Stay With Us Review
Stay With Us is a first-person survival horror game from Paulina Pabis, the Indie developer behind scare-fest Eyes, The Horror Game. Whilst it delivers some satisfying tension and jumps through its core gameplay, the game is let down by a disappointing story and a reliance upon generic horror tropes.
Stay With Us takes place on a stormy night, in an eerie old graveyard. How original, I hear you saying! The gameplay is heavily derivative of Slender: The Eight Pages; with the player being tasked with collecting a number of objects whilst being hounded by an ever-present baddie. Here, that stalker is the vengeful apparition of a childhood friend who died tragically when you were playing in the graveyard 15 years ago.
Faced with this unrelenting pursuer, you must collect 15 candles dotted around the cemetery before escaping. These candles will supposedly put the spirit to rest, however this is never really explained -- nor does it seem to work. Even after collecting and placing the candles, the girl continues to pursue you until you make your exit.
Stay With Us’s controls are simple and easy to pick up, and whilst not as "tight" as I might have liked, they get the job done with no real issues or barriers to getting where you want to go. Movement is carried out with the keyboard whilst the mouse controls your viewpoint, and control sensitivity options help you to personalize levels of responsiveness to your liking.
Whilst the gameplay is Slender Man-lite, the ghostly girl might as well have crawled right out of your TV from the horror films The Grudge or The Ring. A girl in a grimy white dress with straight long black hair, she spends her time crawling slowly but surely after you on all fours. Even her voice, an extremely creepy vocal fry sound, is the same that was used to such good effect in The Grudge; despite sounding a little too much like my stomach when I’ve forgotten to have breakfast.
It’s that voice, in fact, that makes the game scary. Its constant presence never lets you forget that you’re being hunted, and the longer I went on hearing it the more disconcerted it made me feel. I felt the tension build each time the crackling voice began to grow louder, knowing that she was somewhere close behind and about to pounce. Because of this, the girl is actually a darn sight scarier when you haven’t seen her. Stay With Us’s most frightening moment is when you’re first thrust into the game and that crackling starts up behind you.
For a vengeful, angry spirit, the girl moseys about so slowly that I rarely felt like I was in significant danger and actually had plenty of time to wander around getting lost and trying to find the candles. There are lamp posts scattered throughout the cemetery, and standing in the light protects you from the spirit by causing her to temporarily vanish when she tries to enter it. It’s a little too easy to just hop into the next lamp you see and let her come straight for you, which lessens the sense of vulnerability that is so integral to the success of this type of game.
That said, Stay With Us creates a surprising sense of atmosphere through its intelligent use of sound and small visual cues. Wisps of fog float ominously through the air, playing with your perception and creating strange shapes. Half-opened stone coffin lids shake disturbingly as you approach them and screeching bats hurtle through the night just above your head.
It’s the narrative (or lack thereof) that makes Stay With Us a little more problematic. More story is revealed in the game’s blurb description than during the actual game. The tiniest of background points are drip-fed to the player, but by the time the experience was over I’d learned almost nothing that I hadn’t already read before downloading the game. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but by actively trying to set up a story, it makes it all the more jarring when there’s really no explanation at all.
As you cower and tremble your way through the graveyard, you’ll stumble upon notes and documents scattered around the area. Each of these alludes to the grim fate of a different member of the group of childhood friends responsible for the graveyard death. The protagonist’s reactions to these documents strongly suggest they had no idea about any of these incidents, further begging the question as to what you’re doing here in the graveyard in the first place!
There’s a newspaper report on your friend Mary -- who died in a car crash where she wasn’t wearing a seat belt -- prompting you to exclaim on how unlike her it would be to not wear a seat belt. “How weird”, you say, seemingly ignoring the even weirder fact that the article about your childhood friend’s suspicious death is here on the floor of the very graveyard where your other friend died; and you didn’t even know it had happened in the first place!
Other documents include a coroner’s report for your friend Andy and a “Missing” poster for friend Steve who, according to the poster’s photo, is in fact a woman (not that I’m judging, maybe that’s accurate to the character). The problem here is that it’s all so stringy and bare that nothing makes much sense and it’s all left up in the air. This is clearly not the end of the story as the game ends on a “to be continued” cliff-hanger, but I don’t think that’s an excuse for not making any sense or progression this time around.
Stay With Us is a short game; one that can be completed in under 10 minutes, as evidenced by a Game Jolt trophy which can be unlocked for doing so. You can more realistically expect a standard play-through to last around 15-20 minutes.
Stay With Us is available for free on PC and Android, or for $1.99 on iOS, and is definitely worth picking up for a quick play-through if you’re a horror fan.