Developer: Convict Games
Publisher: Convict Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: May 8, 2020 (Worldwide)
Price: $14.99 USD
Australian Indie video game studio Convict Games developed and published STONE for Steam back in 2018. The studio was co-founded by Siblings Gregory and Sarah Louden. They started their own company after Gregory Louden could not find a publisher who was willing to publish their game. Other members of their studio include artists, coders, and developers who have worked both in video games development and motion pictures like Control, Quantum Break, Sucker Punch, and Prometheus.
STONE went on to release on the app store and Xbox One in 2019. It has now come to the Nintendo Switch though it was scheduled to release much later on in 2020. With the current global situation, development was sped up so that it could release on the unofficial Australian Mate Day or M8 Day (May 8th).
STONE is an Australian stoner noir story about a Koala Private Investigator called Stone. Upon walking up without recollection of the night before, he receives a mysterious phone call to say that his partner Alex is gone and is never coming back. Concerned that his “Chookie” has gone missing or possibly kidnapped, Stone sets out to investigate their disappearance.
Finding a clue in his apartment, a matchstick box with the words Smokey Possum Bar written on it, Stone heads to the bar to see if he can get a lead. As he arrives at the bar, he finds that he is not welcome and has been banned from entering the premises but not being one to follow the rules, Stone ignores the warnings and continues to ask the waitress Cockie if she knows what happened to Alex.
As Stone works to piece things together,) he finds himself poked and hustled by “Pommy” Foxes (Aussie slang English), taken in for questioning by a Tasmanian devil police detective and on the occasional “trip” and flashbacks. As the events unfold, we learn more about Stone there are some twists and surprises in store to keep the story moving along.
STONE is a 3D third-person adventure game with story-driven gameplay. Rather than conventional levels that are staples in most videogames, STONE follows the ruling of motion pictures and screenplays with Acts and Scenes. There are five Acts in the story that have about five to six scenes each.
Each scene takes around 5 minutes to play through, rounding up to just over an hour of gameplay. You follow basic objectives like interacting with certain characters to talk with them or with objects to know a bit more about them. The gameplay is rather very simple and is an end to a means to drive the story along. It literally is, just walk from point A to point B, talk to this person, talk to that person, and smoke the occasional cigarette because, why not?
When you do talk with other characters, you are sometimes given the option to choose to be a ‘Soft Touch’ or ‘Hard Ass’ that works like “Good Cop/Bad Cop”. You get slightly different actions depending on which option you choose but it doesn’t really change the outcome of the story or have any consequences.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
STONE is not particularly content heavy but does have its own art gallery with characters are that were designed by the dev team. There is also a handy list with meanings for the Aussie Slang used in the game like Schooner, Pom, Ankle Biters, and other examples.
In the main story, there are some points where the player can choose to go straight on to the next scene or explore the world of STONE. You can take the time to revisit some of Stone’s old haunts, listen to music in the record store, or watch some public domain films in the cinema. These are only accessible during these points in the main story so upon beating the game, you will not be able to access them again even though you can replay scenes.
STONE features voice acting and an original soundtrack created by the artists who worked on the game. The music gives the game a kind of ‘Tarantino’ vibe, which is just as well seeing as the game is inspired by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kubrik, and Kawasawa, just to name a few.
Although the soundtrack was interesting and enjoyable, I was not too blown away by the voice work. It is okay but that is just it. It is “okay,” not great. The supporting characters were fine enough but I found Stone himself to be rather grating. It felt like most of his lines were just shouting “Where’s Alex?” over and over again like a broken record and made me less interested in the story. There are also issues with the speech where it doesn’t always sync up with character models’ mouth movements.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The world of STONE is colorful yet simple. The graphics are not exactly “visually compelling” but they do a decent enough job. There are a couple of issues where some textures fall into one another like where part of Stone’s shirt falls beneath his body. It is common to happen in some games, including in big AAA titles. However, in a game that has little over an hour of gameplay, I would have hoped for a bit more polish.
Some of the character models also look rough around the edges. The foxes, for example, are ugly to look at which is a shame, as the character artwork found in the gallery looks great. In fact, if the game used the art style represented in the artwork like a graphic novel, I feel it would have made more of an impression on me.
As regards performance, STONE handles very well on the Nintendo Switch. Loading times between scenes and acts are not particularly long and controls are pretty responsive. Then again, the game itself is not exceptionally demanding on the Switch’s GPU so there is little reason for the console’s hardware not to be able to emulate the game properly.
I will admit that when I first heard about STONE coming to the Nintendo Switch, I was genuinely interested in the title. I enjoyed films like The Big Lebowski as well as the occasional detective noir. I thought this might be an interesting blend of the two along with a touch of Aussie humor but expectation and reality are two different things. I didn’t enjoy STONE as much as I hoped I would.
I do not doubt that the story was quite an interesting one. The story beats kept it reasonably interesting and having a homosexual protagonist, though not clear from the start, was a welcome change. I respect the development team’s choice of having Stone desperately looking for his boyfriend Alex and that the LGBTQ+ community is just as deserving of representation in video games.
The visuals, unfortunately, felt unpolished and diminish the quality of the game somewhat. The experience itself also felt very monotonous. Going from one place to another with rather little interaction in between, made the game seem little more than just a walking simulator and I feel it could have been much more. The $14.99 price tag will feel too rich for lack of quantity and quality of the game.
STONE is an interesting take on popular detective stories. Unfortunately, the gameplay ultimately lets it down. For a single playthrough, it is decent enough but a game with very little gameplay and a very linear storyline will not have me coming back to it anytime soon.
THE VERDICT: 6/10
*A download key was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review
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Tags: Convict Games, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, review, STONE, STONE A Hip Hop Stoner Noir, Stone Switch Review
This post was written by Mike Scorpio