I do enjoy my fair share of games that insult my intelligence due to some snarky narrator (I have Portal to thank for that). The Stanley Parable, as a free modification of Half-Life 2, falls within that same bracket of things Valve does best even when the game has little to do with Valve itself. The Stanley Parable is a fourth-wall breaking head-trip that astonished me in its ingenuity and eye-opening game design.
The Stanley Parable’s story isn’t necessarily mindblowing like Portal or Half-Life, so don’t set your expectations quite that high. Players take the role of Stanley, an office worker drone who spends his days in front of a computer. However, when a strange voice from the heavens, who claims to be the games narrator, arrives, it puts Stanley on a strange path to figuring out what happened to all of his co-workers who have mysteriously vanished from the building.
The Stanley Parable plays out like a visual novel with multiple paths towards completely different outcomes. What separates the game from your typical David Cage decision-based gameplay is the fact that your choices always carry over to the next playthrough. It’s a relatively short game if you only plan to play through one path – which should take you a little under half an hour – but the game encourages you to keep playing as it presents an unbelievable amount of choices to make that ultimately affects each ending. I played through the game over fifteen times, and each time, I found something new that I missed while simply walking around the corridors or offices of work. It’s diabolically clever.
This is all backed up by one of the best narrators in gaming, who acts as a helping hand through the maze of hallways and (without spoiling anything) very unexpected twists that come with your decisions, but he never lets up this thin layer of sarcasm and wit that feels quite close to home; like a friend guiding you through their favorite game but with far more sass. The Stanley Parable is a simple game made complex by your hand, and I can’t give it enough praise for that. Taking a few notes from Dreamworks and Pixar films, The Stanley Parable dons a sleek, cartoonish look and feel. Nothing is explicitly high-textured or detailed so that it stand out, but everything seems to blend together pretty well on a visual level. It does its job in surprising you when things can and will take a turn for the crazy or worse. It works as an immersive piece of visual cake, and even if there isn’t any promises of cake near the end of the game, you still get more than you bargained for.
As mentioned before, the pillar of The Stanley Parable’s sound rests entirely on the narrator. Kevan Brighting injects the narrator with so much awkward, intentionally stilted and mechanical, but insatiable charisma that it’s hard not to hate the guy, but also quite easy not to love. The rest of the game plays up the sound only through random environmental objects that are interacted with, but nothing else stands out until the final moments of each path, where some surprises lie in the way it especially manipulates sound.
The Stanley Parable isn’t a big-budget game with a team of hundreds behind it, but rest assured, it more than measures up to the big dogs by being an ingenious, inventive, and shockingly original game. While I do wish to go into further detail regarding the various endings and paths, I can’t help but withhold information to give you a chance to experience it if you haven’t. If you want a game to blow your mind and hit that sweet spot for something that has never been done before in gaming to this degree, I strongly recommend this gem.