There’s a tragic lack of truly and uniquely Australian titles on the market. Games that tell stories that resonate with Australians and make the rest of the world sit back and ask ‘oh, wow, so that’s how you guys live, huh?’ whether that’s for better or worse.
At first look, Convict Game’s debut title STONE might evoke imagery of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger in its cute and cuddly character in an Australian setting but… It’s far from that. Very far. I would not let kids near this game. So what is STONE? Who is he? He’s a stoner koala, of course, who loves a drink and hip-hop and also happens to be a private investigator. Of course. You know, like most koalas.
The story kicks off when Stone awakens from a nasty hangover, disorientated and not remembering the previous night. He soon receives a mysterious phonecall, telling him that his boyfriend, Alex, has gone missing and will never be seen again. Stone is then sent into a frantic search through Oldtown’s bars, bowls club and even a cinema to find him.
The game takes inspiration from old adventure games, with the player walking around environments, examining objects and talking to people in order to progress. Although unlike older adventure games, there’s not a lot of lengths or puzzles to be solved. Which, in a detective game, seems like a missed opportunity. Instead the game is pretty linear, taking you from location to location to talk to various other anthropomorphic characters in an attempt to unravel the mystery.
The game offers you two ways to approach characters, with a ‘soft touch’ using a sort of empathetic emotive request, or being a ‘hard ass’ as a grizzled PI would expect to be, demanding your answers. Although the only thing that really changes is the dialogue, again feeling like another missed opportunity.
And it’s a shame, because STONE is a game that oozes personality, feeling like it could be any Australian inner city suburb, and offers all kinds of fun extras like indie musicians from across the globe and even full royalty free films to watch such as Night of the Living Dead (a personal favourite) as well as some classic Australian pieces of cinema.
Though at every single turn I kept thinking ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was a puzzle here’ or ‘it should be more difficult to convince this character, maybe with dialogue options’.
But the further I got, the less these things started to bother me as I was absolutely entranced by the story and the writing. I thought it would be a pretty clear cut mystery at first, but then layers began to build, things began to happen, and even at the end I found myself going ‘oh wait! Oh! I get it now!!! Except also what?’
And that’s the games biggest draw card. It’s a story driven game that wants to take you on a journey. And it’s very good at immersing you in that journey with its set dressing, great voice acting and a world that feels real. As real as it can get with animals and whatnot everywhere, but still, very real.
The artwork, the graphics and the world itself feels not just uniquely Australian, but like something out of a grizzled detective story meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with trippy sequences, grungy environments and even a rave you can go dance at.
The game in total only took me around 2 hours to play and explore, so it’s a short little experience that you owe it to yourself to take a crack at if you’re into Australian culture and Australian games.
STONE is out now for PC and Mac.