When I originally came across The Stanley Parable on Steam, it was a work in progress that you could play on Garry’s Mod. I was so intrigued by the premise that I decided to be patient with the promise of an impending full-fledged release.
Boy, was it worth waiting for.
First, it has to be said; this game is not for everyone. I knew I would be into this kind of game just like I knew I would be into Gone Home. It might be because I have been playing games since I was 8 years old, because I studied games in school, or because I simply believe in the auteur movement in video games. I’m not saying this game is only meant for the most dedicated of gamers, but the message definitely has more impact the more familiar you are with the tropes of games in general.
The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration comedy adventure. Like Gone Home, Dear Esther, and Thirty Flights of Loving, it is designed to feel more like a short story than a toy. What you learn rather quickly in the game, however, is that the story itself is not the most important part. Sound contradictory? Well, it is… sort of. The Stanley Parable is a game about choice.
Similarly to Bastion or Dear Esther, you have a narrator companion in this game who tries to help you by guiding you through the story. You could be a very obedient player and do exactly as the narrator tells you… or you could ignore his guidance and forge your own path. TSP is a game for that type of gamer; the gamer who wants to know what would happen if you went right instead of left. At every turn, the game tempts you to deviate from the intended path and explore the possibilities. I hate spoilers so I really don’t want to give the game away by giving examples.
The game is all about pushing boundaries. It’s a system with many outcomes just waiting to be explored. Your interactions are minimal, but it’s about being a creative player and testing the possibilities in a variety of ways. If the game Antichamber taught us anything, it’s that we take a lot for granted in video games. You have to forget what you think you know about games in TSP and sometimes just backtrack, turn around, wait, try again, be adventurous and creative.
The Stanley Parable is a video game about video games, so I thought it was very appropriate that it was made using Source Mod. It looks like games we are familiar with: Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead. The drab office setting also lends itself to the theme perfectly. It has sort of an Office Space vibe to it which, I think most people will admit, screams you should get the hell out of here ASAP. The madness of this game definitely got to me right away. The first night I bought it, I played it for 3 hours and put it down, but I knew I hadn’t seen all there was to see. At work the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I had to go back. I had to know what else the game could do.
I wound up spending about 7 hours in The Stanley Parable and confess I didn’t see absolutely everything (there’s an ending that requires the player to type something into the console which has to be set up in the launch options). In fact, I feel obligated to do that as soon as I finish writing this because of the obligation I feel to know what’s there.
That is why The Stanley Parable was a magnificent project and that is why I recommend it to anyone who loves games. At $15 I think it’s more than worth the experience and the laughs. I don’t know why there are so many users on Steam forums and metacritic who keep complaining about $15 – $20 price tags on these short form games. We readily pay $20+ for brand new DVDs and Blu-ray movies that last roughly 2-3 hours. But I digress.
Do yourself a favor and put this game high on your priority list of games this year! I guarantee you’ll feel refreshed by the experience and get plenty of memorable chuckles.