Thursday, October 4, 2018

STAY Review (PS4)

Imagine being kidnapped and trapped in a room where your only contact with the outside world was a computer chat room connected to a random stranger. That is the basis of STAY - out now for Switch, PS4, and Xbox One - except the twist is that you play as the random stranger rather than the trapped person and have to help them try to escape their dire situation. The only problem is that the trapped person you're trying to help is the dumbest stupid idiot on the planet who totally saps your desire to help them with every line of text they type into the chat. STAY is a fascinating concept, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Continue reading our full PS4 review of STAY for all of the details. 

Game Details

  • Publisher: PQube
  • Developer: Appnormals Team
  • ESRB Rating: "M" for Mature
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Pros: Interesting concept; nice presentation
  • Cons: Totally unrealistic conversations and reactions ruin the whole experience
  • MSRP: $12 

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As outlined above, STAY is a game about a man who was kidnapped and trapped in a room and you, through some twist of fate, are their only contact with the outside world via a chat program on a PC. As such, all you can really do is talk to the man, Quinn, via chat and try to keep him calm and help him try to escape. Quinn's mental state, as well as how much he trusts you and will listen to you, changes based on your responses to him so the idea is to keep him happy and focused on escape. For the most part you are a passive observer as you have no control over what Quinn actually does with the advice you give him. You just have to sit back and watch as he explores the room, discovers a bathroom, finds a cat, and eventually keeps going deeper and deeper into whatever building he's trapped in. You do have some direct control now and then where you have to solve a puzzle, which I quite enjoyed. For the most part, though, you're just reading through walls of text that Quinn types and occasionally offering a response.

It is a great concept but the problem is that Quinn is completely unrealistically written. He has no sense of self-preservation and won't do even the most obvious things without you prodding him into it. You'd think your first instinct would be to thoroughly investigate the room and look around and try to figure things out, but he just sits there like an idiot. And when you do finally get him to actually look around, he's not thorough and, because of the nature of the game - you only have a couple of dialogue choices at a time -, he only does one thing out of a bazillion ideas he should be doing to try to escape. It is totally frustrating trying to help someone that is, apparently, dumb as a brick. I assume this is what tech support is like.

Part of the problem is that the developers want you to play the game a certain way. They want you to engage Quinn to learn about his past and who he is and figure out who kidnapped him and really dig into the psychology of the whole situation. This approach seems more relevant when someone is trapped in a well or under rubble and you have to keep them calm and doesn't seem appropriate in a situation where a person can freely move around and can actually figure out how to escape. You can't just try to be straightforward and only choose practical options to make him try to escape, either, because then he doesn't trust you anymore. It is all so unrealistic and unrelatable that I just don't get it. Maybe I'm just insensitive and heartless. 

The writing itself in the chat window is unrealistic as well. Quinn types out long sentences and gets philosophical all the time and acts like you're having a normal conversation. He even corrects typos constantly, which is cute at first but quickly becomes obnoxious. There is no sense of danger or urgency in any of it. You can only respond to him when the game lets you, and you can only choose from a couple of options each time and, again, your advice and dialogue isn't realistic at all. This isn't remotely how real people would react. The dialogue is also really dry and bland and there is way, way, way too much of it so you're more likely to quit out of boredom than actually help Quinn escape.

There are fail states in STAY when Quinn does something dumb like the idiot he is and dies. You can give him bad advice that leads to a bad end, but usually it is because he's a moron or he doesn't trust you so he doesn't listen to you. The game also has an interesting mechanic where it keeps track of how long you are away from the game and if you don't play for a while you'll more than likely come back and find Quinn wandered off and died like a moron because you weren't there to babysit him and tell him it isn't a good idea to put his dick in a light socket. If Quinn does die then you just re-load to the beginning of that particular chapter and keep playing like nothing happened.  

The presentation in STAY is nice all around. The game uses a 2D pixel art style that is consistent and well done overall. You spend a lot of time in the chat with a webcam view of Quinn's face, and he is surprisingly emotive and expressive. The sound is also good with nice ambient sound and an appropriate musical score that sets the mood.

STAY is a cool concept but the execution makes it hard to want to actually see it through to the end. Quinn is totally unlikable thanks to how the dialogue is written and he's dumb and frustrating when you're trying to help him escape. The whole point of the game is that you're supposed to become attached to the character and care about his fate, but you don't and the game is just tedious and boring. I'll admit that I don't really have much patience for these artsy fartsy philosophical games, but STAY just misses the mark by not having realistic enough writing to keep you invested. Far From Noise from 2017 has a similar concept with much better execution. STAY is just kind of boring. Skip it.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.