When Robin sat down at the computer, he wrote a lovely, complimentary review about the inventive and satirical game, The Stanley Parable. No, he didn’t write a self-indulgent intro making a mockery of the game’s tone, and certainly refrained from smirking smugly as he did so.
The Stanley Parable is, as you’d imagine, about a man named Stanley. Every day he goes to work at his menial job and kills time pushing buttons on demand. Stanley likes his job. But one day, Stanley finds that nobody is in the office. What could it mean? It’s the player’s job to find out, aided by an unseen narrator who tells Stanley what he should be doing.
Thing is, what the narrator says and Stanley’s true intentions may not entirely coincide. When offered the choice between the two doors right at the beginning, we begin to see that Stanley may have other designs, and it will become the narrator’s goal to coerce Stanley into rejoining the correct path. Sometimes this isn’t possible – such as one situation where Stanley started a crane which would have carried him across a gap, only to step off at the last moment, trapping himself on a ledge. The only solution? Jumping off. The narrator assured Stanley it would be fine. It was not.
The way the game plays with the notion of choice – you can rebel against what the game wants you to do, but you may not do well out of it – is quite appealing for those interested in the way sandbox and branching-storyline games use narrative. Because it’s time and money-consuming to design hundreds of well developed stories, there are usually one or two properly built on while the rest rejoin the stream somewhere down the line. Either that, or the game relies on a divide between story and gameplay, having your player show deep remorse for killing a henchman one second and driving an ice-cream truck full tilt towards an old lady five minutes later. Not so with The Stanley Parable.
The game has a great deal of fully-developed plot lines, branching at many different points and all revealing different bits of information about the world Stanley inhabits. Some are downright weird, like the Museum of The Stanley Parable, with scale models of rooms and dioramas of Stanley’s office. Others are straightforward “hopeful” endings with Stanley escaping to freedom. Others are depressing, like Stanley getting dropped into the basement after trying the Narrator’s patience for too long. But they’re all teeming with dry humour, a disrespect for gaming standards and an attention to detail that dedicated gamers will particularly appreciate.
Indeed, it’s precisely the lighthearted tone of the game, which prods at the illusion of choice a great many games give us, that makes it so appealing. Not for nothing has The Stanley Parable progressed from a simple Source Engine mod to a full-blown game with a large amount of branching paths. Very few games manage to be effortlessly funny, and those that try to be often fall over their own eagerness. This game is in the same school as Portal, where the player is never quite certain whether or not something was meant to be a joke, but finds it funny anyway.
The level design is well-suited to the tone of the game – bright colours and retro design adorn the locations, but not to such an extent they take over the scene. When the player accidentally stumbles across the ‘backstage’ area of the game, it appears how one might imagine such a blank space to look. 3D models are detailed and plentiful, with little recycling. In short, it’s very well presented, and the narrator has a voice somewhere between honey and rainbows.
To sum up, the question one finds oneself asking while playing The Stanley Parable is “I laugh now, but will I notice next time I play along with a game?” It’s bringing up serious issues around player freedom and implanting them into the mind of everyone who plays it. It’s also well worth playing, even if you don’t want the cultural criticism aspect, because it’s fun to annoy the Narrator. But hey, there’s a game about pirates out this month. You could buy that instead. It’s your choice.
Robin ended the review with an 85%.