Developed by Appnormals Team
Published by Pqube games, Ratalaika Games
Played on: PS Vita/PSTV
Also Available on: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and IOS
Quinn is a psychologist who lives alone in a comfortably sized house. After a long night of work, he decides to turn in and get some much needed rest. While in a deep slumber, Quinn is unaware of the danger he’s in. He awakes to see the silhouette of a man standing over him before he is knocked unconscious. Quinn wakes up in a damp, pitch black basement, with nothing more than a computer and a shoddy looking desk. He turns the computer on and enters an odd chatroom with only one other person: You.
STAY is a narrative driven puzzle game from the developers Appnormals Team. The goal of the game is to talk to Quinn and help him understand and ultimately escape from the unsettling happenings he has to deal with. The game is broken into two gameplay types. The first is the aforementioned dialogue. Quinn does most of the talking, but the player has a chance to answer back and provide input and advice. The second gameplay mechanic involves solving various puzzles. These sections are from Quinn’s perspective, and must be solved to move forward in the game’s 24 chapters.
Let’s start with the narrative aspect. Since this is the game’s main draw, and where the majority of the gameplay time is. Quinn speaks to you in the chat, explaining what he sees and how he feels. The player then has to respond to Quinn by picking two to three dialogue options. What the player says has a variety of effects on Quinn, most notably being his trust and status meters. Trust affects what Quinn will tell the player, and how often he will listen to what they say. Status is how Quinn views you, with the scale going from stranger to soul mate. Both of these meters affect Quinn’s sanity. While many dialogue options can build or reduce the amount of trust Quinn has in the player, the main thing that affects Quinn is how long you stay with him.
One of the key mechanics of the game is that it tracks how long you play the game: The amount of time you stay, and how it tracks how long the player is not playing the game: how long they are away. Staying for long periods of time will naturally increase Quinns trust and admiration in the player. Leaving for long periods of time will have the opposite effect, and can even drive Quinn to madness. Most of the dialogue sections play out like this. The player needs to say the right things to Quinn to not only gain his trust, but also to retain as much as they can when they eventually have to turn the game off.
Dialogue sections also influence the amount of danger Quinn puts himself in. In each chapter, there are two ways that Quinn can die. It’s up to the player to guide Quinn in the right direction. If the player makes the wrong choice, then they have the misfortune of watching Quinn die horribly. If they make the right choice, they will see a quick animation at the bottom of the screen that shows they made the right decision.
The game’s story is great (no spoilers of course), but what really got me immersed is how the game’s interface is set up. The chat takes up most of the screen, showing all of the messages that Quinn has sent and the responses the player has sent back. At the bottom of the screen is where the response choices will appear should the player be able to reply. At the top right of the screen is Quinn’s face, where we get to see all the drama unfold. And below that are the trust and status meters. Finally below all of that are four orbs with liquid inside, each one representing an emotion so that the player knows how Quinn feels. The player can press triangle to see a more detailed description of everything I just listed, and track how Quinn’s trust in them has fluctuated over the course of the game.
What makes this interface so immersive is all the tiny details the developers put into it. When Quinn is typing, the player can see his face fill with fear, anger, happiness, and many other emotions. We can see Quinn sneeze, cough, look around at his surroundings, and so much more. There are times when Quinn will make a spelling error, and fix it in the next message. At times it almost feels like talking to an actual person, albeit a person who’s a little predictable.
But while the story elements are great, the puzzles are the real gameplay here. Out of the 24 chapters about 12 or so have puzzles, all of which are seen through Quinn’s eyes. While some of these puzzles are well made, others feel way too obtuse. Almost all of the puzzles in this game are incredibly difficult, which is nice in some respects. However sometimes it feels like the developers were so caught up in trying to make a hard puzzle that they kinda of lost the point. There were puzzles that made zero sense. One involves making bricks light up on a wall so that a peacock will sit on the wall and cause it to collapse… No joke, that’s a thing. And another puzzle makes Quinn use a compass to line up points on a map in a certain order. But the little clue chart that they give the player just has random scribbles on it. And these symbols aren’t on the actual map. How am I supposed to know that the symbol that looks like a mix between a question mark and a curly cue represents one city over another?
At the end of the day, most of the puzzles are well designed and are rewarding when the player figures them out. But there are some puzzles that just do not make any sense. It’s not an issue to have hard puzzles. If I can’t solve one because I’m too dumb to understand, then that’s my problem. But when the very nature of the puzzle is so cryptic that guessing it a faster way of solving the puzzle than actually trying to figure it out, you’ve got a problem.
But it’s not too bad I guess. Once the player beats the game and gets one of seven endings, they will be able to take advantage of what is essentially a new game plus. From the second playthrough onwards, the player will be able to speed up the dialogue and skip puzzles. So for completionists out there who want to get another platinum, here’s your chance. The game on a first playthrough will take 5-6 hours. With the added option to play and skip dialogue and puzzles at will, that cuts the time of the game in half, and makes it much easier. And the best part about this system is that the player can play the puzzles they enjoyed and skip the ones they don’t care for.
Some other things that I liked about the game include it’s soundtrack. Each track perfectly matches the pace and tone of the whole experience. They invoke an uncanny feeling in the player, and a sense of dread as Quinn’s situation unfolds. The game also includes interludes, periods of time when Quinn is in a particularly poor mental state. The player will have to watch Quinn move around, kicking the walls and becoming increasingly frustrated. Should the player leave, Quinn will have a meltdown and his trust in you will be forever tarnished. These sections really show the player how Quinn is barely holding it together, and how they have to be patient with him just like they would if he were a real person.
One last thing I would like to point out is how the game handles the topics of depression, anxiety, and death. Nothing in the game is overdone or mishandled in this respect. Despite Quinn’s problems he is pictured as a human being with a mind and personality. While the player is important to guiding Quinn to safety, Quinn is ultimately in charge of his actions.
In conclusion, STAY is a very immersive and unique narrative experience. Quinn is an excellently portrayed character and he alone makes this game worthwhile. While I found the puzzles at times to be overly complex, I still feel that on the whole they were balanced. The game as a complete product feels great and is an excellent game to play on the go and at home.
I am giving STAY an 8 out of 10
Some puzzles are way too obtuse
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