While lacking in solid education, the entertainment from defying a games' script makes up for it in the end.
Taking directions in video games has become something we've all (generally) become resigned to; we read the manual, check out the controls menu, follow signs and hints in the environment, etc... In most cases, games follow a guideline and set limitations as to what extent you can deviate from the original plan or script, these rules becoming more lenient and expanded since the good ol' days of the NES and into the realms of MMOs and open-world exploration based titles. Still, seldom are you punished or scolded directly for wandering off the intended route; you may be given a time limit to return to the battlefield, come across enemy mobs too strong for you, or usually be met with an invisible wall or impenetrable barricade that artificially confines you. The Stanley Parable explores taking directions in rather clever ways, and while the game does have an impact regarding your choices, it tackles the subject from an angle of entertainment and comedy with less focus on inquisitive examination, and while I walked away relatively pleased in the end, I was left hoping for a bit more education.
The Stanley Parable is a game based on player choices and how a story can change accordingly, these changes being delivered and addressed by the narrator, Kevan Brighting, whose voice work is a highlight of the game. Brighting delivers all of his lines with a certain eloquence and gentlemanly grace, despite the range of moods he goes through as Stanley, the titular protagonist (and arguably antagonist, but we'll get to that later), shuffles along on his adventures. While the narrator doesn’t break his calm, reserved character despite your decisions, there are points where he has to become menacing, pleading or so sarcastically dry he could melt a glacier, and said eloquence is kept even throughout all these scenes. Since Brighting's voice is the one that guides you through the game's various routes, the fact his work is so clean, clear and best of all pleasant to listen to makes him a wonderful addition to a game that would've otherwise been about wandering aimlessly around.
What intrigued me the most about The Stanley Parable was the Molyneux-esque aspect of the player being able to make choices that impact your progress. When you first start the game you're given an opening monologue about Stanley's job and how it's a heavily directed job with instructions coming to him via computer, but soon his incoming directions cease and he discovers that he's all alone in the office, and then the player takes control of Stanley. The narrator then tells the story about Stanley exploring his empty office, and eventually you come across two open doors; the narrator says that Stanley goes through one of them. If you follow the script, the story continues along giving you other chances to deviate from the intended script and the narrator will react accordingly. Following the script one hundred percent to the letter will have you completing the game in no time at all, rewarding you with a rather positive, if not insidious, ending... That is, if you follow the script. Let's rewind back to the first major choice Stanley has of entering door number one or door number two, and how the narrator dictates that Stanley chooses one, not the other - Or does he? Does he have to? The other door is there, wide open and leading somewhere else. The only thing stopping you from making Stanley go through the other door is what the narrator just said. There's a sense of mischief and empowerment of being able to deny the script and do what you please, even if your routes are clearly defined and refusing to follow said script makes you a nuisance more than an obnoxious rebel.
This brings me back to the point of Stanley being both the protagonist and antagonist, depending on your choices. Regardless of whether you play nice or forge your own path, the story has to reach a conclusion, the narrator taking on different roles depending on your chosen route; he may resign in helplessness, be as confused as you are when assets being loaded in don’t fit the script or function, and he even becomes hostile and threatening when he tires of the foolishness. The different ways the story has to adapt to your decisions is the big draw and appeal to the game, but the massive flaw in The Stanley Parable is that once you go through a route and reach its ending, there is no point in going back to it. In fact once you find every possible ending in the game, there is practically no point in returning to it, unless you want to uncover each piece of the narrator's lines, find secrets or cash in on the achievements. Even then The Stanley Parable is quick to run out of things to do, giving it poor lasting power - Including some clowning around, I reached each ending, which had me clocked in at just over three hours when all was said and done. That's really the only thing that severely hampers the game, but at the same time I'm thankful that artificial time padding was omitted for a game that gets you in, offers up comedy and an incredibly well written and expertly voice acted script, then gets you out.
The Stanley Parable certainly is not a replayable title, but as mentioned the lessons it teaches while being witty keeps it from overstaying its welcome and becoming a bore. I was amused and intrigued during my time with it, but I wished at times that the game was more informative to the player in an educational or logical sense along with its entertainment. For example, your choices have an impact on the narrator and the script, and because the story must reach an end, changes have to be made accordingly. While the results end up amusing, I had hoped there would’ve been a closer, deeper look on the matter from a game design standpoint. Of course, it’s a game about a man with a charming English accent narrating another man’s eventual subterfuge of the story, so intelligent, lengthy discussions on game design is not its goal. That said, if you're at all interested in logic and game design then The Stanley Parable is certainly worth your time, but only if the lack of major replayability doesn't have you turned off.