Not everyone drinks. I do. While I’ve definitely had my moments of overindulgence, though, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a ‘morning after’ that started with a missing person. Maybe that just means I’m hanging around with the right people – or the wrong ones…
The morning that starts off Convict Games’ STONE is a different story. I got the impression that the title character, a gruff, Hawaiian-shirted koala detective, has had more than a few rough mornings, but this one is rougher than most; His boyfriend, Alex, has gone missing, and it’s up to Stone to utilize every bit of his investigative prowess to figure out what happened and bring Alex home.
STONE isn’t a mechanically intense game – hardcore adventure game enthusiasts won’t find themselves taxed by the investigation aspects of the story. I found this to be a bonus, as it allowed more focus on the story itself and required fewer attempts to, say, use a lighter on your toaster to reveal a secret code or what have you. There is a toaster, but it just… talks to you? Its name is Nigel, by the way.
While it might seem like I threw Nigel the toaster in there to demonstrate how wacky STONE gets, it’s actually emblematic of my biggest issue with the game, which is the feeling of disjointedness I wasn’t quite able to shake through the entirety of the story.
The developers notably cite The Big Lebowski among their influences, and this aspect feels right on target. After leaving Stone and Alex’s apartment, you’re presented with a town map, where (in fairly standard fashion) you can choose from a number of different locations. I never found that going to any of these other than the clearly marked story location, though, had any real impact on what was going on.
You can watch entire movies at the cinema, yes, but it doesn’t take up any in-game time and doesn’t seem to affect your search for Alex; if you’re really concerned, is watching Night of the Living Dead the best move? Probably not.
As a noted JRPG aficionado, I should add a disclaimer here that games aren’t exactly strangers to low-priority side tasks that have questionable value to the story as a whole, so I’m not sure why it stuck out to me so much with STONE. Perhaps it’s the number of nonsequiturs you run into in the course of play, or the bits that don’t seem completely polished – overlapping voice lines tend to stick out when the story is the real selling point of an experience.
I won’t spoil the later parts of the story, but I will say that it’s well-told and engaging, despite being moderately predictable. The characters and their dialogue felt somewhat reminiscent of Night in the Woods, and the art style supports this comparison, with a healthy dose of neon stirred in. I enjoyed talking to everyone, and I was happy with where the story ended up; if anything, most of the interactions that I had left me wanting to dig deeper into what these characters had to say about the situation or even just about their lives in general.
That’s my biggest complaint about STONE, really – it just didn’t feel focused enough for me. With a tiny development team and a contained story, I would really have liked to dig deeper into one aspect (for me, as I’ve mentioned, it was the dialogue and storytelling that caught my attention), rather than throwing in cool side bits just because they could.
Is it neat that Stone can smoke at any time? Sure. Is it cool that you can go sit in a sauna? Of course. Did I watch an entire film on the TV at the apartment? Yup. Would I have really missed any of those things if they weren’t there, though? Not really, especially if it resulted in more of the other things that I found more compelling.
If the concept of an “Aussie Stoner Noir LGBT story” grabs your interest, then, by all means, give STONE a try. It executes what it sets out to do well, and was an enjoyable ride; I’d love to see a more fleshed-out version, but if this is where Convict Games is starting out as a studio, I’m definitely interested to see what they come up with next.