Appnormals Team's Stay starts off like a typical horror film set-up, as we see a cutscene of an abduction, after which a man - who we're quickly introduced to as Quinn - wakes up in a dank basement with no lighting. He fumbles and finds an old computer that has a chatroom function, but who you find is up to you.
The game leads you at first to believe that this is a plot similar to the film Saw, in the sense that you're waiting for the killer to come. At times you feel like you might be the abductor, while at others you feel like the saviour. The story is a rollercoaster of emotions that will keep you guessing right up until the end, and while we get simple old-school graphics, this seems to compliment the style perfectly. That, along with the sound and often lack of it, builds a really creepy atmosphere that's full of suspense.
The chatroom screen is where you spend the majority of your time. Quinn's face appears in the top left and his reactions really pull you in. - you start to feel for him and want him to get out alive. He will ask you questions, advice about what he should do to escape, and ultimately this helps shape what's to come.
The choices you make have an impact here as well, as a wrong choice can lead to a dead Quinn, or they could simply hurt his feelings. Throughout the whole playthrough the things you do affect your growing friendship with Quinn, and his level of trust. You have two meters to show you how much he likes you and trusts you at any given time, so you'd best always have a close eye on each.
Staying away from the game for any amount of time will have an impact on these numbers as well. It's quite a novel feature that your real-time absence had an impact, but we almost felt guilt-tripped into playing, and we're not sure that's good considering the heavy topics of fear, anxiety, and abandonment. The heavy themes discussed are highlighted to you at the start when it offers you a contact if you're suffering from depression. It feels like a very personal topic for the developer, something that they care about. After all, it's a game that makes you think.
There are references to ancient Egyptian culture, films, and books scattered throughout, and on top of that psychologists like Jung are quoted, partially because Quinn is a counsellor. His love of films and reading is obvious, and it's hard not to like him. He racks his brains thinking which one of his patients could have kidnapped him, but all the while his wit lightens the mood somewhat.
This growing connection means that you really start to consider your actions - listen to his thoughts and your friendship will grow, but be too practical and he may think you're cold, even if he trusts you. All these choices you make lead to seven different endings, so you'd best be careful over the 24 chapters.
Running at around five hours to complete on your first playthrough, this is designed to be completed multiple times. The choices are all made during the text-based storytelling of the chatroom, and it's a simple 'click x on your choice' kind of affair. The only thing you can do other than that is write your name.
Just when you feel you're getting comfortable, he may ask for a little time to think, or to go and do something like try a door. He will then get up from the computer and walk around a bit, which is just a case of watching what happens. That's all the interaction there is... at least up until the first puzzle.
We like our IQ to be tested, and the first few of these are pretty easy, but sooner or later they get pretty taxing. In fact, they're downright infuriating, with very little advice as to what you have to do. There's also another section in a room of mirrors where you have to find your way out, but every time the screen flicked to a new mirror, making us feel a little nauseous. We wanted to step away for a while, but then leaving Quinn would make him worse.
The worst thing about the puzzles was not the difficulty, but rather the fact that the controls seemed to block your progress. In some parts where you have to piece together a torn picture, we wanted to throw our controller down. We could feel ourselves getting stressed by them, and we wonder how long it will take before a number of the players head to YouTube to find a solution.
All in all, we enjoyed our time with Quinn. It was a deep and meaningful story that made us think, and we considered our actions and our words carefully. The main part of the action is well-crafted, and the fact Quinn makes mistakes and corrects himself is a neat touch. He's a loveable and well-designed character, who is witty and charming, which makes it all the more disappointing that the controls during the puzzles, and the difficulty of them, detracted somewhat from our experience. It's a very different game, that will give you lots to think about, but truth be told it felt like a mouse would have worked better than a controller. With a better controller layout, the score would have been higher.