Stone’s titular character is an Aussie through and through – which means he’ll come across as a dick to some and a bloody legend to others (fair dinkum). The same is true for the game he stars in, the debut release from Greg Louden’s Convict Games.
Stone is a mystery heavily influenced by the likes of The Big Lebowski and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Things kick off as Stone wakes up — hungover and confused, as usual — to the sound of his mobile ringing. An unknown voice tells him that his chookie, Alex, has been kidnapped and that Stone’s life (as he knows it) is over. It’s an interesting premise that loses a bit of momentum because what follows is a narrative experience rather than a point-and-click adventure.
Gameplay consists of travelling to some of Oldtown’s famous hotspots – a bar, a nightclub, a cop shop and a local bowls club – to speak with locals in an attempt to track Alex down. A private investigator, Stone’s a digital Koala who moves at the slow, shambling pace of a real-world one, high on eucalyptus (actually, both of those real-world statements are incorrect, but I digress). As much as he’s worried about the whereabouts of his lover, the actual investigation sometimes takes a backseat as Convict lets us explore Stone’s relationships with a Tasmanian devil police detective, a wombat larrikin, a crocodile nightclub owner and more.
Stone has played its cards quite close to its chest in the lead up to release, and that sometimes hinders it. After playing through the game’s first act in a preview, I thought Stone would fall into a point-and-click adventure experience. Granted, the game does call itself an interactive narrative experience but that interactivity is limited to travelling to and around hotspots, actioning objects and engaging in conversation with Oldtown’s citizens. You do have the chance to choose certain dialogue responses at specific points – either being a hard- or soft-ass – but that only has a minimal impact on affairs.
On the other hand, practically forcing people to come into Stone blind ultimately benefits the experience. There are a number of twists and turns – some predictable and some genius – that depend upon this. Without spoiling the game’s mysteries, there’s an interesting subplot woven through the kidnapping investigation that either serves to pad things out or flip the game’s entire narrative on its head; it’s presented in such a nonchalant way I’m not actually certain which of those scenarios is true.
I will be spoiling something until the next time bold text appears, so skip ahead if you want to go in completely blind. Still here? Good. I was correct in my assumption that Stone’s partner, Alex, is a man. This secret is equal parts frustrating and riveting; while Alex’s gender is in question, you’ll find characters referring to him by name, as “chookie” or by using other gender-neutral pronouns. I found myself reminded of the times a younger version of myself talked about my boyfriends as “partners” rather than owning up to the fact I was a homosexual. It’s a nice touch in that respect… but equally, a hard reminder that Stone is artificially withholding information from the player so it can then reveal it when it suits its own narrative.
Spoilers are over – time to keep koala and carry on. While Stone does an exceptional job of dragging his feet, you can also add to this — I found myself taking an unexpected break by heading over to the in-game cinema and watching George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in its entirety instead of following up on leads. The only downside with the cinema is that it has a very oddly-shaped, narrow rectangular screen that proves distracting.
Another cute little extra is an Aussie glossary of terms that might be useful for some of our friends across the pond. Combined with a killer soundtrack full of amazing techno that can be devoured at the local in-game nightclub, Stone is full of great little additions that ooze Aussie charm.
All of Stone’s systems work to create a quirky little game with a bunch of things going for it and almost as many things that can detract from it. The aforementioned potential narrative-flipping twist had me replaying a number of chapters over to see if I could make some sense of what had happened. In the end, I’m forced to concur that either of the two scenarios I’ve come up with could be true and I’m desperate to discuss it with others. If that’s not a reason to play, I don’t know what is. In all seriousness, check out the first fifteen minutes of Stone here – that’ll definitely give you a great taste of the game’s flavour. If you dig it, you’ll dig the full release… otherwise, you might be better off simply chuffing off.
Stone was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC, as provided by the developer. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.