In the grand (recent) tradition of Thirty Flights of Loving and Gone Home, The Stanley Parable is a game that uses the tropes and expectations of FPS and turns them on their heads to create a wholly unique narrative experience. I’m not sure that it’s possible to spoil The Stanley Parable because it is so very much about the process of exploring and experiencing the game. That said I shall try my best to avoid any potential spoilers, and you should avoid not playing the game for the next couple of hours so you can fully come to grips with it.
If “fully” coming to grips with The Stanley Parable is even possible.
The simplest way to explain The Stanley Parable to gamers is to say that it takes that one singular, climactic hook from the original Bioshock and bends, twists and manipulates it into a compellingly odd and fascinating experience that doesn’t need guns or science-magic to remain interesting. The Stanley Parable is a purely narrative experience, right up until it discards the narrative for an exploration of free will and your lack thereof.
The Stanley Parable is at turns hilarious, thought-provoking, irreverent, emotional, depressing, confusing, straight-forward, and, you get the point. At its simplest it’s a 20-minute science fiction tale – a sterile take on Dark City or The Matrix – but at its most complicated it is a dissection of First-Person shooters, gaming in general, and even a study of the psychology of gamers.
Simply put, it both encourages and defies description.
I committed suicide on my first playthrough of The Stanley Parable. I kept being contrarian until death was my only choice – well, death or a static existence made up of nothing but pretty lights and an exit.
By drawing attention to the choices you make, and the ones you refuse to make, The Stanley Parable does a better job of exploring and addressing choice and consequence than the deepest fantasy RPG or the most drawn out space opera.
Beyond that, The Stanley Parable is constructed with a huge degree of skill and attention to detail. The recreation of a stereotypical corporate environment is flawless, but then the game will effortlessly change gears, presenting examples of architecture so impossible it would make Escher scratch his head. The varied environments it manages to find room for in its narrative are all skillfully realised, and the lengths that Galactic Cafe have gone to for some of the gags are rather astounding.
The narration is – in a word – perfect. The Narrator is at times friendly, insulting, megalomaniacal, helpful, desperate and encouraging, and in every instance Kevan Brighting’s delivery is spot-on.
If you’re at all interested in narrative in gaming, The Stanley Parable is simply a must play. It deconstructs the first person shooter and gaming narrative not for cheap laughs, but to show that this is what we could have in our games. Instead of a thousand cookie cutter power fantasies, we can have intelligent and nuanced discussions about any matter of topics, and we can keep our fingers on WASD as we do it.
It could have easily come across as cynical, but instead The Stanley Parable is joyously creative, gleefully irreverent and wholly unique.