Visually STAY may look like a flat 2D pixel game but scratch below the surface and a tale of isolation, desperation and loneliness emerges.
In a unique twist on the video game formula players take a back seat roll and operate as the co-star to the game’s protagonist Quinn. Quinn awakens in a dingy room, surrounded by locked doors and a single computer. Upon turning on the monitor Quinn begins to communicate with you and using clues around the room you must guide him in the right location and help him escape before the timer on a strange clock counts down to zero.
STAY’s other main mechanic revolves around the unique feature of time continuously moving, turn off your console and Quinn will remain trapped in isolation, lost and afraid without your company. Short interludes are included in the game which warn players to leave at their own risk. Once you have put the controller down Quinn’s world will continue spinning, leave him for prolonged periods of time and he will begin to fret and panic, causing him to lose trust in you as you abandon him.
Building on this, a trust meter is heavily featured in the game and upon unlocking higher levels of trust new dialogue options will reveal themselves and potential endings will be narrowed down. To build trust, you must consider Quinn’s feelings, his potential reaction to your statements and even the amount time you spend away from him.
In order to break Quinn out of the locked room you will have to solve multiple puzzles to slowly uncover clues on his location and upturn hints on how to set him free. These puzzles are rather simplistic to begin with but quickly become complicated and without offering hints to players soon become gruellingly difficult. At first this element is fun but becomes frustrating when researching an online guide is the best way to overcome the various and frequent puzzles which on the surface seem unsolvable.
As well as a puzzler STAY operates as a choice based game, when speaking to Quinn various options for dialogue will appear, with your choices have a meaningful impact on Quinn and particularly careless actions leading him down a path that could get him killed. In the likely event that your choices lead to Quinn’s untimely death the chapter will restart allowing you to branch out down another path and get one step closer to freeing the trapped Quinn.
Graphically this indie game is charming to look at, with pixelated visuals STAY sets itself as a unique instalment to the puzzler genre. The computer messenger screen is the main set piece of STAY and the focus on this setting leaves you feeling helpless as your exploration is limited to what you can persuade Quinn to look at. It certainly builds anticipation and tension for the ending as you’ll feel so helpless in a backseat role but unfortunately other aspects of gameplay disrupt the tension that so cleverly builds up during the intro of the game.
Amidst the fantastic graphics and alluring narrative STAY has a few negatives which bring down the tone of the game. Firstly, Quinn is generally unlikeable, as a therapist most of his dialogue revolves around physiological drone, for this severity of his situation his manner flips from arrogant to snivelling, leaving me at many times feeling as though I was babysitting an ill-mannered child rather than a grown adult. This in turn lead me to feel less protective over our protagonist, leaving STAY a game that over time I found harder to spend time with. Secondly, dialogue in general is over complicated without needing to be and feels as though its entire implementation is just to show off, whilst at first the use of strange vocabulary is odd it very quickly becomes grating and plain unrealistic.
Quinn is the one who explores the game, each nook and cranny and the one who is a threat from a ticking clock. For the most part you are just a passenger in his story, it’s a great concept but a few creases need ironing out to make STAY an truly unmissable game.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for honest review*