The Stanley Parable started its life as a mod for the Source Engine in 2011. After a successful Steam Greenlight campaign, developers Galactic Cafe brought an expanded game to Steam that provided remade environements and more story options. The game is designed to be thought provoking and mind bending, encouraging players to explore.
Stanley is office drone number 427. One day, Stanley realizes that everyone in his office has disappeared and a narrator is now instructing him on what to do. There are many paths in The Stanley Parable, but the story always starts out the same. The story evolves based on the player’s decisions. Will they follow the narrator blindly? Or will they attempt to forge a path of their own. The game quickly turns into a battle between the player and the narrator.
Galactic Cafe has done a spectacular job in writing The Stanley Parable’s script. It is funny, bizarre, quirky, witty and utterly thought provoking. The developers set out to create a game that messed with people’s minds. Mission accomplished. There were several times where I was be brought back to the introduction of the game and not completely sure if I was actually at the beginning or if the reset was simply part of the new ending I encountered. Some endings are sure to cause philosophy majors to salivate while others will leave players staring at the screen wondering what on earth did they just experience. The Stanley Parable is sure to make the perfect topic for many academic papers as it explores the relationship between video games, players, and the choices they make.
Don’t let the first person perspective and Source engine fool you, The Stanley Parable is an interactive fiction/adventure game. While traditional interactive fiction and adventure titles will consist of one long extended story, The Stanley Parable plays more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book by providing short stories that can be played over and over again. Small variations can randomly occur, like parts of the office becoming rearranged. Some choices that will affect the game are very obvious, such as disregarding the narrator’s instructions, while others will take some experimentation. There is a strong emphasis on exploration and experimentation. Although the areas Stanley will experience are rather compact and mildly claustrophobic, new endings can be found in the strangest places. Players are not only encouraged to openly defy the narrator, but go back and look for new places they could can access.
The controls are very simple. Stanley is only capable of crouching, walking around, and interacting with his environment. Even the traditional FPS mainstay of jumping is stripped from the game. The simplified control and the slow pace of the game will make it easy for even most non gamers to enjoy The Stanley Parable.
Part of The Stanley Parable’s retail release was to remake the environments found in the original modification. The new style creates a purposely generic office space with a slightly eerie sterility. Without spoiling too much, the office quickly goes from generic to absolutely ridiculous to the point hilarity. Yet, throughout the insanity, Galactic Cafe makes it work as the insanity helps the game break out of the traditional Source Engine look.
Since the game is running on the Source Engine, The Stanley Parable runs well even on low end computers. The load times between levels are pretty reasonable and I did not experience any drops in frame rates or other visual oddities.
The Stanely Parable would not be the same without Kevan Brighting’s masterful performance as the narrator. Brighting never misses a step in his delivery and turns an already great script into an amazing experience. I would be thoroughly shocked if he is skipped over for an award next year. Backing up Kevan Brighting’s performance is a solid array of sound effects that help build the environment without ever distracting from the narration.
The Stanley Parable is a fantastic game in the art house movie sense. It is by no means a summer blockbuster as it lacks the explosions, glitz, and glamour of a title like Bioshock Infinite or the year’s latest Call of Duty title. Instead, The Stanley Parable takes a different path to greatness by being everything the modern blockbuster isn’t. The happy ending is achievable in five minutes flat, the script dares to provoke the mind, and the game is at its best when everything goes off the rails. My only complaint about the game is how much I wish there was more! The Stanley Parable may not be everyone’s cup of tea; however, I believe every gamer should at least play the game once in their lifetime to at least experience Kevan Brighting’s impressive performance. Galactic Cafe has created a brilliant game that is proof that video games is an art form no different than film. Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.