GAME REVIEW: The Stanley Parable

How do I describe The Stanley Parable? To say it as briefly as possible I’d say it’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure comedic meta-narrative built on an FPS engine–I will elaborate on what I mean by that. It was developed by Davey Wreden and released in 2011, and then was expanded for further release that included distribution on Steam in 2013.

You are Stanley. You work at a desk where you are give instructions to press keys on your keyboard one after another. One day you notice you realize you’ve been there for an hour without receiving any instructions. You get up to ask your colleagues if they’re experiencing similar interruptions in workflow, only to discover that their desks are empty. You set out to find someone and find that the whole building is apparently devoid of life apart from you. Unless, of course, you count the British voiceover that’s narrating your every action and telling you what you’re going to do next.

The voice says “When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left” This is your first choice of the game. You can follow the narration and go left or you can disobey it and go to the right. Obedience or rebellion ? Free will or pre-determinism? Either decision leads you to another choice, which leads you to another choice, all of a similar type to obey the narration or rebel against it, eventually bringing you to a game-ending cut-scene, each one different from the others that might end in escape, death, insanity, the apparent collapse of reality, or other things–I’ve followed paths to the end of all the paths I could discern how to travel.  While I’ve seen the general concept before, (the movie Stranger than Fiction comes to mind) this is the first time I’ve seen it applied to an interactive game.

The narrator is a very vocal character in the game, who is the source of most of the comedy, not just telling you what you’re supposed to be doing, but questioning your actions if you sit idle too long, or click on random objects, go into supply closets for no apparent reason, or whatever else you can think to do.

If you follow the narrator’s instructions he will lead you through the “intended” narrative route from start to finish without ever breaking from his role as the narrator of a story. The more you deviate from his instructions, the more the narrator, too, steps outside of his purported role, trying to steer you back into the main narrative both with words and alterations of the game environment. He can, at turns, be a neutral narrator, a sort of mad scientist captor, a hard-working engineer just wanting you to enjoy his creation, and so on. Kevan Brighting does a brilliant job with his voice acting as the narrator–sounding like a BBC documentary voice, which just makes it all the funnier when you start messing with his expectations and he starts acting less and less the part.

 

Scorecard

Visuals
The graphics of the game are pretty basic FPS graphics with minimal detail added. Which is fine; the game isn’t about the visuals.

Audio
The audio makes this game, especially all the great voicework of Kevan Brighting

Challenge
The game isn’t really a challenge, apart from trying to find all the endings, but that’s okay, this game isn’t about the gameplay.

Story
Solidly entertaining.

Playability
Easy to use, just WASD controls with mouse-look, plus left-click for actions.

Originality
I’ve seen the basic idea before with the narrator being an active character that can be heard by the protagonist (the awesome movie Stranger Than Fiction comes to mind) but this is the first time I’ve seen it actually interactively.

Playtime
The game took me about 5 very entertaining hours of gameplay.

Value
The game costs $15 on Steam.  So, a little more than my general rule of thumb of wanting at least an hour of gameplay for every dollar. Still, I don’t regret the purchase. Might want to consider adding it to your Steam wish list and buying it when they have a sale. Even the full price isn’t terrible, just a little high for the amount of playtime, I think, but still worth it for the quality.

 

One thought on “GAME REVIEW: The Stanley Parable”

  1. Katie looked at the review and agreed with it. The Stanley Parable, in her modest opinion, was a welcome change from what she felt to be an over-reliance on violence in games. Little did Katie know that she was, in fact, nearly alone in this opinion, but it gladdened her heart to see others appreciate the game for what it was.

    Then Katie closed the tab. Or, as it turned out, she closed the wrong one. Oh dear.

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