The Stanley Parable: Alternative Storytelling
Taking part in a story is one of the main reasons I play video games. Freedom to decide, along with following the protagonist on their quest, knowing that my hand guides them every step of the way, is a great feeling. To get immersed in the world, as it slowly unfolds! My choices matter. Games like Dear Esther and Unfinished Swan take you on intriguing journeys, but you listen, follow, and the game lets the story unravel before you eyes. Stanley Parable does this as well... but with a diabolical twist. Oh, and heads up, I spoil stuff. So, yeah. Spoilers.
The Stanley Parable is a first-person, indie, adventure game developed and published by Galactic Cafe. It was released for Steam on October 17th, 2013.
You take on the role of Stanley. He is a humdrum worker, dredging away at a daily, mundane job. One day, he stands up from his keyboard, looks around, and realizes that all of his co-workers are missing? Rising from his seat, Stanley sets out to discover the truth behind the mysterious disappearances.
The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, you will not follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The game will end, the game will never end. Contradiction follows contradiction, the rules of how games should work are broken, then broken again. This world was not made for you to understand.
But as you explore, slowly, meaning begins to arise, the paradoxes might start to make sense, perhaps you are powerful after all. The game is not here to fight you; it is inviting you to dance. -stanleyparable.com
You don't have a gun, a health bar, a mana meter, a H.U.D., extra lives, or an inventory. You only have a few moves to utilize in the Stanley Parable. Move, crouch, and interact. The goal is to wander through the halls of Stanley's office, trying to figure out what has happened. Yet, it isn't really that simple.
From the moment you step through the office door, a voice will narrate every decision you make. Rather snidely, I might add. The disembodied voice tells you where to go, and as the player, it's up to you to decide whether or not Stanley will listen, or go rogue.
The main thread is to follow the narrator, step through the doors, hallways, and offices, in accordance with his guidance, learn the office's secrets, and eventually finish the game. If you coincide with the narrator's decision, you can beat the game in under a few minutes. However, if you decide to deviate, there are about 8 other endings, with wildly different consequences.
The 3D world of Stanley Parable is decent. Models look nice, from desks, phones, papers, cabinets, car lots, hallways, and light fixtures. Not a bad looking office. The textures and models lack any polish or defined detail, but they work. The colors are gray and muted, while effects are minimal. The overall tone fits the dreary world of Stanley Parable, and creates an atmosphere of being trapped.
The narrator. His dialogue is hilarious! It was always fun to run off course, just to see what he was going to say and what he was going to do. He has a wit and humor that keeps you moving forward, despite the realization that you may be stuck in an infinite, looping, inescapable string of chaotic decisions, that, in the end, you really have no control over. Every line, every simple voice stab, is filled with so much character and emotion, that I could tell what type of person he was, without ever seeing him. He's a great, interesting character, and it was a joy defying him.
I love the idea of an infinite loop. Reminds me of Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray. You know, the movie, from the 80's, where a guy dies and experiences the same day, over and over, and death loses all meaning, because he can just start again? Yeah, just like that! But in an office. And no ground hog. Or other people. Go watch it!
Galactic Cafe's take on player choice in the game is brilliant! Nothing is going to blow up. Hordes of enemies aren't going to spawn, and rip your lungs out. There's no platforming. No end boss, or some epic, overall quest. You're a guy in an office, listening to the voice in your head, and despite the lack of any of the aforementioned ideas, it's freaking entertaining! Games usually spoon feed you plot and dialogue, forcing you to move on. Rarely, if ever, does the game bite back, and grill you for what you choose to do.
Stanley Parable did what it was designed to do: utterly confuse. This isn't a bad thing, or a strike against the game by any means, but it goes in the bad category because it upset me! The game kept resetting, and sending me back to the beginning. Yes, it screwed with my mind. That's what it is supposed to do: screw with your narrative choices, reward you for listening, and punish you for deviating. I loved it, as I stated before, but really? Sending me to the beginning?
Sadly, despite being a truly unique, and literally mind blowing, experience, the game is really short. You can beat the main quest in under a few minutes, with the other endings lasting just a bit longer, more or less. I wish there was more. Perhaps future DLC?
I also wish that there was a way to explore more of the facility. There are quite a few different locales scattered throughout the tale, but they all take place inside the office building. I wanted to go outside, see my house! Stanley Parable sets up such an interesting world, and I wanted to see what other strange things it had to offer.
Do you ever find out what happened? I don't think I got every single ending, yet. I did, however, get the ending where you follow all the rules and exit the door to the outside. I also died, had the game reset on me, pissed off the narrator, answered a phone, ended up in a room where a white board tells me every ending, and where I go in endless circles till the screen goes black, and Stanley ends up face down on the pavement. I guess what happened isn't that important to the story, but I want to know the gritty details! Is it ever revealed?
The Stanley Parable is a must play! It takes narrative choice and twists it in ways that have never been done before. It takes your decisions, and the game's ability to force you into a preconceived story, and mangles the two into a truly intriguing experience. If you love witty dialogue, and want to experience something different than your standard game, pick up the Stanley Parable, now! You can try the demo or purchase a copy on Steam for $14.99.
Also, be sure to check out the The Amateur Professional's article The Stanley Parable: The Choice is Yours. Sort of., here on Kill Streak Media!