An interesting concept that needed some more polish and better puzzles.
Addressing social issues in a video game more often than not turns into a minefield. In this case, the developer of STAY, a game in which a psychiatrist is trapped in a room with a single contact to the outside world, has created a title to help bring light on mental health. It’s an issue that has become more relevant in today’s society, and the effort was obvious though felt a bit underdeveloped. A lot of interesting ideas begin to take shape, but a lack of polish and overreliance on vague themes left the experience lacking and the overall message unclear.
It all starts with a kidnapping. We learn through discussion and a short cutscene that a man has been abducted during the night by a masked assailant and placed in a locked room with nothing but a computer. It’s through this computer we interact with the poor soul Quinn, an admittedly mediocre psychiatrist who doesn’t understand the reason for his predicament and relies on the player to help him through the situation. The entire game plays out via chatting with Quinn. You direct him on what to investigate as he attempts to escape, and talk him through the experience as he tries to discover the reason for his imprisonment.
The experience felt much like a point-and-click adventure game just without the actual point-and-click part. Quinn describes different interactable items in a room and you choose which deserve his attention. Often a puzzle will present itself that needs to be solved to continue, ranging from incredibly easy to a few that just made no sense to me whatsoever. Even after finding the solution to a couple online, I still couldn’t understand how I was supposed to know the solution. Aside from the puzzles, each chapter has a decision that changes the course of the story or end the game entirely. No decision requires you to restart the game as anytime you provide bad advice that results in Quinn’s death you simply restart the chapter.
Some interesting new ideas are presented in STAY but most don’t feel fully realized. Time is tracked during gameplay, both the time you spend with Quinn and the time spent away from him. It’s made clear at the outset that the amount of time between playing will affect the outcome but after completion I couldn’t tell you what the impact was. The only instance it came up was when I left halfway through a chapter and upon my return I was cursed out by Quinn and he ended the chat, thus requiring me to restart the chapter. In the pause menu, the status of your relationship with Quinn is tracked and fluctuates based on the advice and responses you provide. Again, I can only assume that this someone factored into the calculation for which ending you would achieve as no valid reason for the tracker is presented during the game.
A lot of neat ideas are presented in STAY but they just don’t feel like they were implemented in an effective way. The most interesting segments get interrupted with puzzles that mostly feel like a way of extending the play time. I also ran into a few performance issues like puzzles becoming unresponsive which required a reboot and a chapter restart. I think the developer is on the right track but for this particular game some more polish and better or more relevant puzzles would have gone a long way at creating a more entertaining experience.