It’s an odd opening to a review, I admit, but I stand by my words – If you’ve come here to read about The Stanley Parable and you haven’t yet played it, go and do it now. Go and play it, then after you’ve done that, come back here and I’ll explain to you just why you should go and do what it is that you’ve just gone and done.
Make sense? Good.
Assuming you’ve just done exactly what I told you to, and not just skipped ahead anyway to see where this is all going, you’re now a little more sensitive to the rather tricky predicament I now find myself in, having to explain firstly what The Stanley Parable is, and secondly decide whether or not if it’s any good.
Originally created as a source mod which I covered back in 2012, The Stanley Parable has returned in an all-singing and dancing remake that’s just appeared on Steam shelves. As a result, this isn’t my first encounter with the game, and due to its mod origins, for many others it won’t be either.
But what exactly is it, you say?
Well, erm… that’s where things get a little difficult.
For the uninitiated, The Stanley Parable finds you playing as the eponymous Stanley. One morning you find yourself unexpectedly freed from the cycle of endless drudgery and repetition so familiar to office-workers everywhere, when you discover your colleagues and friends have unexpectedly disappeared from their cubicles. Confronted by this rather unexpected turn of affairs, Stanley sets out to discover the fate of his fellow office-dwellers.
As Stanley winds his way through the office, the true charm of The Stanley Parable becomes clear. As you progress, your every move is narrated by a calm, collected and exceedingly British voice who describes exactly what the player is doing.
But then you reach a choice.
Two doors; one on the left, and one on the right. Both practically identical, with only one thing separating them. The game’s narrator, in his omniscient wisdom, calmly states that you went left. Trained by the hundreds of hours of tutorials, pop-up hints and linear games you’ve been forced to sit through, you diligently go left and continue the story.
But what if you don’t go left? What if you go right? What if you don’t go anywhere at all? What if you lock yourself in a broom-closet and refuse to come out? What happens to Stanley? More importantly than that, what happens to the story itself when the central character starts refusing to play ball? The Stanley Parable attempts to answer those very questions, as the story unexpectedly unwinds itself in unpredictable directions.
As the story disintegrates around you, the narrator tries desperately to hold things together. His often-hilarious one-sided dialogue keep pushing you onwards, pleading and cajoling you even as you defy him again and again, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately. It’s Dear Esther meets Douglas Adams, and here even the Steam achievements are in on the joke.
From one decision comes another, then another, spiraling outwards into dozens of outcomes that I have no intention of spoiling for you. Needless to say, you’ll see and hear things you really, and I mean, really, didn’t expect.
Adding to the confusion, the world around you seems just as unwilling to play the game of predictability as you are. Between playthroughs, furniture moves location, rooms change their layouts, doors that were locked become unlocked, and corridors wind impossibly in on themselves in architectural patterns that Lovecraft himself would have been proud of. You’ll begin to doubt yourself, never being quite certain whether things are the same or different than before.
If you’ve played the free source mod, you’ll already know a little of what to expect. Some scenes have been taken almost wholesale from the mod, but so much more has been added that I felt no sense of disappointment when running into something I recognized from the earlier model. If you enjoyed the precious outing even remotely, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this to you.
Ultimately, what happens in The Stanley Parable is up to you. Sort of. Whatever path you take, you’re left with only further questions and pretty much no answers to any of them. You’ll replay again and again, desperate to find some kind of conclusion, some kind of point to it all, but in the end, all you’ll find is yourself, right back at the beginning again, standing in that office and wondering just what you’ll do this time around.
For those of you happy with that outcome and looking for an almost incomparable experience on the PC, then you’ll find The Stanley Parable is one of the freshest, funniest and most unusual interactive experiences of 2013. If however, you’re looking for a short game packed with achievements that wraps up with a satisfying boss-battle, then you won’t find it here. At least I don’t think you will, but quite frankly, I wouldn’t count it out entirely.
Equally, if you’ve never come across The Stanley Parable before, the demo now available on Steam will give you some idea what you’re in for. Even if you buy the game, I still recommend downloading the demo for a unique and hilarious experience – consider it free day-one DLC, if you like that sort of thing.
The Stanley Parable isn’t a particularly long experience – you’ll quite comfortably see all it has to show in a single evening, but you will go places you’ve never thought possible, seen and experienced things you never expected.
It really is indescribable. Also, right now, it’s a clear contender for my Game of the Year.
Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PC
Review copy provided free of charge by the developer.
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The Stanley Parable is now available on Steam.