Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? You’d read through a scenario, make a decision, and then flip to the corresponding page to see what path your selection leads you down. The thrill of creating a unique story based on your own choices is why there were almost 200 Choose Your Own Adventure titles published.
In recent years video games have tried to emulate this narrative freedom of choice, with minimal degrees of success. 2007’s BioShock, for instance, presented the player with a limited amount of binary decisions that lead to one of just two endings. While games like Heavy Rain and Mass Effect provided the player with the illusion of having to make several meaningful choices, the games’ stories arguably funneled into the same direction.
Refreshingly, the narrative deficiencies that plague most video games are absent, and frequently taunted, in the recently released indie game The Stanley Parable.
Originally wheeled out in 2011 as a mod for the Source Engine, The Stanley Parable was polished up, had new story elements added, and was submitted to Steam Greenlight last year as a standalone game. The result is a clever, experimental and rare piece of interactive fiction that serves as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern-day video game storytelling.
As the game’s title leads on, The Stanley Parable has you playing as Stanley; an office worker tasked with the monotonous job of pressing the buttons that a mysterious computer monitor commands him to hit. As the game starts, the narrator, voiced by the capricious Kevan Brighting, sets the scene. Stanley works in an office with his co-workers. None of them are sure exactly what they’re doing, or why they’re doing it. One morning Stanley’s colleagues disappear, and he sets out to investigate
From there, the way you choose to approach things is entirely open-ended. Will you take the left or right door? Will you explore the office, or attempt to get out as fast as you can? Virtually every decision you make is accompanied by Brighting’s narration. You can comply with what he’s saying and help him build “his story”. Or, you can release your insurgent side and ignore him completely. The narrator reacts accordingly to whatever you end up doing, which makes for some genuinely funny dialogue. (Pro-tip: Make sure you go in the broom closet)
There’s no puzzle solving, combat or tricky platforming in The Stanley Parable. The gameplay is as vanilla as it comes. However, these omissions and the otherwise painfully-simple gameplay, lend themselves to the game’s structure and style. It’s all about adventure and discovery in TSP, and as your story unfolds and you discover new things, it’s really easy to forget about the game’s elementary gameplay. Road blocks like combat areas or quick, simple puzzles would dilute the experience and spoil what the game’s developer Galactic Cafe was going for.
A play through of The Stanley Parable can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes. However, the game’s numerous endings and secrets will most likely end up forcing players to re-run through the game’s narrative channels several times.The game’s conclusions are all incredibly varied; several themes are touched upon and the Stanley’s dimensions are shattered. Some endings are straightforward, others are ludicrous. Either way, it’s worth experiencing them all.
The Stanley Parable is a clever, uncommon and dazzling piece of entertainment. If you’re after a title with deep-seated gameplay mechanics and systems, pass The Stanley Parable over. If you’re looking for a genuinely meaningful and amusing story that adapts to your choices and that references everything from The Matrix to 1984, The Stanley Parable is unsurpassed. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book come to life.
This review is based on a Steam retail version of The Stanley parable, developed by Galactic Cafe.
- Sharp, Clever Writing
- Mind-Bending Endings
- Niche Gamepaly