Billed as a "Motion Picture Game," Stay Dead aims to push the "interactive movie" genre beyond the limitations that caused its quick fall from grace. In designer/director Fabrizio di Giovinazzo's words, it would be a movie to someone who just watches but still feel like a regular game to the player.
It's a fighting game atypical not only in the use of live action movie clips, but also in how the fights are structured: you have no energy but 10 rounds to deplete the life points of the opponent. At the beginning of every round, you have a choice between a single-input quick attack, easy and safer but also more risky in a prolonged fight; a series of inputs making a combo, harder but more rewarding; or to start in defense, which awards a damage bonus in the subsequent counterattack. If you waver too much, the opponent will attack first.
Similar to a rhytm game (the contemporary genre that's arguably closer to laser games), there's a limited time to enter each input, signaled by a dot crossing a square which displays the required command over the screen. Such interface was conceived for an easy adaptation on both desktop computers and touch screens. In all fights except one, if you miss an attack, you are given the opportunity to defend and even counterattack. This is by far the best idea: too much mistakes are still not allowed, especially at higher difficulties where the time to enter each input is reduced, but you are not immediately punished in case of errors, eliminating the biggest source of frustation in the genre. It all feels remarkably fluid, thanks to the really excellent editing of the clips: of note is the use of slow motion between attacks, to reduce distraction while the commands appear on the screen.
Beside the genre's limits - clips will start to repeat sooner than later - good cinematography cannot hide the low budget: costumes and makeup are very cheap, the fights lack physicality, and menus and screens inbetween are very spartan. On computers, the keyboard is the only input method allowed. There's also no story, even textual, just fights. Reportedly, cutscenes were filmed and casted the foes as demons (proof is in names like Yama and Dagon) escaped to Earth due to a mistake of an angel, but some of the producers didn't like the idea and they were left on the cutting floor. It may be for the same reason that Dukerg's armband svastika has a mosaic over it, or maybe it's just to allow Stay Dead to be sold in Germany.
With just five enemies to beat, the game is over very quickly, with a few achievements as the only incentive for replays. Despite all the good intentions, it's too limited to be either a good fighting game or a good rhytm game. Still a commendable effort, but the genre will need more than a Z-grade action flick to not stay dead.