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The Stanley Parable (PC) artwork

The Stanley Parable (PC) review

"Is The Stanley Parable fun? No, I wouldn't say that it is. But it's mesmerizing, to the point that players will likely play through it so many times that each and every possible ending and branched path is exhausted, and they're left with but a ponderous thought that gnaws and claws at the things they thought they knew about video games, limitations and life."

The Stanley Parable starts off rather aimlessly; there’s Stanley in an empty office, devoid of direction or understanding.  He doesn’t appear to be able to do anything except walk.  So walk is exactly what he does, and as he looks and moves around the sterile office building in which he’s trapped, suddenly a narrator starts charmingly telling him what to do, where to walk, and what is happening—he’s laying out a story.  The catch?  He doesn’t control Stanley.  Every step taken is controlled by the player, and the results of defying the narrator are hilarious, poignant and ultimately thought-provoking.  

The premise here simply wouldn’t work without multiple playthroughs, as the first playthrough will take approximately ten to fifteen minutes to complete.  As each subsequent playthrough takes place, depending on how and when (and if) players deviate from the narrator's intended path, the story changes and the desire to play again to make different changes becomes stronger.  At times, the narrator may seem to be prattling on about meaningless things pertaining to office life. This is reinforced by the various cliché office items strewn about, like phones, projectors, scribble notes, computers and filing cabinets.  Despite the bland nature of the environment, it’s easy to get lost in the minutia of what the developers decided to include.  Everything appears to mean something, even if subtle, to the grander message at hand.

Other times, though, the narration is directly poking fun at the mechanics of video games, and their inherently limiting nature.  The Stanley Parable is an acutely self-aware video game that prompts thought, even if in passing, about the reason we do the things we do as humans.  There is no shooting, strafing or puzzle-solving to be found here, but it doesn’t need those kinds of things to achieve its goal.  There were moments during which I was completely engrossed in what The Stanley Parable was selling me, and during these moments, it was hard not to marvel at the smoothness of it all.  All of a sudden, it’s not even a video game, but a revelation of sorts.  However, the lack of identifying video game characteristics is what holds the game back at the end of the day.

There’s no doubt the subject matter is interesting, and the presentation is charming, but what’s there is limited in scope.  This is the case precisely because of the message which is trying to worm its way out of the game.  At times, I genuinely believed the concepts presented would have been more aptly justified in an essay rather than a video game.  With that said, the audience that it tries to reach simply wouldn’t have received it in such a direct and meaningful manner were this not the case.  

The sound effects are minimal but appropriate, there are surprises that bring out some brevity.    Additionally, the textures are low-end and scream of a paltry budget.  There is little to no interaction in the environment to speak of, so walking is about the extent of movement.  All of these things could and often would be construed as limitations in a video game that hinder the experience.  To a degree, this is true in The Stanley Parable. But without said limitations, the very soul of the game might be compromised.  It’s likely that readers will scoff at this statement, but The Stanley Parable is one of those rare but convincing games that eschew the standards of the industry and innovate.

Is The Stanley Parable fun?  No, I wouldn’t say that it is.  But it’s mesmerizing, to the point that players will likely play through it so many times that each and every possible ending and branched path is exhausted, and they’re left with but a ponderous thought that gnaws and claws at the things they thought they knew about video games, limitations and life.  Not bad for such a simple game.

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Community review by Linkamoto (October 25, 2013)

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dementedhut posted October 30, 2013:

You know, I watched a video of someone going through the original mod, and while there wasn't much in the way of "action", it had a pretty entertaining narrative. I'm interested to try this version out to see if a "full" game can sustain this type of storytelling, but judging by your review, they seemed to have pulled it off. Good read!
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Linkamoto posted October 30, 2013:

Thanks for reading. The thing is, I wouldn't really call this a "full" game, but rather a series of branched paths and endings within a tiny game. But it does work, that much is sure.
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jerec posted October 30, 2013:

I'm intrigued enough to want to play this, but the current asking price is too high. Maybe it'll appear in a Humble Bundle or the Steam sales over Christmas. Thanks for the review, it gave me an idea of what to expect.
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EmP posted December 24, 2013:

Excellent work -- this and Antichamber are the two games that would strike me as an absolute nightmare to review and you've done a great job. Even impressing the stoic Jerec -- fine praise indeed.

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