Choice Cuts - Review: The Stanley Parable
Having already enjoyed success originally as a Half Life 2 modder, Davey Wreden remakes and re-imagines the game in HD. Bringing back British voice-over artist, Kevan Brighting, and adding a few tweaks and "levels", the result is an acerbic masterpiece that will make you never look at video games in the same way again.
I'd Like To Play A Little Game...
Without giving too much away, it's difficult to describeThe Stanley Parable as a "game". Indeed, the entry on Wikipedia classes it as "interactive fiction", but even that's a bit of a stretch. The many essential elements that define what a game is are challenged, mocked and torn to pieces to the extent that by the end of it you won't be sure what a game actually is, let alone whether The Stanley Parable classes as one.
"An unforgiving sardonic verse on game and narrative mechanics."
Much like the demo was a metaphysical satire on the games industry, its consumers and their expectations, the full game is an unforgiving sardonic verse on game and narrative mechanics, whilst still taking time to take a few satirical swipes at a couple of landmark games and game design ethos with gusto.
The humour of the game is drier than a good martini, suiting its tone and point rather well. Brighting's voice is absolutely perfect for the omnipresent narrator, and is possibly the thing that makes the game so memorable.
But that doesn't mean that Brighting completely upstages the game itself. After all, it's Wreden who scripts Brighting's lines. Overall, Wreden's writing is inspired and utterly twisted, and Brighting's voice just lends the right amount of unsavoury winsomeness to it. The abstract points, satirical observations, shocking narrative, and good pacing are all fantastic and are as meticulously thought through as the placing of the jokes. This goes right down to the Steam achievements: a handful of trophies that range from the banal to the absurd, really hitting home the metaphysical air of the title, taking Wreden's dire misanthropy beyond the gameplay.
But that by no means is all softness and light. Without warning and on a dime, the wry wit can turn into something incredibly sinister and uncomfortable, making the game as unnerving as it is amusing.
Round and Round We Go
The game, however, is really suited for gamers with patience, intelligence, and curiosity to really get what Wreden is saying with his work. There are so many circular happenings, dead ends, and maddening restarts, that it's far from a casual fix nor is it easy gratification.
And this is the only criticism. Sometimes that narrator's dialogue can get a bit too deep and lengthy, and you have no choice but to hang around until he's done. Also, some of the points the game makes for around and around and around making it lose some of its impact.
But that is kind of the point: making the player frustrated and powerless in a never-ending nightmare. It's not long before you become intensely paranoid and mistrusting of everything that's going on. If you stop playing, it's because you're exhausted and scared, not bored.
The Stanley Parable is not so much "satisfying" in that it's not particularly fun and fulfilling staring directly into a devastating black mirror aimed straight at video games. But it is one of the most unique, provocative, and thought-provoking games around.
"A devastating black mirror aimed straight at video games."
At a base level, you'll certainly have more than a couple of hours exploring the various "choices" available to the player, and laughing along with the cavalcade of quips. But you'll have an eternity to let the title's bleak message penetrate you to the point were you'll never trust a game again.
The Stanley Parable is less of a game, more of a dangerous revelation where Wreden demonstrates that he's a supreme sadist. Play at your peril.