Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Stanley Parable - (Review Updated 10/27/2014)

NOTE: Due to a sudden moment of clarity, the original author has realized that the initial review of The Stanley Parable did not truly represent the game in question and contained many misunderstandings, including the concept of an “objective review,” and the views expressed were, quite frankly, insulting to potential readers. We at Trophy Unlocked deeply apologize for this and, as a result, the initial review has been thoroughly rewritten, though some of the inoffensive text has been maintained. If you would like to see the original text, you may do so after the break.

UPDATE (10/27/2014)

In July 2011, a man named Davey Wreden released a mod built on the Source engine known as The Stanley Parable. This mod presented itself as a work of interactive fiction and received critical praise for its narrative and sense of exploration, as well as the voice-over provided by British actor Kevan Brighting. Sometime later, he was approached by William Pugh, who wanted to help Wreden remake The Stanley Parable as a stand-alone release. This collaboration, which also brought back Kevan Brighting as the narrator, led to the release of the HD version of The Stanley Parable on Steam by the newly formed development team of Wreden and Pugh, named Galactic Cafe. Although more of a work of interactive fiction than an actual game, the HD version of the The Stanley Parable, released October 2013, has proven to be a worthy investment for any gamer as well as something worth having serious discussions about.

Spoiler Note: Due to the nature of The Stanley Parable, it is best to go in blind for the best experience, as there are many surprises that don’t have as much of an impact by reading about them. Because of this, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding the events of the game. If you wish to remain unspoiled, then hit Ctrl+F and search “Verdict”.

The Stanley Parable follows a man named Stanley who has an office job, as employee number 427, which requires him to press buttons on command. The computer on his desk tells him what buttons to push and how long to push them. Any normal person would have found this job to be tedious and repetitive. However, Stanley is very content with his job and is very happy to do it day after day. One day, Stanley wonders if there’s a world outside of his office and so decides that he’ll need to explore the office building he works in to find out, that is, if he so chooses to leave his comfort zone (if it’s even his choice at all).

What happens to Stanley next is entirely up to the choices made by the player. You can choose to follow the story that the narrator has laid out for you or you can ignore his instructions to discover a new path and thus a new story. The narrator will try to railroad you back onto the proper story path, but deviate enough and he’ll alter the script to suit the new path that Stanley has chosen, but of course Stanley can always change the new story up to a point if he so desires. The idea of choice is actually what drives the narrative, if the end result even has a narrative. I found it amazing just how many story branches Galatic Cafe was able to account for, with a total of 19 different possible endings (two of them being the unofficial Whiteboard and Broom Closet endings). Finding these endings in itself is actually quite thrilling and is a primary source of fun and replay value for the player. Combined with the number of easter eggs and other surprises waiting in store, including random room conditions or layouts, it’s quite possible that the player will find themselves immersed for hours scouring for every last possibility.

What’s most intriguing about these endings however is the fact that they all seem to deliver some kind of lesson about video games (acting as a sort of parable if you will). These endings and unique story paths all deconstruct some aspect of gaming, including the illusion of choice, the idea of “art” games with no real substance and the idea of linear story paths in supposedly nonlinear games. I found each of the ending paths to say something extremely relevant to the game environment in which the game saw release, though I’d wager that they’ll prove to be relevant sometime in the near, or even far, future. In fact, these story paths are the best part of the game because it seems that The Stanley Parable actually has something to say, unlike most of its indie brethren. At least one lesson, not letting time make a decision for you, is good to take away for one’s own life as well.

Though there is certainly a lesson to learn within the game, what really helps drive each of the points home is the wonderful narration by Kevin Brighting. His voice is easy to listen to and he is capable of delivering his, often witty, lines with a very snarky tone. There’s a good emotional range too, such as one side quest of sorts that gives the narrator an infectiously encouraging vibe. On top if that, his character is written pretty well, since sometimes he shows pity for Stanley and, in some endings, is shown to have limited control over his own actions. Being able to make a sort of emotional connection with the narrator is an accomplishment on its own, especially a narrator who manages to have more characterization than the main character (though this is excusable, since Stanley is implied to be an avatar for the player).

The Stanley Parable is made using the Source engine, though everything looks great, save for some times when getting too close to specific textures makes them a little blurry (keyboards on computers for instance). In a way it’s kind of what you’d expect from an engine as old as it is, though the appearance of the world feels different from other Source engine games. The controls are very responsive and everything runs very smoothly with little to no lag depending on your computer’s performance at the moment. I like the suitably bright color palette, as it reinforces the satirical nature of the game. The lighting can also get pretty atmospheric when things go dark, striking a good balance with the myriad tonalities of the increasingly forking paths. As for music, what little tracks there are aren’t that bad, though I really like Who Likes to Party by Kevin MacLeod, which is integrated in the most humorous way possible.

