The Stanley Parable is an engrossing experience that’s difficult to forget.
Video games have trained us to investigate every nook and cranny. Usually, our efforts are rewarded with extra health or collectible items, such as assets, additional modes or higher difficulty levels. The Stanley Parable is a game that’s based on that freedom to go off the beaten path, but instead of featuring the usual collectibles, this game offers hidden jokes, references to other games and a handful of different endings. And that unique approach makes The Stanley Parable an engrossing experience that’s difficult to forget.
In the Stanley Parable, you assume the role of a man named Stanley. He’s a drone working at an office building and his job involves looking at a monitor, analyzing the data that appears in the screen and pressing keys appropriately. One day, the screen goes black and Stanley realizes that he can explore the building and make decisions of his own. Right from the get go, The Stanley Parable stands out as a non-traditional and zany game. But revealing anything about what makes this game unconventional would ruin the surprise, so I’ll refrain from making reference to specifics. This is one of those games that are more enjoyable the less you know about them.
One of the game’s main draws is that there’s a witty British narrator that reacts to your actions. Basically, the narrator tells you where to go and what to do next and you can follow his instructions or completely ignore him. Follow the linear path, remain motionless for a few seconds, go inside a room you’re not supposed to enter or simply hang out in the broom closet for a while. Every decision you make will be reflected in the audio department somehow and often with humorous results.
So one of the best aspects about the game is that it defies your expectations. The Stanley Parable makes you question everything you know (or think you know) about decision-making in video games. You could easily follow instructions, play in a linear fashion, watch an ending, unlock the “Finish the Game” achievement and move on to the next game in your collection. But part of the fun is taking different paths to see how to narrator reacts and see what the game has to offer.
Playthroughs are quite short, but there are a lot of secrets to unlock (including lines of dialogues, achievements, endings, hidden rooms and so on.) Still, one of the best parts about The Stanley Parable is that when you first start playing, you have no idea where each playthrough is going. Sometimes you’re following a line painted on the floor, sometimes you visit the broom closet only to remain motionless (you should totally do that,) sometimes you stubbornly question the narrator and do the opposite of what he’s instructing you to do and sometimes you check doors to get one of the most memorable achievements.
Interestingly, some of The Stanley Parable’s concepts made me question the way in which video games “work.” Are the decisions you make in video games important? What’s the value in collecting achievements? Is collecting unlockable items fun? Or is everything an illusion? A carefully constructed mirage to keep us invested in a virtual world that doesn’t really exist? After all, we’re only choosing from a limited set of options that have been carefully prepared for us by a developers. And that’s what’s beautiful about this game. While you can finish it a couple of times, listen to the hilarious narrator and move on to another game, it can also lead to some thought-provoking discussions.
Sadly, The Stanley Parable isn’t without its flaws. Sometimes dialogues overlap making certain lines feel contrived and out of place. Also, there’s simply no way to see the number of paths you’ve already played, so some players will never see entire sections of the game because they gave up too early.
But despite these problems, The Stanley Parable is a terrific game because it works on two levels. On the one hand, you can approach it like you do any other game: you play for a while, unlock endings, get achievements and that’s it. Alternatively, you can investigate the environments carefully, seeing as much as you can, exploring the game’s themes and thinking about some thought-provoking questions. But no matter which path you choose, one thing’s for sure: you’ll have a great time with this game. So what’s it going to be Stanley?