The Stanley Parable: Stanley decided to read this review
Updated: Jul 21
The Stanley Parable, first starting as free mod for Half Life 2 in 2011 it gradually grew into full game independent of Half Life 2 by 2013. To say it was a hit with critics would be an understatement, with 9s and 10s across the board as well as winning multiple awards at the BAFTA Games awards and at the NAVGTR Awards for its comedy writing and game innovation. None of these are invalid to be fair, games that use postmodern commentary on the nature of freedom and choice in games; exploring what the medium can do and criticising the genre of a particular game through satire (Pony Island, Undertale and DDLC to name a few )have slowly been growing in popularity over the years since the game’s release. The Stanley Parable is more of former then the latter even if there is some great satire to be found. It is also a short game clocking at 3 to 4 hours even if I do not consider length a way to measure a game’s replayability or quality I know that it can be off putting to some people, especially when money is involvement. This one is going to be shorter than most of my reviews so let’s get to it!
Stanley is your average office worker, spending all day, everyday pressing buttons on a keyboard in whatever way he was told to do, suddenly one day all his co-workers vanished into thin air; leaving only him to find out what happened to everyone. There is also a narrator who orders you to go to the correct places in the correct order. The game is well written, let’s get that out of the way, the narrator serves both as generic commentator to sinister antagonist to a frustrated programmer depending on what choices you take. Your choices and the freedom to go where ever you want to can result in some interesting changes in the overall story, the game is more of a commentary on the illusion of freedom in game design rather than a full game. That is not to say that it is not worth playing to just watch the game go to strange and wonderful places, the commentary is insightful and intelligent and it does deserve multiple playthoughs, if anything the game needs to be played a number of times considering how short the game is. However the game eventually descends into finding all the endings, there are so many endings that often require very convoluted methods to get that the game soon wore out its welcome. I feel that if the Stanley Parable cut down on some of the more obtuse endings that did not bring much more to the table it would have been more of a complete experience. (These are only my feelings on it and I clearly am in the minority considering what common consensus is.)
Games like Undertale provided to my mind a more complete experience with a more involving story that was more than just setup for series of situations depending which door you decided to go through. It had more interesting characters who all had motivations independent of the game itself. The narrator could be a totally different character depending on your choices, while that is interesting and well executed I almost never remembered the narrator as a character but more of what he said, the narrator is a blank slate reacting to the equally blank slate of Stanley rather then there being any independence to it. One might argue that is the point due to the themes but it does not provide memorable character interaction, Sans and Flowery are interesting because of the ways they try to either fight the forth wall or their embrace of it while trying to achieve their goals as well as being highly motivated. Same goes for Monika in DDLC, she has her own motives for doing what she had to rather than just reacting to the player. The narrator has no real motive asides from whatever the game assigns him on the choice you make, it is ambitious and meant taking a risk but to me it does not hit the ground running.
Gameplay is not much, you walk around with the keyboard and sometimes you can interact with something that is kind of it. However unlike lesser walking Sims the interactive nature of a game is important, it feels great to not obey the narrator and walk through the wrong door, to misbehave is essential to the game’s themes and commentary and I love it. The game messes with how you control enforcing the theme of lack of free will and the illusion of choice, I love it, not really much more to say here.
The game uses Source engine so graphics are rather basic, however the game does look pretty good, the art design itself is rather memorable and distinct. It gives the game a look that is entirely its own as well as being pleasing to see, Beauty in simplicity is the best phase when commenting on this.
The game runs brilliantly, no flaws at all.
The Stanley Parable is a good game, please don’t get me wrong. I just feel that it has been surpassed by games that have done more with ideas presented in this game. The Stanley Parable is well worth a fun Saturday and does deserve to be discussed but if you want something more than please consider getting Undertale or Pony Island instead.