I honestly have zero idea of how I’m supposed to review The Stanley Parable. I’ve played through the game roughly a dozen times so far, each time finding a brand new way to progress through the brief title. I can’t compare the game to anything, because I don’t think anything like this has ever been done. I can’t detail the gameplay, since the illusion of choice and finding your own way through what appears to be a linear narrative is the main focus of the game. I can’t even break down what is surely some of the best-written dialogue of the year since that’s the only real form of storytelling here.
There is literally nothing I can say about this game that won’t ruin parts of it for you. It’s impossible to discuss what makes this game so magnificent without spoiling the moments that made it one of the standouts of the year. With that being said, I’m going to do something that no journalist in their right mind should do: I’m going to ask you not to read this review. I’m going to give it 5 stars, I’m going to rave about how amazing it is, and I’m going to end it with insisting that you play this game as soon as you can.
Now for the rest of you…
The Stanley Parable starts as you’re introduced to Stanley by the omnipresent Narrator. Stanley works a day job where he presses whatever buttons on his computer that his absentee bosses dictate on a daily basis. (Editor’s note: Why does that sound so damn familiar?) However, one day, after spending a few hours waiting patiently at your desk, you realize that the office is completely empty and you’re absolutely alone. (Editor’s note: Ok, this is hitting a bit too close to home for me now.) This is where your story begins, as you’ll take the reins of Stanley and follow the instructions of the Narrator to complete his/your story.
From here, you’ll be asked to complete some simple tasks for the Narrator as he reads off the story of your life back to you. However, the magic of The Stanley Parable is that it finally understands that even in linear games, the player behind the keyboard may have different intentions than the developer had planned. Your first task is simply to walk through the left door as opposed to the right door. Should you decide to diverge from the path, the game adapts to you and branches out into brand new stories with every choice you make.
Each of these stories takes no more than 10-15 minutes to complete, and features their own endings before restarting the game from the beginning. These endings may be endearing, depressing or outright absurd, but they all make sense given the context of what’s happening. Hearing the Narrator plead that he simply wants to show you something beautiful as you forge your own path is a gaming experience unlike anything I have ever encountered before.
This all works largely in thanks to the absolutely brilliant dialogue from the Narrator. He seamlessly morphs from your overlord, to the antagonist, to simply representing the development process of the video game industry as a whole, all while carrying a sense of reverence.
British actor Kevan Brighting conveys the Narrator’s emotions as he either carries on with his story or attempts to coral you into doing something remotely resembling what he intended. Not since my first encounter with GLaDOS have I felt that an omniscient entity had become the focal point of a game. Truth be told, the Narrator may have surpassed GLaDOS simply due to the fact that he was allowed to express emotions ranging everywhere from absolute pride of his creation to overwhelming jadedness as he simply cannot keep up with your rebellious attitude anymore.
There isn’t much to talk about here gameplay wise, which may be the game’s only fault depending on your perspective. You simply walk around and at times interact with a few buttons. The game here is the experience of an interactive narrative as opposed to developing a skillset and overcoming odds. I imagine that there will be some gamers who simply won’t appreciate this type of experience, which I have to admit bothers me a bit. The Stanley Parable is a mature video game in the sense that it expands on everything we’ve been doing for over thirty years now. Its comical storytelling is absolutely top notch, and while it is more of an interactive narrative than a traditional game, it offers something that is not to be missed.
For those of you who stuck around, first off, I want to point out that you’re absolutely horrible at following directions and you should feel bad. Beyond that, your refusal to follow simple directions lines up perfectly with the narrative to be found in The Stanley Parable. There’s no excuse to miss this one, and you should drop whatever you’re doing and check this game out immediately.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was given to us for review purposes.
It's impossible to review a game a game like The Stanley Parable without ruining what makes it so fantastic, so my recommendation is to stop here and just go buy it. It's simply one of the most charming and engaging titles I have ever come across, and I'm hard pressed to imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy this experience.