The Stanley Parable is a hard game to review.
Not in the normal ‘I don’t know if this is good or not’ way, but in a very challenging kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, everything that makes a ‘game‘ a ‘game‘ is there.
You have a menu and specific ambient noises to go along with the menu. Everything seems neatly arranged and presented in the normal way a video game should be. It even gives you an encouraging reminder at the top, saying ‘You are Playing The Stanley Parable’. If you choose ‘Begin the Game’ there is a loading screen followed by opening narrative and movies. It does this admirably. There’s nothing about actually playing the game that is more or less than what you’d expect from playing a game. The camera controls well enough, movement is achieved via keyboard and you interact with objects via the left mouse button or the ‘E’ key. Really, a 10 out of 10 in all that.
The problem with the review is in talking about the content of The Stanley Parable. You really should experience playing it before reading about playing it. Reading specifics on what happens will unequivocally lessen your eventual enjoyment. So in consideration of those who have not yet played the game I will say this about The Stanley Parable.
You really should play this game. I mean, it should probably be the next game that you play. I know there’s a lot of things happening right now. New consoles are being released and the latest batch of underwhelming shooters from EA and Activision are blowing up store shelves; but you owe it to yourself to play this game.
So there, review done. That wasn’t all that hard actually. Below this, I’m going to talk about specific bits of The Stanley Parable that I liked and didn’t like. So if you’ve decided to play then game, then go away.
The Stanley Parable is a game that’s ostensibly built on choices. You are, at a certain point, given a choice between one of two doors. It’s literally a room that has two completely unassuming doors in it. Where the game goes from there is completely dependant on your left or right choosing. Here I would like to pause and quote David Cage:
…the right way to enjoy Heavy Rain is really to make one thing because it’s going to be your story. It’s going to be unique to you. It’s really the story you decided to write…I think playing it several times is also a way to kill the magic of it.
He wants you to play through his games once. That’s the ‘correct’ way to play. In his world, you make a choice to go left and that’s it and if you go back and instead choose to go right then you’ve ruined it. Might as well start over from scratch. I’ve always taken a personal affront to his insistence of a singular playthrough because he’s telling me the way I play games is wrong. Of course, that quote is only talking about ‘Heavy Rain’. It’s not a judgement of my endless reloading in Final Fantasy 7 (an attempt to get the Golden Chocobo) but it feels like he’s turning up his nose to one of the core principles of the Video Game. If I want to go back and replay that shitty action scene because the terrible controls left me fumbling for the correct button sequences then by God you will accept that David.
I tried to find a way to contact David Cage and ask him about his thoughts on The Stanley Parable but I fell asleep imagining the answer. Let’s just assume he’d play through it once and then wonder what all the fuss was about. Because in direct opposition to his design philosophy, The Stanley Parable really very much enjoys when you go back and make a different choice. In fact, you can restart immediately after you’ve made the choice, go back, and do it differently. It will reward you for this with an active and sympathetic narrator. It’s very important that you actually sympathize with the narrator because he communicates directly with you multiple times throughout the game. As you make increasingly odd and sometimes suicidal choices, the Narrator will be there to comment on what you’re doing.
There’s a specific sequence of choices that bring you to a platform surrounded by a rotating light show. The Narrator is enraptured by this area and begs you to just stay here and enjoy the show. If you don’t want to do that, you can go into a tall room with a staircase, climb your way up, and jump off to your death. So you have a choice. Stay there, staring at the light show forever, restart the game, or repeatedly fling yourself off the stairs in opposition of the Narrators increasingly hysterical protests. And that’s the point of the game. You end up doing the most inane actions just to see how the Narrator is going to react. He is the foil to your slapstick madness. At times malevolent and other’s seemingly powerless in the face of your spite.
As soon as you realize the secret trick of The Stanley Parable you start craving these interactions. All of it is played to with the plan of commenting on modern Video Game mechanics and narrative but really just ends up with you trying to pry every bit of dialog out of the enigmatic Narrator as possible. I don’t know if that was the intention of Davey Warden (the games principle creator) or not and I don’t think he would care. When asked if he tracked the myriad of choices that players make in his game he said no and seemed almost offended by the very idea.
There’s no line you need to follow in order to 100% complete The Stanley Parable. You don’t have to do one thing before another in order to get this secret thing that will unlock that one thing that only 5% of people have unlocked.
Instead, this game is like a cup. You can choose how high you want to fill it. There is a 100% completion state (which will require you play an inane mini-game for 4 hours) but more than likely you’ll play 70% and take away a lot of commentary about the internals of game mechanics and narrative.
I think David Cage would hate this game.