Employee 427, AKA Stanley, is content leading a normal, unassuming life. But when all of his co-workers vanish, he finds himself forced to find the secrets that lie within the bowels of his office complex . This is the base premise of The Stanley Parable, a new game for PC by developer Galactic Cafe. The element that makes The Stanley Parable such an intriguing game isn’t the simple point and click game play, but the exquisite, witty, and thought-provoking narration that accompanies the player’s every action.
The Stanley Parable is a game about choices. The first one confronted by the player is two open doors: one on the left and one on the right. The supposedly omniscient narrator off-handedly says that Stanley went through the door on his left. If the player goes left, then the story proceeds as the narrator planned. If you go right, then the player just may end up destroying the narrative reality of the game itself.
A single play through of The Stanley Parable does not take long; the game simply resets at the beginning whenever one of the many potential endings is reached. The player might shatter reality itself by not obeying the rules, escape the offices, find a room that shows The Stanley Parable being made, activate a nuclear warhead, or they might “lose the story” as the narrator says and have to find it. Frequently meta and always hilarious, it’s worth spending a few hours on just to find all of the absurd potential outcomes.
The Stanley Parable‘s innovative use of narration is what pulls the veil off the illusion that so many other video games work so hard to maintain: that player choice matters. In other games, players are frequently given choices to make that will have some effect on the story. Press x to save the character, or square to leave him for dead. The Stanley Parable, on the other hand, shows how the player’s choice is nothing more than a planned outcome by the developers, rather than a unique and personal decision. The number of odd-ball endings and dramatic choices that fill The Stanley Parable all end up with the same result: the restart of the game.
In one section, where the player accidentally triggers a nuclear self destruct, the player has nothing to do but futilely try to prevent the detonation. The narrator laughs at Stanley’s attempts to exert his will over the game, commenting that the player will doubtlessly return to this section again and again, searching for a means of survival that just isn’t there.
At other times, the narrator might just decide that Stanley is playing the game incorrectly and restart the game on his own accord. In one of the instances where the player inadvertently breaks reality, the narrator draws out a yellow line to point Stanley toward the narrative (naturally the line also ends up getting lost). Anyone familiar with video game tropes will be able to appreciate the narrator’s screwball interactions with the player. That being said: this is a game for game lovers. If you don’t identify as a gamer, then much of the humor may be lost on you.
It’s a rare thing to come across a piece of entertainment that is so self-aware, not just of itself, but of it’s medium as a whole. By dangling crazy choice after crazy choice in front of the player, yet having the decisions ultimately amount to nothing, The Stanley Parable cements itself as one of the smartest, most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year. It’s an experience that can’t be accurately summed up in a brief review, so make sure to check the demo out on Steam or on the official website.