Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games like Stay deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you’ve probably never heard of.
There's always one that gets away. When I went to Play NYC 2018, I sampled so many games, but there's one I just never got a chance to play. This was Stay, a text-based horror/adventure hybrid where you try to save a man who's been kidnapped. The catch? He's isolated in a room and can only talk to you via a messaging app on a computer.
The game follows a former therapist named Quinn who, despite his best efforts, seems to live a troubled life. One night, a home intruder wakes him up, and knocks him out and abducts him before he knows it. Now he awakens inside of a mysterious dark room with only one thing inside of it: a computer that lets him talk to you. Actual you, the game is specific that Quinn is really communicating with you. The two of you need to figure out who did this and find a way to save Quinn.
While the plot is interesting, the central hook is really building a relationship with Quinn and discovering what exactly went wrong in his troubled life. Without expect writing, this would simply fail to draw anyone in. Thankfully, Stay has that expert writing. Quinn's story is interesting, and I had a really good time trying to learn about each new area of his life. You can't learn everything in a single playthrough though. If you have a real interest in Quinn, you'll need to run through multiple sessions.
For the most part, your goal is to talk to Quinn and help him think out the solutions he needs to advance. You get two or three different things you can say to him, with each option affecting how he feels about you. You could earn Quinn's trust and have him listen to you, or play your cards wrong and make Quinn think you're the one trapping him here. Whatever the case, these conversations are the majority of the gameplay and taking care of Quinn's mental health is a top priority.
It isn't just the time you're playing Stay where things happen. The time you spend away from Quinn is just as important. Every second that Stay isn't on, time continues to flow for Quinn. Once you start the game you also start a timer. Every time you shut the game off to go do something, time keeps advancing in Quinn's world. Take too long and Quinn may not trust you. He might be upset that you abandoned him, or worse. It feels weird for a game to demand such a commitment, but you're going to want to put time aside for Stay. It really does drive home the fact that this is an actual person in an actual horrible situation.
Occasionally, you'll take the role of Quinn himself to solve some puzzles. It's pretty clear this isn't really the focus of Stay, with the puzzles being of varying quality. One strange puzzle requires you to rearrange books so that their spines form an infinity symbol. This took some guesswork to actually figure out what needed doing. Another puzzle is just as simple as reassembling a broken dinner plate. None of this is hard, but it does feel like it exists just to waste time. Yet the conversations and character development with Quinn are more than enough to overlook some crummy puzzles, and once you've finished the game you can skip them on subsequent playthroughs to get to the good stuff without worrying about it.
At least while solving puzzles I got some good art to go with it. Stay is both a visual and auditory treat. There's a camera that constantly shows Quinn's face as he writes to you, and his reactions to what you say is another indication on how your relationship is going. There's some fantastic pixel art animation, and it does a great job with making the game come to life. The soundtrack works just as well, slow and mysterious while you're just talking while kicking in during the puzzle segments.
When it comes to survival horror games, it really takes something unique to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, Stay has that unique element. Bonding with Quinn is currently a fantastic experience, even if the game's puzzles bring it down. In fact, I have to get back to it right now. I'm pretty sure I've left Quinn alone for too long writing this, and I'm not sure he hasn't done anything stupid while I was gone.
Stay was previewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and iOS.