Developer: Appnormals Team
Publisher: PQube Limited
Review Context: I generally enjoy games that tell stories in different ways. There is no particular game in my gaming history that is close to this, but one game that I liked that told a story in a unique way was Her Story.
Date of Playthrough: May 16, 2018
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy.
STAY, developed by Appnormals Team, is a dynamic game that touches upon the subjects of loneliness and mental illness. Quinn, the main character, begins the game being abducted and suddenly finds himself in a darkened room alone with a computer. You, the player, has to stay with Quinn to keep him company throughout the game. This is done through a chat interface between you and Quinn. It is through the chat interface that you learn more about Quinn.
The whole chat experience itself is very well done, as the text chat patterns are very realistic and reminiscent of the days of AOL Instant Messenger. For example, Quinn makes a spelling error and corrects the word with an asterisk in the next line. The keystrokes can be heard throughout the chat experience, along with dark and gloomy background music on endless repeat. During the chat you will get choices between a few responses that you have to click, not type out. Based on whatever choice you pick, Quinn’s mood and relationship level with you will change, which is tracked on the side of chat and also in a whole other menu. The main striking feature of STAY is the clock that ticks in real time that tracks how long you’ve “stayed” with Quinn, but it also tracks how long you’ve left Quinn alone, even after closing the game. If you leave Quinn alone and return to the chat later it will affect Quinn and his dialogue within chat. An interesting feature in this game that we’ve seen in other games is user statistics. After each chapter you see a breakdown in percentages of all the user’s choices for whatever the major choice was in that particular chapter.
During the entire game of STAY, Quinn is trapped and you have to guide him through choices and complete puzzles. The puzzles are an interesting element of STAY, as they were an element of the game that I happened to overlook prior to playing, but the puzzles are very central in your game experience, sometimes negatively. As a general puzzle gamer, I found most of the puzzles to generally be fine in difficulty and presentation to the player. That being said, there were a few puzzles that were roadblocks to the experience, so much so that assistance was needed to contiue forward due to design (and I wasn’t the only one!). This is unfortunate, as once you’re stuck on a puzzle your mind is derailed from the overall narrative of the game and feels like you are almost exclusively playing a puzzle game. It also skews the timer counting your time staying with Quinn. Despite this frustration, I found almost all of the puzzle concepts to be well thought out.
As you guide Quinn from chapter to chapter, there is a chance you could lead Quinn to his death. There are up to thirty deaths in the game. The chances for a death to occur start in chapter one. Don’t worry though, if Quinn dies you can restart from that chapter point. During my playthrough, I encountered around seven deaths, with most of them being a bit surprising and startling, to say the least. At one point I encountered three deaths in a single chapter, and two of those three deaths were a bit too similar. One of those two probably could have been left out or done differently. Although starting back at a checkpoint is good, you still have to read the same Quinn text again, at the same normal Quinn typing speed, which can be annoying.
Although the narrative and storytelling through chat in STAY is front and center, the animations and pixel-art graphics throughout the game are also very good. The pixel-art seen throughout the game, whether in items you collect throughout the chapters, or the in-between chapter graphics, they are all well created and help add authenticity to the story being told. In the chat, Quinn has a webcam, and credit to where credit is due, as the background changes behind the webcam when Quinn is in a different place. The death animations in the game are also done well, as the ones I experienced did not seem all that graphic in terms of gore.
STAY is an interactive storytelling experience first and a puzzle game second. That’s how it should be, and I would really hate for a potential player to have their experience cut short due to the puzzles. The game probably could have benefited from another month of QA testing, as there are some checkpoint issues in a late chapter and some of the puzzles should probably be streamlined in size and scope. but not concept. This is a game with an important message and the puzzles should not take your mind away from the value of this storytelling experience. It should also be noted that there is some replay value in STAY, as the game has multiple endings and the many death possibilities throughout the chapters. Once the game undergoes some patchwork for a more fluid experience I would recommend it to anyone, with the disclaimer that the real life themes touched upon might be too sensitive for some.
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