Are you looking for a recently released interactive movie that represents the epitome of the genre? Look no further, Stay Dead is your game.
Full-motion video games or interactive movies had their heyday in the 1990s. Titles like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace are some of the most fondly remembered arcade machines of that decade. Bur since then, there haven’t been many games that encouraged players to engage in one massive quick time event (with the exception of titles such as Heavy Rain and Asura’s Wrath.)Nevertheless, if the concept sounds appealing, Stay Dead might be the game for you.
Given the nature of Stay Dead, explaining all of the fighting game’s mechanics would simply be a waste of time. What you need to know, is that the player is exposed to multiple button prompts, icons and targets which indicate that an action, such as attacking, doing a combo, defending or grabbing the opponent can be performed. Button presses require precise timing and while it may take some time to get used to them, the different systems and mechanics are quite engaging.
There are only five assailants in Stay Dead (which range from the very generic thug, to a Nazi leader that has a censored Swastika on his shoulder) and you fight them in a quick succession with no dialogues in the middle or deep motivations guiding your actions. Usually, you’ll see a looped live-action video of the two combatants facing each other, until one of them decides to perform an action. At the beginning of each round, one of three strategies can be chosen: single attack, combo and defense. As its name indicates, a single attack does one point of damage. Combos, on the other hand, can do two or three points of damage depending on their length. Naturally, the longer the combo, the more difficult they are to perform, but thankfully, the combo’s length can be changed in the middle of a fight and at the touch of a button.
In addition to the button prompts that indicate that you can either perform attacks or defend, there are two other indicators: one shows how many of the ten initial rounds you have left and the other one indicates your rival’s energy. These are important because you need to hit your adversary enough times so that he has no energy left when the last round is over. If you fail to do this, you have to restart the round all over again and in some cases, you are sent to the main menu without the chance to retry the fight.
At the end of each brawl, the player gets experience points according to the overall performance. Basically, these experience points are used to determine the player’s skill level. There are various skill levels that range from easy to hard and in some of the higher levels, the game becomes extremely difficult.
After the initial nostalgia wears off, faults begin to emerge. Not only does Stay Dead require you to beat all the other opponents before you’re even qualified to fight the final boss, but you also need to reach the hardest skill level. In that skill level, the QTEs take place at a breakneck speed and following the action is almost impossible. The exasperating difficulty is a real shame because most players will never get to see the final showdown, let alone beat the game.
Sadly, the game’s disheartening difficulty isn’t its only problem. The absence of voice acting is a conspicuous one, mainly because silly dialogue would have been a solid addition to this tongue-in-cheek interactive movie. Additionally, Stay Dead’s design makes it really hard for newcomers to get into the genre. The player spins through fights harum-scarum, there’s no context, characters are given little to no personality and there’s no real incentive to keep punching foes apart from your own desire to reach the game’s ending. And what a difficult feat that is.
Nevertheless, fights are really well choreographed and as a result, playing/watching the same confrontation over and over again never becomes excessively dull. Production values seem high enough, the image quality is great and the game uses this grainy visual effect that provides a unique cinematic flair to the whole experience. Undoubtedly, what Stay Dead lacks in variety, it more than makes up for in visual pizzazz.
In the end, Stay Dead successfully captures the essence of the FMV genre and translates that experience into a title released in 2012. The game’s issues are undeniable: Stay Dead is overwhelmingly frustrating, its action is a bit rote and some design decisions feel like a relic from the past, but at the same time, this is an experience you won’t find anywhere else. It may have some serious flaws and it may not be for everybody, but as far as FMV games go, Stay Dead delivers quite a punch.