Stay will stay with you.
The game is still technically being played even when you aren’t actually playing it. In one of the more fantastic mechanics i’ve ever seen in an indie title (or any title for that matter) every second you spend away from your virtual companion is a second that he is left alone, to his own devices. In Quinn’s case…this is quite dangerous.
Not since i first picked up a Tamagotchi as a child have i ever expelled so much guilt about the idea of leaving my virtual buddy to their lonesome. I guess i should explain why this matters so much in Stay.
Quinn is/was a psychiatrist who gets bopped over the head one day and wakes up in a dark room with nothing but a solitary desk, chair and a computer for company.
In this understandably scary predicament there is one bright light to hold onto. Upon sending out a chat room style SOS for help, Quinn makes a connection to the outside world. Someone who can help him navigate his current dilemma and potentially see him through to the other side.
The game plays in a few parts, the largest of which is a continuous chat message that you have running with Quinn, he will ramble about various things and occasionally you get to chime in with a thought, idea, question or suggestion from a selection of choices. You get to read what you are about to type before sending it – which in some cases is a god send – because Quinn is…shall we say…fragile.
The game toys with a lot of themes of mental health, depression, anxiety and an overall feeling of hopelessness. Beginning the game will actually give you a warning of some of the more intense narratives within and even offers you a link to a real world connection if you are feeling any of the above emotions yourself.
The thing about Stay is that as much as your prime instinct as a gamer is to just help Quinn escape, given his fragile mental state, you can sometimes do more harm than good by merely focussing on that and ignoring the more personal nature of your relationship to Quinn. Keeping him sane is as important as keeping him alive.
Which is why when you turn the game off, and time starts ticking, or you take too long to answer a comment – he may start to feel those dark emotions creeping in. Leading to perpetually more serious discussions.
The point during my play through that this really started to sink in was after Quinn was opening his heart to me – i made a comment equivalent to “Why don’t you just cheer up” – i’m paraphrasing – but right after i sent it, i knew it was the wrong thing to say. I would never say something as flippant like that to someone in real life suffering. In the game it seemed more jovial though. Less important.
That was until Quinn flipped his shit, called me on my platitude and promptly smashed his device, ending our communication…and my game.
This isn’t the only time Quinn left me abruptly. Several decisions can lead to an untimely end for Quinn. I had to replay several chapters over and over again to pick the exact order of phrasing that would allow Quinn to escape what seemed like the inevitable at that point.
I found myself caring quite deeply for Quinn. Suffering from a variety of mental health issues myself, it was all too easy to imagine myself in his shoes. It almost made me more determined to see him through to the end of his journey, regardless of how hard that may be.
Incidentally, it is VERY hard.
Not the communication. Not the trial and error. The damned puzzles.
The puzzles run the gauntlet of relatively simple, to basically impossible. They actually made the game less enjoyable for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good puzzle. These puzzles are on another level though.
People have literally had to reach out to the developers for clues on some of them. Not least because they are occasionally entirely procedural, so they don’t work the same for everybody, but most of them have absolutely ZERO level of any kind of instruction AT ALL.
Nothing telling you the controls, nothing telling you which parts move and which don’t, nothing telling you the goal, just absolute madness to behold and figure out.
I am not a smart man, but i’m no fool. On some of these puzzles i took over 40 minutes to get anywhere close to an answer, and those were considered the easy ones.
It’s a shame really, because i LOVED the story so much. I really wanted to get to the bottom of this house of mysteries, but got so fed up of having to go to Youtube on pretty much every chapter excluding the first few (and there are 24) just to figure out the answer. Sometimes even with it spelled out in video form i still struggled to get to completion.
It went from a game i was falling in love with due to a strong narrative tale on a subject matter close to my heart, to an absolute lesson in frustration.
Ultimately you shouldn’t let this put you off. Puzzles are supposed to be hard, and you’ll definitely get your moneys worth out of these. If you are considering a purchase to dig your way through a dark story told in a unique format, you may find yourself put off by the mental acrobatics you are forced to perform towards the ending chapters of Stay though.
All in all, Stay is a fantastic title.
Amazing dialogue, compelling narrative, unique gameplay elements, albeit slightly marred by frustrating puzzles.
You can view the first 30 minutes of the game below and judge for yourself if it’s worth picking up.
Stay is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch & PC/Mac.