A creation like The Stanley Parable probably only comes once per art medium. Music had its Bach, literature had Ulysses, and film had Citizen Kane. Now, the games industry has long asked the question of “what is the Citizen Kane of videogames?”. We will never get a right answer to this because this isn’t the right question (besides, the only Citizen Kane of games will be Citizen Kane: The Friggen Game). What we need to be asking is “what single videogame, of all the forms of electronic digital interactive poetry, will be known as the finest of its crop? Which game, after hundreds of years, will be remembered as the the total encompassment of what a videogame is, has been, and could ever be?”
The Stanley Parable is a game, a high-definition remake of the original Half-Life 2 mod, that is a total deconstruction of videogame storytelling, illusion of choice, and game design in general. Not only that, but it’s damn fun, charming, funny, and even a total mind-screw most of the time.
As you play Stanley from the beginning to one of the many ends, you will be subject to choices that, in the end, were meaningless after your temporary conclusion. After you finish one story, you are thrust back at the start to make your way through once again, the ever pleasant narration of Kevan Brighting guiding, chiding, and providing thoughtful and entertaining commentary along the way. Each playthrough is short and easy to digest, making the overarching themes brief, witty, and easy to understand. A longer game would only serve to make the plots confusing and overburdened. It goes by quick, but it’s the quality that will stick with you.
Whether you choose to follow your narrator’s instructions or disobey him at every turn will feel like a strong choice for a long while, until you see more and more endings. The more you see, the more you realize that any choice you make has been calculated and taken advantage of by the games designer, Davey Wreden. No, you’re not being rebellious. You are only a videogame character, designed and programmed to do what a game character does best: follow the rules. This is a game that knows exactly what it is, and never stops exploiting and subverting that fact.
It is here where I should end my review, as saying anymore would be spoiling the intrigue and fun of discovering just how deep this game has been willing to break itself apart in front of other more expensive and highly-polished illusions that are modern videogames.
Try it. Buy it. Pirate it (and then buy it afterwards, kindly). Do anything to get this game in front of your eyes, in your hands, and through your ears. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
+ Is a deconstructed subversion of literally every game ever made
+ Funny, witty, and well written
+ Kevan Brighting’s voice is always welcoming
+ Short, but the brevity serves it well
+ Well worth the cheap asking price
– I have absolutely zero complaints.
– Zip. Nada. Nothing.