Giant Bomb Review

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The Stanley Parable Review

4
  • PC

Prodding at The Stanley Parable and seeing how it will react to your various actions makes for a great, brief experience.

Will you get up the nerve to even leave your office?

The Stanley Parable is a genius bit of interactive fun that originally started out as a free mod for the Source Engine. It plays around with the concepts of game narration and player choice in some really inventive ways that will likely appeal most to people who enjoy thinking about the nature of games and the push-pull relationship between their creators and their players. But that's really only half the story, if that. The core of The Stanley Parable only works because it's genuinely funny. It's brief, but powerfully effective, with plenty of moments where you think you might have found a situation that the creators didn't account for... only to be proven wrong yet again. Once you've replayed as many different paths as you can think of, there won't be much reason to go back and play it again, but the few hours you'll probably spend with The Stanley Parable are worth its purchase price.

The crux of The Stanley Parable is as follows: The narration will tell you what happens next, and you can either do that thing or, in most cases, do some other thing. Or maybe do nothing. The opening of the game, for example, strongly implies that Stanley--a worker drone who seems to push buttons for a living with next to no authority or autonomy in his job--leaves his office. From there, you can walk out of the office immediately, stick around in the office until the narrator pipes up to account for your complete inaction, or close the door leading out of your office, triggering one of the game's many different conclusions. The decisions spin out from there, rarely becoming complicated but definitely becoming more and more ridiculous. You poke at The Stanley Parable and The Stanley Parable pokes back. Restarting the game--whether that's your decision or the narrator's--is part of the game, and the way the story accounts for and occasionally addresses those restarts helps create some mind-bending twists and turns that blow the logic of the scenario apart in a handful of ways. Are you Stanley? Or are you the player controlling Stanley? Depending on the choices you make, the narrator may address you as either.

Do as you're told. Or don't.

Of course, none of this would work unless the writing and narration were able to keep you engaged and interested in seeing what else you can find. Both of these aspects are very sharp and keep you exploring around the edges, looking for one more way for the game to react to your current level of obedience/disobedience. There's a dry wit to the writing, which pairs well with the British narrator's performance. His exasperation when you deviate from his instruction feels genuine, but a certain amount of malevolence--or at least utter disdain for Stanley's role in this story--comes through, as well. But, most importantly, The Stanley Parable works because it's funny. Its unexpected turns are best left unexpected, so you'd do well to go into the game a bit blind, but the way it gets fed up with your performance and the ridiculous things it occasionally asks you to do are truly great.

This is a telephone, as seen in The Stanley Parable.

It's worth noting that the free, mod version of The Stanley Parable has much of the same foundation as this new, paid version, and you'd certainly get the gist of all this from that previous release. But this isn't just some simple visual makeover. The writing has expanded in some smart, more interesting directions, and the game has evolved to allow (and account for) more deviance on the player's part. The mod feels like a rough draft by comparison--you can see the bones and structure in the older release, but the rewriting and tuning of existing material along with the introduction of new material makes the final product much, much sharper and funnier.

It's a small, very charming release. You could blow it up into something bigger, if you like, and talk about how it serves as commentary on how meaningless player choice in most games actually is, and certainly there's some amount of discussion you could have about the larger context in play. But you don't need to have that conversation to enjoy The Stanley Parable. It works because it's fun to explore the limits of the scenario and see which bits they've written smart, well-delivered dialogue for and how many different "endings" you can come up with as you play around.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
116 Comments
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Posted by Fairbrethees

Lose the stars. Abandon the scoring system. Be bold, Giant Bomb!

Posted by AstroCow

I tried the game, played around with it a bit, said, "hey, this is neat," then left it and felt no desire to return to it.

I feel about the same as you do. It's doubtful I'll go back for more. It's not bad. It's just as if they borrowed a bit of Portal and sent you walking (and that's all you'll do...walk).

Posted by Mystyr_E

I will read this review. I will not read this review. I will type this comment. I will not type this comment......uh oh

Posted by vhold

He woulda given it 5 stars if it were called The Jeffley Jeffable because of +1 star automatically attributed to all Jeff oriented games.

Posted by MaxOpower

@seminormal:

But I loved the Obama bit. I felt like the game was running on two very different levels, one kind of witty and interesting. The other, very loud, in your face, and with a British accent. I'll probarly pick it up at a steam sale sometime.

