A man wakes up in an empty, locked room where the only object of note is a computer, sat on a dilapidated desk. The man doesn’t know how he came to be trapped here, in desperation he turns on the computer and it allows him to contact only one person, you.
It’s an interesting concept, but the real hook is that you don’t know who you are. Are you just a helpful stranger? Or are you the person responsible for this man’s predicament? Thus, as the player, you’ll find yourself questioning your own motivations whilst conversing with Quinn.
This long form – slightly interactive – conversation plays out in a chatroom. Quinn will type away his thoughts, feelings and ask questions, and at specific points you’ll be able to respond from a list of options. Each response will have an impact on the emotional state of Quinn as well as the trust he has in your relationship – you’re able to monitor these elements through various devices on your ‘computer’. Whilst this clearly makes your motivations for helping Quinn inherently suspicious, it does make it somewhat easier to have an effect on Quinn’s behaviour and get him to do what you think best to escape his entrapment.
For this to work effectively, the game relies on Quinn to be a believable character which the player can invest in, unfortunately, it hits and misses with equal measure in this regard. Quinn will mistype and make spelling mistakes in the chat room, causing him to correct them. It’s at these points that he it as his most believable – even if he does insist on correcting every single error.
On other occasions, Quinn will monologue on philosophical theories, provide analysis of classical literature and evoke a near unending array of dodgy metaphors. Not only is this unbelievable, it’s only purpose seems to be to make this game appear more intellectual than perhaps it is. During particularly long ramblings I found myself stabbing away at the controller in a desperate attempt at finding a ‘skip dialogue button’, to no avail.
STAY also does an inconstant job of maintaining tension. One of the key features of the game is that if you leave Quinn alone for any lengthy periods of time, including time where your console is switched off entirely, then this will have an impact on your relationship with Quinn and how you progress through the game. Naturally, being an evil abuser of pixels, I left Quinn alone for an entire day trapped in the room – just to see what happened. Upon my return he was so miffed with me that he smashed up the computer and I had to re-start the chapter – that was it. Immediately any sense of tension caused by the pressure cooker environment of being trapped in this room alongside Quinn was lost, the only punishment was having to read Quinn’s interminable dialogue all over again.
The same can be said of making choices that lead to Quinn’s death. Despite his protestations that the locked door felt warm to the touch, I convinced him to open it anyway, leading to an explosion and his flaming demise. Again, the game just restarted from the beginning of the chapter, dispelling the smoke and mirrors by revealing that, despite the multiple choices it had offered me, there was only one correct course of action.
Alongside the chatroom setting there are simple puzzles that must be solved to help Quinn on his way, such as having to reassemble the pieces of a broken dish or rearrange books on a shelf. These are satisfying enough, but there’s nothing here you won’t have seen before. The game will also cut-away to 2D side-scrolling when Quinn explores his surroundings – these were, without doubt, my favourite moments in the game. The excellent animation of the pixel art approach provides more depth to Quinn’s character than pages and pages of chat room text could possibly accomplish.
In many ways the game plays out like it wants to be an intense episodic mystery thriller, the kind that you might watch on Netflix. If there were answers at the end of it all to provide a satisfying conclusion to all the questions, oddness, and weirdness, that would be one thing, but STAY instead descends into a pontification on the essence of ‘being’. The implied twists never came to fruition and my experience of the game concluded with a disappointing, ‘Oh, right… that’s it then’.
STAY can’t be faulted for its aspirations and the attempt to make a believable character in Quinn, to create an individual that the player will want to help. However, the result is a near endless stream of lacklustre dialogue that made it incredibly difficult to stay to the end.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.