Published on October 22nd, 2013 | by Andy King4
Review: The Stanley Parable
“Is choice an illusion?”, or more “I do what I want!”?
The Stanley Parable tells the story of Stanley …or does it? By that I mean is it a story about Stanley, or is it even a story at all? I’m not trying to be all ‘The Architect’ from The Matrix Reloaded, it’s just that the proceedings are a little difficult to pigeonhole.
The top line story premise is thus: Stanley works in a drab generic office space and sits in front of his drab computer keying in commands all day. One day he notices his colleagues have disappeared (“Did I not get a memo?”, the games narrator ponders) so he tears himself away from his desk to investigate and looks around the building through empty cubicles and rooms for clues trying to figure out what’s going on. Exposition about Stanley, his office and his missing colleagues is relayed to him by a ghostly disembodied ‘narrator’ in his/your head.
Spooky but not very compelling you may ponder at this point.
Within moments of playing you come across two side-by-side doors in a room. At which point the narrator recounts “When Stanley came to a set of two doors, he entered the door on his left”. As a naturally disobedient human being I did the opposite and took the door on the right. This is Stanley’s (the players) first act of defiance and heads him spiraling off down the rabbit hole (sorry another Matrix analogy). Progressively as you begin to defy instructions (not going here, or doing that) and expectations (jumping off a moving lift to an otherwise inaccessible walkway below), the game changes and the narrator faced with these strange circumstances starts breaking the fourth wall to try and talk you out of changing a pre-established ‘story’. This digression/defiance ultimately branches into one of a possible eight different outcomes.
The more you play, the stuffy storyteller breaks character showing emotion and slowly becomes fearful and/or grows malevolent towards the players actions making things quite fun trying to find new ways to upset him. Everyone I know who plays games at one point has tried to ‘break’ a game out of frustration or boredom (as I guess it offers something instinctively mischievous). For the The Stanley Parable however as much as you try to break or cheat the game (which you can try quite a lot), the developers have seemingly thought of it first.
With the risk of sounding pompous, the game is very meta. By that I mean its self aware and knows it’s a game – and as a game aware it’s a game (huh?) it breaks gaming expectations. At a point the narrator ponders why things are going wrong and realizes that you are a player playing the character of Stanley, which is why you’re not following established gaming character story telling narratives. However this freedom can be bitter as if a player can do what he wants, so can the game (evident when faced with a “beat the clock” scenario you find nothing works to allow you to escape causing you to die not before some long drawn out, futile and frantic clock watching).
Mechanically and beyond the narrative The Stanley Parable is based on a Half-Life Source mod from 2011 by Davey Wreden. After being successfully Greenlit on Steam this “HD remake” has now officially been released as a standalone product. Although both visuals and audio are sparse and simple, the lone (for the most part) vocals of the stiff yet eloquent spectral narrator are a joy and highlight to listen to.
PC Steam (Mac version coming soon).
£9.99 – The Stanley Parable is currently 20% off on Steam
The Stanley Parable
Summary: In summary reminiscent of Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable is an experience and gives you no real reward for playing (other than finding each of those endings). It’s both surprising and refreshing however it won’t be for everyone. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I still urge you to check out the stand alone demo first. If it is your tea, be warned - there is no spoon. Whoa!