The End is Never: The Stanley Parable

Wanderers, there are a lot of open-world games out there, most of which allow you to run around in circles like a headless chicken for fifteen hours without really impacting on your ability to eventually complete your objective and progress to the rest. The Stanley Parable, however, is the opposite; within the fairly confined space of a single office building, the game offers actual choice in a variety of different and entertaining ways.

The Stanley Parable cover

Before I talk about The Stanley Parable, though, I’d like to take a moment to talk about The Stanley Parable Demo, available for free via Steam and probably elsewhere. This particular demo has the rather peculiar quality of being almost completely unrelated to the game itself, while somehow conveying the tone and style exactly. Given that it is a very different experience, as opposed to a portion of the actual game presented as a sample, I really recommend that even previous players of The Stanley Parable have a go at the demo, too. It’s good fun.

Demo and full game both share some common elements, however; one of these is the Narrator, voiced perfectly by Kevan Brighting, who in the full version introduces the player to the story of Stanley, an office worker whose job seems to consist entirely of following instructions on a screen to push specific buttons for specific durations of time. The player then assumes the role of Stanley, whose colleagues all appear to have disappeared…

As the player progresses through the story, the Narrator keeps up a running commentary, as narrators are wont to do. However, this being a game as opposed to a film or a book, the player isn’t technically obliged to follow the narrative the Narrator is trying to present. There are other doors that can be opened and other decisions to be made… and if one is a contrary little ratbag like, well, me, it’s quite possible to go off on your own path and, besides completely wrong-footing the Narrator, forge whole new stories for yourself. There are several ‘endings’ to the game, in addition to a whole host of easter eggs, and the time it takes to reach them varies wildly – as does the amount of time you might spend stuck in one place, or one increasingly-familiar series of places.

Unusually for a game of this nature, simply standing still and refusing to move despite prompting can, in itself, alter the outcome of the whole affair – and though it may be said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that’s also a valid response here (as is insanity – on the part of the Narrator, Stanley, or even the actual player, judging by some of the discoveries people have made). Moreover, the Narrator is pretty keen on you following his story and will badger you to return to it. Some of his more outlandish attempts to get Stanley to behave are the most fun you’ll ever have in an office building, and it is in fact possible to get even the Narrator lost.

This is a game that actively encourages thinking outside the box and rebelling against arbitrary authority – or maybe it’s just a game for people who can’t follow instructions. The Narrator doesn’t always fight fair either, and it’s an exercise in subverting the expectations of a video game. Galactic Cafe, who developed the game from a Source mod, have certainly made a brilliant commentary on videogames and the relationship between game and player – but don’t let me attempting to sound intellectual put you off. The main reason you should play The Stanley Parable (and its demo) is that you’ll have really, really good fun. Endless fun.

I’d give this game 4 out of 5 – you can keep playing forever to try to find every possible ending and secret, but it might get a bit frustrating when you accidentally find an ending you’ve already found six times.

Eleanor Musgrove (is a videogame rebel)

This entry was posted in Game, Issue Forty-Three, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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