The Stanley Parable (2013, PC)

By Southern Cross / January 19, 2014

Well, I played it. I didn't mean to after the demo, but I checked Metacritic, got stunned when I saw 92 Metascore, and then I looked at the user reviews.

"I won't say a damn thing about this game. [...] If you want to know why this game is 10/10, go buy it now" - 17 of 22 users found this helpful

"This is the first time I've been properly astounded by a game since the portal series, after an hour I had to quit the game and just sit for a while, thinking. BUY THIS GAME! 10/10" - 7 of 12 users found this helpful

"The probability of anybody expecting or even anticipating something as mindblowing as "the Stanley Parable" is next to none. But it happened. 10/10" - 7 of 9 users found this helpful

"this game will finish with you questioning what it means to exist. 10/10" - 2 of 3 users found this helpful

   Why shouldn't I check it? Yeah, it's Metacritic user reviews, but look at those! This will be a life-changing event! It's so good, you shouldn't even check out the spoilers because you will lose some of the impact! You will never look at videogames the same you did before! Destructoid - 10/10, Joystiq - 10/10, USgamer - 10/10. It's a sensation, you gotta see what's the big deal!
   Well... let's start out with the positives.

"Indie" headquarters

- Kevan Brighting's (Narrator) voice is spectacular and he can make his lines come alive.
- Some Easter eggs are quite subtle. Heck, one of them requires four hours to discover.

   That's almost it.
   The game's structure is as follows: You start in your office (not knowing why your office is empty). You walk out, and notice every step you take is narrated. You get to the room with two doors and hear "Stanley walked through the left door". You can listen to the voice and go left, or disobey it and go right. Let me repeat: You can listen to the voice and go left, or disobey it and go right.
   AND IT KEEPS HAPPENING. (This MS Paint Adventures comic is relevant because it pretty much describes a large portion of the game even though it's actually funnier.)
   We're going into full spoiler mode, because to be honest, there is nothing to be spoiled. Basically, all the choices you make lead you to different paths that usually try to comment on trappings of modern games' narratives with tongue in cheek. "There was no choice at all!", "All those options are meaningless in the end!", "The only way to win is to quit!" (That was actually the last thing I heard before I pressed "exit" the last time — you've fooled me once, Spec Ops: The Line). Other ones are just zany events for the sake of cheap laughs and "blank canvas, interpret it as you will" types of events for you. There is even an event that pokes fun at the type of game The Stanley Parable represents.
   And it's all ultimately meaningless, just like the comments saying that this meaninglessness is meaningful in any sort of way. It's not. If you applied any type of critical thinking to the way games build their narrative, you wouldn't need this "wonderful commentary on videogame design" at all. It's an xkcd comic poking fun at ME3-styled choices adapted into a videogame. Quick glance. Ha-ha, this is so true. Close tab. That's apparently enough for a game to get 92/100 Metascore.
   "The Stanley Parable is a game which isn’t really applicable to the standard rating system. It’s a game that achieves what it has set out to achieve perfectly" said Game Revolution's reviewer about The Stanley Parable before giving it a perfect score. Funnily enough, you could say TSP itself mocks this way of thinking, making you play a game in which you rescue a newborn baby from horrible death by pushing a button every few seconds. It achieves perfectly what it has set out to achieve. Too bad what it has set out to achieve is stupid.
   The structure of TSP is close to my dream game: one in which you can choose from a huge number of available paths and play the campaign in an entirely different way every time (a good compromise between "short and filler-less SP mode" and today's gamers' desire for more and more content — you can choose between easy and hard levels on paths that diverge Darius-style; the harder the challenges you complete, the more positive the story turns out, etc.) Yet it strips my dream game of all the mechanics and makes choices not matter at all specifically to poke fun about choices not mattering at all. It's a self-referential walking simulator that only nerd circles will care about (internet-styled randomness! Minecraft level! Portal level, the one with instrumental "Still Alive" playing in the background!) At least it's better than Dear Esther — narration actually involves the player's character instead of happening next to you.
   And of course nothing is done here that hasn't already been done a million times better in a "dependie" game. Most of the humor was already gone over by the Portals with far more subtlety and wit. As for the self-referential wankery, Kojima did it better, multiple times, and much less self-indulgently and within the context of a good game too (and so did E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy, if you are looking for something more obscure, which nails dream-logic pretty well on top of being a fun shooter). Now I'm going to get back to playing Call of Duty because I am a hater who doesn't appreciate Art, yo.