Saturday 28 December 2013

The Stanley Parable

The Title Screen

The Stanley Parable is a first-person, exploration game, independently released through Steam's Greenlight system. Originally a Source Mod, this high definition 'stand-alone' remake was released in 2013 and is available for Windows and Mac OS.

Big Disclaimer: This game is an almost unique experience, extremely prone to spoilers. To that end this review will be short and all spoilers avoided.

Plot & Devices
Stanley works in an office all day and although he performs an objectively pointless task, he is happy. Then one day, he notices all his other office co-workers have disappeared. He gets up to explore. 

All gone
That is the summation of the short opening sequence that is the framework for the story. From there, events are unfolded by the player through exploration and interaction with a narrator. Whilst events certainly drive the game, it is not quite accurate to say that the story does. The Stanley Parable challenges how we experience plot as players by effortlessly swapping between fixed and abstract story telling - which is the point of the title.

The Game
Set in the first person, the player can control movement and interact with the occasional button or door. Other than that, there are no controls or mechanics of any kind. In fact The Stanley Parable is extremely light on actual gameplay and by many definitions, would be hard to describe as an actual video game.

So what is the point then? Exploration is accompanied by a narrator, and it is from this interaction the enjoyment is derived. Much effort has been placed into making the narrator feel as genuine and organic as possible. During exploration, the player will encounter choices - directly or indirectly: which door to go through, whether to stay or move on, push this buttons, etc. These choices determine the direction of the story and the events that transpire and how the interaction with the narrator progresses. It is hard to properly explain, but will seem natural when playing.

Although an indie production, The Stanley Parable is a fine PC game with re-bindable keys and a surprisingly expansive graphics menu. The game is not graphically demanding, and the style is very typical of Source Engine based games. The narrator is fully voiced and subtitles are available.

Go on, walk through it...

I definitely recommend The Stanley Parable. Although the game adds absolutely nothing new in terms of mechanics, it is almost unique in its combining of storytelling and player involvement. It's not an emotional tale, but I laughed a few times and found it thought provoking. There is a reason that this small, downloadable game is featuring on many 'Top of 2013' lists.

Understandably, it will not be for everyone, but it is highly likely that the game will at least provide an entirely original experience to new players. I have played many games over my life and this definitely felt a new idea. Add on technically competent and it becomes an easy recommendation.

Set aside a few hours and play it. Like it or not... you won't regret it.

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