On a final note, I give props to the inclusion of the Museum Ending, as it gives a glimpse into the development process behind The Stanley Parable (though I’m sure a lesson can be found in this ending as well, like the nature of the game’s existence in and of itself from an in-universe perspective). Behind-the-scenes stuff can sometimes be very fascinating, this being an example of a very intriguing and engrossing presentation of it.


For what it is, I’d consider The Stanley Parable to be a very worthwhile investment. The story, or lack thereof, is very engaging and the ideas presented are worth thinking about. At the same time, it presents these ideas in a fun and lively way and never for a second comes off as pretentious. I highly recommend buying it when possible, as this is a time when a $15 asking price seems good, especially for an indie game. If you’re still on the fence, I’d recommend playing the free demo, which differs completely from the final game, but gives a pretty good idea of what its deal is. If $15 still seems a little pricey, then feel free to grab it during a Steam Sale, whatever it takes to play this wonderful gem [NOTE: Trophy Unlocked does not condone piracy].

ORIGINAL TEXT (12/1/2013)

WARNING: The nature of The Stanley Parable is such that it truly is best to go into the game completely blind before playing it. You can’t even read a review of The Stanley Parable, such as the review-like text you see below this very warning, as literally any conventional discussion about The Stanley Parable, including this very review, is spoileriffic and it is essential that you draw your own conclusions about the events you have witnessed before discussing it. In fact, even just seeing the title card above may be a spoiler in and of itself, but that is the risk you seemed to have felt comfortable taking by clicking on the link to this very review. If you feel comfortable with spoilers, then feel free to continue reading, but Trophy Unlocked strongly recommends that you buy The Stanley Parable on Steam and play it for yourself first. You have been sufficiently warned, that is, of course, unless you saw this large block of text and decided to just scroll down to the bottom paragraph to ignore it and find out how I, EHeroFlareNeos, feel about The Stanley Parable before trying to play the game, in which case you didn’t read this warning all the way through and may have a bit of a problem with following directions.

In July 2011, a man named Davey Wreden released a mod built on the Source engine known as The Stanley Parable. This mod presented itself as a work of interactive fiction and received critical praise for its narrative and sense of exploration, as well as the voice-over provided by British actor Kevan Brighting. Sometime later, he was approached by William Pugh, who wanted to help Wreden remake The Stanley Parable as a stand-alone release. This collaboration, which also brought back Kevan Brighting as the narrator, lead to the release of the HD version of The Stanley Parable on Steam by the newly formed development team of Wreden and Pugh, named Galactic Cafe. While this game came out back in October, I didn’t really get to play it until just recently. The end result of this playthrough, in which I explored as much as I possibly could of the game, is a little difficult to put into words, but I will try my best to explain.

I’m sure you’re curious by now as to what exactly The Stanley Parable is about, but unfortunately this description of the game on Steam is all I’m going to give you: “The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, and you will not follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The game will end, the game will never end.” I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is all I can even say without potentially spoiling it, as it really is the official description given for the game. This presents a conundrum in and of itself when trying to discuss the story/non-story of The Stanley Parable, especially seeing as I try to include as few spoilers as possible when I review something; when I do use them, I try to put the most sensitive information in white text. However, discussing The Stanley Parable at length in any capacity with these restrictions might as well have me putting the whole review in white text, compounded further by how I really do not want my interpretation of the events/non-events of The Stanley Parable to influence your own (you being the reader of this review).

But, if that is the case, let’s really think about what we’re doing here. I, the reviewer, have placed this text on the internet for someone to read. You, the reader, now fall into one of two distinct categories. The first comes from the likely possibility that you have never heard of The Stanley Parable and have thus decided to see what people on the internet have to say before deciding to drop the $15 required to download it on Steam so you can see if the purchase will be worth that amount of money. Now that we have established that you might be in this category, I wonder why this is even an option. I mean, what force stopped you from buying the game purely out of curiosity to find out for yourself whether or not the game is worth it? The second you began reading this review of The Stanley Parable, your opinion was already influenced by my own and thus you’ll begin thinking like me instead of like you. This problem only worsens the deeper my analysis grows, since once you have completely read my full analysis/non-analysis of The Stanley Parable, you will no longer have any true thoughts of your own and my analysis will become your analysis whether you have become aware of it or not. In fact, once you finish the review and have decided to buy The Stanley Parable based on whether I recommend it or not, the only things you can really do are agree with me completely or go back onto the internet to complain about my opinion and claim that I have less credibility than you realized.

