Hip Hop Stoner Noir
I feel like not enough games use the phrase "hip-hop stoner noir". In fact, I've never heard that specific phrase used to describe any game until STONE's announcement. Once I did hear it, I knew I needed to see more of it. The game's style drew me in with an overt joy of being Australian and an interesting mystery to solve. Does STONE keep my attention, or is it lost faster than Australia's war against the emus?
STONE opens up with its titular character waking up with a terrible hangover after a night of drinking. His apartment is trashed, his boyfriend, Alex, is missing, and he gets a mysterious call telling him that his life is over. Thankfully, Stone is a private investigator. He takes matters into his own hand, begins to retrace his steps and tries to figure out what happened to Alex. Along the way he gets tangled in a conspiracy involving a trio of British foxes, an angry police detective, and a mysterious fat man everyone seems to mistake Stone for. In all, it's going to be a strange couple of days.
The best parts of the plot are the ones that focus on Stone's search for Alex, and the relationship they built up. You can tell there was some real care in trying to portray a realistic coupling. I actually cared about the search for Alex, and it was the mystery that I found myself thinking about even when I wasn't playing STONE. Since the central mystery is the most important part of such a story, it's a good thing that STONE manages to nail this one.
On the other hand, the whole thing involving the fox conspiracy feels weird at best and totally irrelevant to the rest of the game at worst. Several times it felt like it was interrupting the actual plot for strange filler. I kept trying to figure out how it tied into the vanishing of Alex and drew nothing but blanks. By the time it was over I still couldn't tell you what this part of the game was even about or even what the foxes were actually doing. The whole thing could have gone up in smoke with little consequence.
Like the actual story, the writing itself is very hit or miss. At times it's absolutely hilarious. When the jokes land, they land hard. Between Stone's general attitude, everyone's hatred of him, and an extreme use of Australian slang, I laughed more than once. At times it can also get pretty heartfelt and real. Some late-game scenes that dealt with the nature of Stone and Alex's relationship worked really well. I could see STONE hitting all the right notes to draw people into its drama.
Unfortunately, I found scenes just as often that left me confused. There are times when lines barely feel connected to the actual situation on hand. Characters spout many non-sequitur that often left me scratching my head. One weird dream sequence saw Stone seeing a TV that said: "talk to the bartender". He proceeded to divine an entire unrelated plot point from that. Lines would often overlap with each other, leaving me even more confused about who's supposed to be responding to what. Worse, the game wraps up with a weird epilogue. It feels more like it stops short rather than ending on any satisfying note.
The plot and writing issues cause STONE to crumble. Especially since there isn't much in the way of gameplay to back it up. All you have to do is walk from location to location, interacting and talking with people along the way. Sometimes you're given the option to pick if Stone is going to be a hard ass or a soft ass, but this doesn't change the plot. It lets you color Stone a bit as a character, which I do appreciate, but there's only one story told one way.
Early on STONE gives this false impression that you'll at least have a bunch of little weird things to interact with. Stone's flat has objects like a drum machine to play with, several random objects to interact and get funny flavor dialogue from, and he can turn on his TV to watch classic silent films.
Yet, no other location replicates this. You'll spend some time in a bar, club, and bowling lawn, yet they have nothing you can mess with. It makes them feel lifeless, even if they're full of people. There's also a movie theater where you can watch classic silent films, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Night of the Living Dead, and The Story of the Kelly Gang. This is the coolest touch in the game, and it reminds me of cult FPS hit The Darkness when Stone and Alex sit down to watch a movie together.
STONE looks a bit on the simple side. There's really nothing that blows me away, though it all works well enough for the game. There are some noticeable clipping issues though, especially with Stone's clothing. Parts of Stone's body seems to be constantly peaking through his clothes in weird ways. Thankfully, the game redeems itself with its music. There's a wonderful soundtrack featuring up and coming artists like Ryan Little, Warchief, Biniyam, Grand Oyster Palace, and Golden Grove. It's a fantastic spread of all sorts of genres that fit the game perfectly. If there was one thing pushing me into each new area, it was finding out who's tunes I would get to listen to next.
By the end, I wished I could have loved STONE more than I did. Everything about the experience is uneven. Every time I began to jive with the writing or feel like the game was hitting some sort of direction, it would swerve away from this with unnecessary side plots or poor writing. There's a story worth experiencing here, but STONE needed an editor to iron it out before it was ready for release.
TechRaptor reviewed STONE on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer.
- Interesting Central Mystery
- Sharp Sense of Humor
- Great Soundtrack
- Strange Side Plot
- Occasional Bad Writing
- Lifeless Enviroments