STONE, neo-noir koala PI – First Sip Review
STONE is a neo-noir mystery game starring a Koala Private Investigator. Both developed and published by the aggressively Australian Convict Games. How Australian are they? Well, for one thing, they are named Convict Games. But that’s not all, they chose a Koala for their game, the special edition is called the “Bloody Legend Edition” and so much more.
STONE may be the first Steam game for Convict Games, but they are not entirely new to the world. The game is created by a global team including the narrative designer of QUANTUM BREAK, CONTROL and VFX artist from GRAVITY, PROMETHEUS & more. Bloody bonza mate!
STONE is set up like a game but it’s closer to an interactive story. Much like a lot of Visual Novels where the gameplay comes down to the choices you have to make. However, STONE is both 3D and 3rd Person so you’ll be able to explore the world a lot more than most Visual or Kinetic Novels. The actual story of STONE is pretty standard when it comes to movies, less so for games though. Stone is the titular Koala character, a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking private investigator. Somewhat reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix’s character from the movie Inherent Vice. But with Johhny Depp’s character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ style.
Stone wakes up in his bed after a typical drunken night. However, unlike most of his hangovers, this one is accompanied by a missing girlfriend and a threatening phone call. So it starts off as a typical missing person story, or missing animal I guess. But as is commonly the case with missing persons in books and films things are so straightforward. Stone begins to investigate the crime, working his way backward and following breadcrumbs. But mostly he just visits friends and asks them for assistance in filling in the blanks. It’s not long before a band of British foxes, mistaken identity, a Tasmanian Devil cop, and more throw things into even more chaos.
It’s a pretty great mix of Inherent Vice, Fear and Loathing and more than a few shades of The Big Lebowski. But with anthropomorphic animals.
The game has some nice art. It’s an interesting mix somewhere between the low-poly of DREAMO and the more detailed RIME (maybe it’s an all caps game thing?). The world is set up to echo our own. Stone’s flat is filled with empty cans, bottles, and general junk (however, this is partially due to it being ransacked before the game starts). And then there are the bar Smoky Possum, the dance club and other locations. Most locations are again close to what we’d see in the real world. However, they seem to be a little sparse in comparison to the flat. The character models are fun but most of the ones you don’t interact with seem to double up a fair bit. And even the ones you do interact with seem a little plastic when they talk. There are a number of times things will clip through each other.
For a low budget indie game, it still looks quite good. But considering the style of the game, it feels like it could have been better. One small feature that I love though is that when you have a drink the visuals slightly blur. It’s quite subtle and works very well.
Another real highlight of the game is the sound. Firstly, it is fully voiced, mostly with very Australian sounding characters. However, not exclusively seeing as there are various characters from all over the world, the same as the real Australia and most developed nations honestly. As an actual Australian, I have to say that the dialogue uses a lot of Aussie slang. Some of it I know, others I have to work out via context clues.
Sound-design in the game is fairly solid, a lot of effort has gone into making the audio follow real-life rules. If you move away from something it gets quieter and vice versa. And then there are some subtle sound cues like walking through your flat and hearing the noise of a can being kicked. Stone also has a drum-pad you can play around with in his flat.
However, the real draw for the sound is the music. The game is stacked with all sorts of indie tracks. And best of all the game tells you the song and artist so you can check them out for yourself. There are all sorts of genres present too, from hip-hop to stoner rock and techno. Just a small snapshot of the artists present are Ryan Little, Luchii, Ilkka S, Warchief, James Tottakai & More.
As mentioned earlier, the game is similar to Under What? or more dialogue-driven Visual Novels. There’s no shooting, fighting, looting, platforming or other typical game mechanics. It sounds like it might make the game a bit boring. But, when the story is engaging that’s all you really need. So the basics are wandering around until you find something with a purple dot which means you can interact with it. The game will also provide objectives so you’d have to go out of your way to get lost. It has slight elements of a walking simulator such as Forgotten Passages but ultimately it’s a lot more dialogue-based than that one. However, it lacks the puzzle angle of DREAMO or Superliminal.
As you progress through the game talking to various other characters and completing the first Act, the second Act allows you to explore areas by choice. Rather than in the first Act where you moved to exactly where you needed to go to progress. This brings out more choices and a more branching story aspect to compliment the occasional choices you are presented with. Which mostly boil down to gentle touch or hardass investigation style. There’s not a lot more to say about the gameplay, it’s fairly minimal but it does what it needs to do to compliment the story.
Additionally, you can also check out music in the record store or watch entire public domain movies including The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Night of the Living Dead. So there are options to break up the story if you desire.
STONE is an interesting mid-point between Visual Novel and Walking Simulator filled with fun characters, twists, and turns. It’s exactly the kind of game that you’ll know is for or not for you after the first couple of minutes. Mostly dialogue-driven and filled with genre-based story beats but still feeling like its own thing. Convict Games have an obvious love for the mystery-thriller genre, Australia, music and well film in general.
The game might have some fun animal characters, but it’s for mature audiences only. As you might expect the game has a lot of drinking and drug references, so best to put on a pot of black coffee to sober up as you play.
If you’re looking for a relatively relaxed game with bizarre Australian humor mixed with some actual emotional story beats. Well, this one is probably your best bet. I’ve seen a lot of films, novels, TV shows and even other games that have crossover elements, but STONE still retains its place as a unique creation.
In Coffee Terms
In coffee terms, STONE is less of a coffee and more like a tea. Often mentioned together and there is a lot of crossover in the clientele. But the main purpose of the beverages are somewhat different. Coffee is mostly for that boost of energy while Tea is more of a relaxed winding-down sort of drink. Both are great and have their place, but you need to know what you’re ordering when you get either one. When it comes to being a tea STONE is well-made, maybe it could have been steeped a little longer but the overall flavor is still more than enough to thoroughly enjoy.
STONE review summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.