The other category you might fall under comes from the equally likely possibility that you have already played The Stanley Parable and have decided to go online to find people who agree with your unique interpretation of the events/non-events of The Stanley Parable. Now that we have established that you might be in this category, let’s explore what you, having already played The Stanley Parable, might do with the knowledge you may have gained from finding and reading my review of The Stanley Parable. If you agree with my analysis of The Stanley Parable’s events/non-events, you’ll likely either simply read through my analysis and walk away or simply read through my analysis and write a comment that says my review was good, with no elaboration, and walk away. If you disagree with my opinion/analysis of The Stanley Parable, then you’ll either ignore me entirely or leave a comment somewhere claiming that I have lost my credibility as a reviewer since my own personal conclusions did not agree with yours, which takes value away from the idea that a review is simply one person’s opinion and you do not have to agree with it.

Then again, no matter which category you have fallen under, you may have scrolled down to this paragraph, or lower, to find out what score I may have given The Stanley Parable. Of course, if you’ve already done just that, I would like to know why. There’s nothing that could be gained from glancing at a number in an attempt to determine a complete opinion. But maybe I’m missing something here. Oh, I’ve got an idea: I’m now going to show you a picture of the number eight. Trophy Unlocked doesn’t give out scores, but let’s just use the number eight and give that a go. Sound good? All right then, here’s the number eight:

Ok, now that we’ve got the number eight up onscreen, let’s say that this represents a review score [Disclaimer: Trophy Unlocked does not give review scores, nor does it have an alphabetical or numerical rating system]. Eight is a great number isn’t it? It’s not only a score that most people can live with, but also gives the impression that the reviewer really enjoyed the game in some capacity. Now, let’s think about why this is. What is it about a numerical value, in this case the number eight, that, when paired with a review of a video game, that elates the reader? Does it have to do with the inherent symmetry of the number eight, or is it really just a matter of its close proximity to the number ten? A number like the number eight could easily be removed from its original context (i.e. without looking at the actual text of the review itself) and compiled with other numbers to form some sort of general consensus, a metascore if you will. When enough of these numbers are compiled together, it can influence this hypothetical metascore to the point where if it does or doesn’t meet your expectations, this metascore alone will influence whether or not you will buy The Stanley Parable, rather than simply buying The Stanley Parable after only seeing that rather interesting blurb near the top of the page and wondering just what it is. You, the reader, might have put a lot of stock into that numerical value and have decided on your own that these numbers represent the entirety of one’s opinion of The Stanley Parable, as though it were able to encapsulate that opinion perfectly.

But maybe, just maybe, you, the reader, fall under a third category: people who would like nothing more than to see reviews of video games, like The Stanley Parable, devoid of any emotion or individual thought at all in the interest of seeing how a video game like The Stanley Parable is in an objective context. Let’s give that a whirl, a review of The Stanley Parable without any individual emotion or analysis to influence your own:

The Stanley Parable is an interactive video game which exists. It only uses the WASD keys for movement while the mouse aims and the Ctrl key lets you crouch. There is no jump button, as the developers disabled it. In The Stanley Parable, you walk around a three-dimensional environment and interact with objects. There is also a narrator. You can choose to listen to him or you can choose not to. The Stanley Parable has sound, and also graphics, both of which are functional. Some people will like The Stanley Parable and some will not.

On second thought, I’m not sure how anyone could stand doing that for longer than a paragraph’s worth of text. Every review would end up sounding the same, so where’s the fun in that? At what point would someone be able to share their experiences or inspire discussion in the comments section? [Disclaimer: It is the opinion of EHeroFlareNeos that reviews are not meant to begin an argument, but rather recount one individual user’s experience, which may be wholly different from that of the reader.]

Or you may have just found that last part a bit rambly and, after seeing that big number eight, scrolled past everything I have just written so you can get to the bottom for a quick summary of my opinion of The Stanley Parable. In the interest of keeping this review of The Stanley Parable as brief as possible, let’s get right down to it, shall we?

The Stanley Parable is a really good game. Its writing is some of the best I have seen in any title, with a sharp wit and great insight into not only video games, but life itself. Within the same breath, it is possible for The Stanley Parable to be funny, thought-provoking and surprising in just the right combination. So what are you waiting for, go buy The Stanley Parable on Steam right now. It’s an experience worth having and it’s only $15 ($11.24 with the Autumn Sale going on as of this writing)!

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