Review: "The Stanley Parable"
The Stanley Parableis a first-person exploration game that was released on October 2013 for the PC. Originally distributed as a Half-Life 2 modification on July 2011, its popularity prompted its developer to construct it into a stand-alone title. The premise for the game is simple, with the player controlling the actions of an office worker named Stanley as he works to uncover dark truths about his own workplace. It revolves around the interplay between the player and narrator, and if there’s an objective at all it’s to experience as many endings as possible.
Beginning in a retro-style office, the player proceeds into a room with a set of two open doors. This room was the concept that began development for the game. The narrator describes the player walking through the door to the left but there is the option given to enter the other. The gameplay consists of deciding which of two paths to take while using a button press to interact with objects.
The demo of the game does an excellent job at providing the player a glimpse of what’s offered without spoiling any of the final version. This is commendable because it isn’t the kind of game most will be interested in. Additionally, the original mod remains free and easily accessible.
The Stanley Parable wears its meta-commentary on its sleeve, branching into topics relating to the development of video games, their creators, and their audience. Stanley represents the player while the narrator represents the designer who becomes temperamental if the player diverts from the preferred path.
I went into The Stanley Parable preparing to be impressed, or even blown-away, and it began with some promise. The voice acting of the narrator is solid, and its title is a doozy. Unfortunately the potential of the game wilted on the vine, so I dialed my expectations back to ‘amusing adventure’. I’d be lying if I suggested there was no adventure to be had, but it becomes smothered beneath its style while containing very little substance.
The game suffers heavily from diminishing returns. The narration is done for comedic effect, but I found it to be self-defeating. At some point it becomes irrelevant how thoughtful each quip is because they all inevitably become diminished by their proximity to one another. While the deliveries are well executed, the setup remains unchanged. I would walk in a chosen direction until the narrator responded accordingly in some humorous fashion, and so the same execution became expected every time, adding nothing but needless length. A good storyteller doesn’t provide their audience with more of the same. It’s a shame, because this game does a better job at humor than most ever manage.
The Stanley Parable inexplicably shifts from one situation to another, throwing any absurdity it wants at the player. Rather than heightening my intrigue, this lessened the whole experience. The correct story path is intentionally straightforward when compared to the rest, presumably so the player decides to complete it first before moving on to the more bizarre, involving endings available.
I appreciate whenever a video game attempts to subvert expectations or otherwise surprise, but if there is anything The Stanley Parable caused me to realize it’s that a single, well-placed twist in a more conventional game contains considerably more weight than all of the ones in this game combined.
The routes were more intriguing than they had right to be, given the limited framework. I would be far more interested and impressed with a game willing to break the fourth wall unexpectedly or derail into a different genre altogether. When an entire game structures itself on messing with the player and satirizing gaming conventions, the unpredicted becomes predicted.
The game is coy in its design, and regardless of what I criticize of it the counterargument can always be that it was the purpose. The Stanley Parable leaves intention up to the player, which is an advantageous position to take, but ambiguity doesn’t equate to depth.