Stonewall Penitentiary

 

Genre:    Adventure 

Developer:   Storycentric Worlds

Publisher:    Unimatrix Productions  

Released:   May 13, 2018              

Requirements (minimum):

  • OS: Windows XP or later 
  • Processor: Pentium 4
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: any
  • Storage: 2 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Optional, but highly recommended
  • DirectX: version 9.0c
  • Additional Notes: Native resolution: 1366x768; rescales to fill screen

 

 

 

By Dan Peach

 

Stonewall Penitentiary

Storycentric Worlds

Stonewall Penitentiary is the latest offering from Unimatrix Productions in their Storycentric Worlds line of games, and the first not be based on a previously released title. Coming hot on the heels of Lifestream, Shady Brook, and The Filmmaker, Stonewall Penitentiary departs from the visual text adventure hybrid style of its predecessors, to bring players a much more traditional 1st-person point-and-click adventure game experience. And it is all the better for it.

The basic set up is that we are William Thane, a once happily married family man, now struggling with alcoholism and depression. And as if that wasn't enough to deal with, we've just been abducted, stripped naked, tied up, and locked in a cell in an old disused prison. We're not alone either. There are six other people locked in here with us, and we're about to be forced into a violent, bloody, and downright disturbing game of cat-and-mouse, by a sick and twisted masked figure with a point to make. Oh, and just to top it all off, one of us is a killer, and we're all going to die, one by one, over the course of the next six hours! Yay!

It's easy to see that Stonewall Penitentiary takes a lot of inspiration from slasher horror movies of the past, and for the most part it mirrors the structure of those movies very well. Characters die in a seemingly random order, and there's no way to really guess who's going to be next, so it's always a surprise. What was even more of a surprise though, was that the next victim can even, sometimes, be us! Yes, it is possible to die in this game. But don't worry, because if you do die, the game puts you right back to just before the terrifying event, so you can try again. And when I say terrifying, I'm not joking. Well, I might be exaggerating a little, as the game is never really terrifying. It is, however, quite creepy and unnerving in parts, with a few scenes that actually did genuinely scare me. These are the scenes in which you can die, and they take the form of little chase sequences, where our masked friend, The Judge, comes at us with an "oversized gavel". It's relatively easy to escape though, as you're given plenty of time to move to the next screen and get away. One thing that really impressed me, during one of these sequences, was that I had an instinctive reaction to The Judge coming at me - a kind of fight-or-flight response - and was very happy to see that this reaction had been foreseen by the developer and designed into the game simply as an option. It's little things like this that show a developer is really thinking about how a player might interact with the game, and so I was more than happy to be given an achievement for it.

So, how is the story overall? Well, it's perfectly adequate, but it's not mind blowing either. It really is just your typical who-is-doing-it slasher movie feast of mystery and horror. Basically, all of us now trapped in the prison have done something bad in our past. Something that we didn't get punished for. And something, which resulted in the death of someone else. So, this Judge character has taken it upon themselves to make sure we experience just retribution for these terrible deeds. As we play through the game, each of our tragic backstories is revealed in flashbacks, with our own story being saved until the very end. This is good because what WE did is part of the overall mystery of the game, and one of the reasons to keep playing. I wasn't entirely sold on this concept however, as it felt like there was a little inconsistency in the severity of the characters' so called crimes. Some of them were cold bloodied killers, some had just made mistakes, and some didn't appear to have really done much of anything at all. How The Judge came to know of our crimes is revealed late into the game, but again, that didn't really fit for at least two of the characters, as they seemed legitimately awful people who probably wouldn't have felt any sorrow or regret, and who wouldn't have done what they were supposed to have done that led The Judge to them.

As we explore the prison, a deeper mystery emerges to do with the former Warden, inmates and guards. And again, it's nothing really deep or original, but it suffices perfectly well enough to facilitate the events of the game, and plugs nicely into the darker themes explored through the main characters; themes such as loss, abuse, revenge, anger, death, redemption, religion, and suffering in all its glory. I would have just liked a bit more of an intriguing mystery with a much better payoff in the end; something to make me go "Hmmmm!" and "Wow!" That being said, our backstory is not exactly what I thought it was going to be, and I was glad to find quite a lot of depth there, as well as a little sadness and heartbreak, which really helped connect me to our character in a way I wasn't expecting.

So, what about those other characters? Well, they're a mixed bag of mysterious man, cocky guy, shy guy, vulnerable girl, and straightlaced woman - the usual suspects in a story like this. What's good though is that the game offers a variety of ways to interact with these characters. Sometimes we can question them outright by simply clicking on them, and other times they'll pop up around the prison and offer insight into the situation or themselves and their background. We also get to kind of work together with one or more of them, and go around in a little group, where they'll offer comments on the things we look at and make use of. All of this creates a very good feeling of cohesion, and even, feelings of empathy and genuine concern when bad things are happening. We also carry a journal with us, which helpfully, William continuously writes in as we progress. Called "My Thoughts", he writes about himself and what he's feeling, and he writes about the other characters, what they've done, what they're doing, and what he thinks about any of that. This, coupled with the copious amounts of other journals and notes that we find lying around, really means that there is no excuse to not know exactly what is going on here, and what HAD gone on here in the past. There might be a little too much reading at times actually, but all in all, I think it was about right.

Let's talk about structure, design, and puzzles. Structurally, despite a little blip around the halfway point where things get a little muddled, the pacing of the game is spot on, with major and minor revelations at all the right moments. Design wise, the game is a good mix of simple exploration, chase sequences, dialogue sequences, and good old fashioned puzzling. Puzzles come in both the traditional varieties: inventory style, which won't present much of a problem for any seasoned adventurer, and the more logical, get out your pen and paper style. It's this second type where the game has a few issues. There were at least two times when I had to look at a walkthrough to get the answers to a puzzle. Once I had the answers, I went back into the notes I had picked up, and tried to figure out how we were supposed to get those answers. Both times I knew that I would never ever have figured it out; it was just too abstract. Also, there were a few backtracking instances where items that I had previously clicked on, would now be able to be further interacted with, or even picked up. This was frustrating because for one, I had completely forgotten about these items being there, and two, even if I had remembered, there was no real indication that I'd be able to go back and use them again in a different way.

In conclusion, I can say that I enjoyed Stonewall Penitentiary wholeheartedly. If you are a fan of first person pre-rendered slideshow style adventure games, then I'm sure you will definitely enjoy it too. The story and characters are interesting enough, the puzzles both simple and challenging, there are some genuinely creepy moments, and finally, the game looks and sounds absolutely professional, with excellent graphics, voice acting, music, and an infallible attention to detail overall. If you go into it not expecting anything terribly original, or that you haven't seen before, then you will have a great time over the ten or so hours that it will probably take you to finish. So, enjoy.

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May 2018

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