Edited by chilipeppersman
Edited by Zevvion

@richardzk: There's only around two hours of content at absolute most, which makes the game feel kind of pricy for what it is. All two hours of content are absolutely amazing, but... yeah. It's the kind of game where you start off thinking "oh my gosh, I want to see every outcome and hear every line of dialogue!" and two hours later, you've exhausted every single possible thing in the game, and it didn't quite last as long as you'd hoped in the beginning.

I've played it for two hours and already read I didn't experience everything that game has, but most of it. Anyway, I'd rather pay 10 bucks for the two awesome and unique hours this game offers, then spending as much on a game that probably features at least two hours I don't want to play.

We see the money vs hours argument a lot. Not everyone places value on that though. I know I don't. Hours aren't everything.

Posted by ObtuseObtuse

@krabonq: "But that's exactly this software's problem, it's basically a walking software. Absolutely not a game. To a degree it's... less than a game."

Tell this to King's Quest, Fallout, Myst, Machinarium, basically ANY adventure game.

Few games are as much a game as an adventure game. Why? Narrative fabric is so intricately woven with player interaction, that they become an experience instead of just a static set of obstacles/challenges to complete.

This game was among the most exhilarating of game experiences I have had. The thing it pulled off, so rarely attempted much less done right, was jamais vu.

The experience of something that should be familiar, but is ripped wide open into a surreal experience of seeing it for the first time. It did this often with brutal subtlety but often also whacked you over the head with it. I have seen other commenters describing this as spooky nostalgia. Which Gone Home had some of, but I think that was different and was created by provoking vulnerability in the player/audience.

All in all, the emotional value of my experience with this game nearly equaled what I had with Journey, a game built entirely on the platform of what games could do with emotion for the audience. It deserves respect and appreciation, and equally draws the criticism of those who can't see the reason for its existence.

And finally my own spoiler alert... the game is not on a mission to comment on game experiences/design.. The subject of interest to Stanley Parable is the human experience. It has thoroughly explored the area in the shadows behind "normal" life. It hit home on concepts like depersonalization or even more generally depression. Taking on these glitched spaces of human perception, it really is a haunting piece of creative work.

Posted by Tomba_be

Kind of sad to see how many people don't like this because it doesn't fit in their narrow minded definition of a game. There *are* elements that can only be discovered when you actively think about what you are doing, and it will definitely take more then 2 hours to discover everything. I played it for over 3 hours before I felt comfortable enough to watch some video reviews and not get spoilers. And in every review were several twists I had not seen yet, so I know I'll still have more things to discover. If you are not "good" at this game you will not "finish" it. That finish might not be the same as in most games, but consists of discovering everything. There are enough reasons to play this game. If you don't like the humour (because you're dead inside), you can enjoy the story lines or the way the game points out things in games most people never thought about.

A game like this doesn't need to be made every year, but it's a good thing for gaming in general that this one exists.

Posted by iBushido

I just "finished" the game. I actually just got kinda tired and I wanna go to bed already. That's not to say it's boring, but I'm alone in a dark room and it's late at night so there's only so many "endings" I can see before I feel like I got enough.

I definitely think it's a refreshing and unique experience in gaming and there were plenty of moments that I was genuinely interested in seeing what happens if I do or don't do certain things. It's funny, because I went through my sequence of events in this game and once I decided to stop I truly felt like it had to be in that order. It was as if there was COMPLETE structure to it. Even from a storytelling standpoint, it felt like the right order of events. I know I could have made any other choices at any other time, but it actually made me wonder if I really didn't have choice in those situations and it would have ended up that way anyway.

I don't want to bring up any spoilers, but I will say that the last ending I got felt like the most fitting one and all the others felt perfectly placed to bring up certain topics, make me think certain things, and ultimately let me go and feel that I was finished.

It was a very short, but satisfying experience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who at the very least doesn't mind an interactive story and who doesn't get mad when they can't shoot at stuff.

Posted by DealerUmbra

@neonie: The broom closet ending was theb est XD.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

I think the best part of these comments are those who are angry / condescending to people who don't absolutely love this game, because obviously they don't get the artistic merit. I almost wish this game poked fun at this type of person as well.