The Screen Is Telling Me to Type This
Let’s get this out of the way, The Stanley Parable isn’t a traditional game in the way most gamers are used to. There aren’t enemies, there isn’t a score, and the player can’t really lose. It falls into the category of game that makes you question whether or not it counts as a game. Ignoring the arguments over defining “game”, the question is: Is the Stanley Parable worth a purchase? The answer, perhaps more than most, is a resounding: Maybe!
Each iteration of The Stanley Parable begins with Stanley in his office. Stanley notices that his coworkers are gone and goes to explore the now vacant office building. Stanley’s every thought and action are spoken aloud by the narrator who acts as the other main character in the story. The player takes control of Stanley and his very basic interactions. Stanley can move and interact with objects, but this is the extent of his abilities. He needs no other abilities as there are no puzzles, enemies, or challenges. Instead, Stanley has choices.
The sole game mechanic in The Stanley Parable is choice. As the player moves around the world, the narrator not only describes what the player is doing, but what the player will do. The first choice of the game is when the player enters a room with two doors. The narrator says that Stanley goes through the left door, but the player can just as easily guide him through the right. The choice to follow or not follow what the narrator says opens up new story paths and new choices. More interestingly, the choices create a dialogue between the player and the narrator. Once the player starts deviating from the narrator’s choices, the narrator will plead, entice, and threaten the player to get him back on course. The dialogue raises questions about the nature of choice in video games and more broadly in life. One particular path ends with the narrator lambasting the office worker and the creature of habit he becomes. The game has some intelligent things to say about choice, though the message can get a bit muddled. The Stanley Parable has a lot to say, though it does not always say it as coherently as it could.
The rest of the presentation is functional, yet effective. Though the aesthetic isn’t particularly innovative, it’s mostly just office corridors, The Stanley Parable includes enough disruptive elements that it remains interesting. The normal serves to highlight the abnormal in a way that will feel both strange and familiar for those who work in cubevillle. The sound is serviceable. The one standout is narrator Kevan Brighting who does a fantastic job bringing his character to life. His voice work is full of expression and amusement; almost like an all-powerful god of a very tiny world. Brighting’s expressive narrator and well written lines are half the reason to continue playing.
So is The Stanley Parable a worthy purchase? That depends more on the player than the average game. There is nothing particularly “fun” about this game. Nor is it particularly long. The game can be beaten in under 10 minutes and contains only about an hour’s worth of content. That being said, if the idea of a well written choose your own adventure appeals to you, give this game a shot. I certainly enjoyed it.