I haven’t had the greatest start to the new year. On New Years Day I was up at the hospital talking to the doctors about taking my dad of the ventilator. So when I’ve actually been at home & not sleeping, I haven’t been in the mood to play any heavy or serious games. Instead, I decided to go through my list of purchased but yet unplayed games in my Steam library & decided to try out The Stanley Parable because I’d heard it was not only short but had a wicked sense of humor — something I was in desperate need of.
Originally I planned to give this game a proper review, but I thought better of it. Given the game’s emphasis on narrative & all around general messing with your mind, it didn’t seem fair to take off points because of its minimalistic graphics, controls & sound design. So instead I thought I’d write about my experience with the game & whether I’d recommend it to others.
First of all; what is The Stanley Parable? The version I played was the HD release, which is a more fleshed out version than the original Stanley Parable, but both games are essentially the same. It started as a mod of Valve’s Source Engine. It’s in FPS perspective, with the only controls aside from walking being to interact & crouch.
It’s hard to talk about The Stanley Parable, not just out of fear of spoiling the experience, but also because it’s a hard game to describe. The story, as it were, is that you play a man named Stanley. Stanley is a simple man who has a mundane job. But one day he realizes that all of his coworkers have vanished & starts to investigate. Stanley is alone in his quest except for the strange voice in his head — which may or may not be acting for his benefit.
The real meat of the game is Stanley’s (& by extension your) relationship with the Narrator, the omnipresent voice that tries to drive the story on while reacting to your actions. The game places heavy emphasis on the themes of gaming tropes, story-telling structure & player choice. It’s an odd experience playing The Stanley Parable because, at times I felt like I was Stanley while at other times I felt like myself just controlling Stanley. Both the structure of the narrative & your impression of the Narrator change based on how you play the game.
At its core, gameplay consists of wandering around Stanley’s office building either obeying or disobeying the Narrators… narrations. For example, at one point you’re presented with two doors & the Narrator says Stanley goes through the left door, but you can freely choose either & watch the story change as a result of your choice.
The first time I played through, I decided to follow the Narrator’s story to see what would happen. And it was an interesting story with what would normally be a happy ending. But it raised the question of whether Stanley had really freed himself if, in the end, I’d been following the “orders” of the Narrator. So in the next playthrough I deliberately disobeyed the Narrator & promptly threw Stanley to his death. What’s so interesting about the game is that the Narrator typically reacts to what you’re doing. Now, he won’t react to every little thing you do, but a lot of times he will. For example, the first time I went to the break room I hung around as long as possible despite the Narrator giving subtle hints that it was time to move on. Then he commented on how Stanley was waiting around to see if there were any new narrations. Then he called my fascination with the room creepy. At another point I jumped from a lift to a catwalk that I couldn’t reach otherwise & the Narrator got mad because I interrupted him.
The Narrator really is, I think, the best part of the game. Not only does he have a fantastic sounding voice, but Kevan Brighting does a fantastic job of making him feel like a real entity in the game. My feelings toward the Narrator varied from time to time. Most of the time I felt that he had it in for me, or at the very least was a lot of fun to annoy. Twice I felt he really was my ally. And twice I felt like a jerk because he sounded so sad & disillusioned about my “choices.”
Here are some of my favorite parts from the game:
- Getting a random automated phone call warning me about the danger of automated phone calls.
- Having the Narrator call me fat & ugly, & then later suggesting I’d died at my computer because I was standing around in a closet.
- Hearing the Narrator sing while in the elevator.
- Making the Narrator mad because I deliberately put in the wrong codes for the secret door.
- Getting paranoid because the Narrator says Stanley feels uncomfortable being out of his room & won’t leave the next safe room he finds.
- Actually getting excited about an Achievement that begins with clicking a door five times but becomes something much bigger.
The Stanley Parable is an interesting experiment into how a game can be thought-provoking without being pretentious. Unlike games like Dear Esther, it allows the player to feel like they’re in control of the experience, while simultaneously asking just how in control they are. It’s clever, has great writing & is surprisingly funny. If you’re interested in trying something new or enjoy a Portal-like sense of humor, I highly recommend checking this game out.
– GamerDameTitle: The Stanley Parable HD Remix
Developers: Davey Wreden & Galactic Cafe
Publisher: Indie Release Date: October 17, 2013