App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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It was around chapter 12 of Stay: Are You There? that I realized why the game wasn’t working for me. As a text-heavy, conversation-based game, Stay was delivering line after line of pretty unconvincing dialogue while providing me response choices that didn’t feel like anything close to what I—or anyone else—would say given the situation. This is but one of quite a few, large issues that loom over Stay, an obtuse, slow, and confusing adventure experience.
Talk me through it
Stay begins with an intriguing premise. Quinn, a therapist, mysteriously finds himself trapped in a room. In this dark, foreboding place is one thing that can save him: a computer hooked up to a chat room. In Stay, you play as Quinn’s lifeline on the other end of his chat room as he tries to puzzle his way out of his harrowing circumstances.
Given this setup, most of Stay revolves around chatting back and forth with Quinn. He does most of the talking, but you get chances to give him advice or react to what he’s saying using two or three pre-determined response choices. These choices end up driving the plot forward, and can have an impact on the overall story. Another interesting wrinkle to Stay is that the game knows when you’ve closed the game, and your time away from Quinn can change things about your relationship with him or the story as a whole.
As a dialogue-heavy game, most of Stay takes place in a chat window, where Quinn types incessantly about all kinds of things: his current situation, his past, his fears, etc. In the moments where you get to react to him, your relationship between him can change depending on what you say, which can lead to a different tenor for your conversations moving forward or even affect how much Quinn will trust you.
This is a cool idea, but it would be much more compelling if Quinn or the character you’re piloting talked like they were real people trying to get out of a tense and stressful situation. Instead, Quinn keeps a remarkably even keel and often goes off on philosophical tangents that read like a bad anime script while your character speaks to Quinn with a familiarity that feels completely unearned. There are times where the back and forth is so bafflingly off-kilter that it’s hard to know what’s going on or why certain things are happening. Oh yea, and the whole idea of managing your “logged off” time can be completely circumvented by only closing the game between chapters—you know, the natural stopping points in the game.
Puzzles with no purpose
If Stay just remained in the realm of strange dialogue, it could be a bizarrely enjoyable ride. Picking dialogue options and reading text is tolerable as long as you know you’re making progress toward some end, after all. Unfortunately though, your dialogue options don’t always progress things forward. When picking dialogue options in Stay, most of your options are between telling Quinn to do one of a few different things. Depending on your answer, Quinn may blindly follow your instructions and find a way to kill himself, which forces you to restart the chapter you’re on from the beginning with no way to skip ahead through Quinn’s waves of text.
To make matters worse, the world of Stay is also littered with obtuse puzzles that feel like they have little to no bearing on much of anything beyond extending the game out. These start out realistic enough, with a puzzle where you fix a lightbulb so that Quinn can better observe his surroundings, but things devolve into nonsense from there. There’s puzzles involving chess boards and brick walls with peacocks on top of them that are poorly explained and contextualized. They just feel like padding, particularly because these puzzles come out of nowhere and don’t feel like they fit in well with the narrative. They’re just… there.
The bottom line
Stay: Are you there? starts off with a fascinating premise, but quickly becomes tiresome and confusing. It’s hard to care about Quinn and his struggles to escape his current situation mostly because of how he’s written. Even if you’re committed to seeing where things go though, you have to suffer through inscrutable puzzles and dialogue options that can really slow things down or—even worse—make you lose progress. Frankly, Stay doesn’t give you a reason to put up with all of its issues, so you probably shouldn’t.