist Quinn finds himself in a darkened room with only the dull light of a computer illuminating the gloom of his prison. Sending out an SOS to an online chatroom, you, the player, answer. Over the course of the game your trust level and emotional bond will rise and fall based on your choices and the extent to which you nurture or neglect your relationship with Quinn.
STAY’s titular gimmick is original; the game continues in real-time while you are away, effecting both Quinn’s state and your relationship. Returning the following day, approximately 10 hours since I left, I found my bond to Quinn had waned.
He greeted me with concerned questioning, clearly paranoid but relieved at my return. This mechanic proves affecting, making me feel guilty for not staying with Quinn and rather going to bed while he remained alone and afraid in his little virtual world.
The game’s pixel art lends it the atmosphere of an old PC point and click adventure game, and while the minimalism of this visual style often keeps your surrounding vague and creepy, it at times comes off as goofy or downright ugly, detracting from the tension and tone.
Telltale-esque results screens at the end of each of the game’s 24 chapters show which percentage of players you were in that took your specific decision path. However the addition of jokey comments from the developers on these screens seems a very odd choice, clashing awkwardly with the game’s tone and distracting from the immersion of the exchange between you and Quinn.
Dialogue choices do not manifest as direct actions on Quinn’s end but rather thoughts or opinions which influence him in an organic and often unpredictable way. This keeps the conversation engaging and the ramifications of your choices uncertain.
Unfortunately following the unintended path often results in increasingly ridiculous deaths, forcing you to restart that chapter, sit through the same unskippable lines of dialogue and chose the other “correct” path. This greatly dilutes the illusion of choice, making the path through the game seem much more linear and preordained.
As Quinn make his way through labyrinthine network of escape room inspired spaces he encounters puzzles which unlock new items and clues, seemingly aiding his progress towards his eventual escape. These challenging, cryptic puzzles can be immensely gratifying to solve when they make sense, however some are simply too obscure. On several occasions I was forced to follow guides which allowed me to progress yet failed to enlighten me to the logic of the puzzle at hand.
Despite its flaws, STAY revolves around the relationship between you and Quinn, and, thanks to a high standard of writing, this remains compelling. The intimate and honest portrayal of mental health struggles, portrayed by Quinn’s nuanced personality and ever-shifting mood, makes him feel real.
At times Quinn is immensely charming and funny, yet when he succumbs to depression he becomes introverted and standoffish. He can be insightful, introspective and a pleasure to converse with, but equally at times I found him to be pretentious and intolerable.
With an average length of six hours, seven possible endings and a mechanic which makes every moment in and away from the game count, STAY can be a stressful, confusing and at times frustrating experience to invest yourself in. However despite overly obtuse puzzles and a story which has the potential to dissolve into nonsense, depending on your choices, STAY’s strong character writing and constantly compelling mystery make for a wholly unique and engrossing experience.
STAY PS4 Review
Despite overly complex puzzles and a convoluted plot, STAY's strong writing, compelling mystery and tactful representation of mental health make it a unique and engrossing experience.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.