The Stanley Parable
by Jacob Giddens (@JacobGiddens)
Back in 2007, Valve broke new ground in gaming with the release of Portal. If for whatever reason (coma, prolonged isolation, imprisonment, etc.) you don’t know what Portal is, then here’s a brief summary: portalbased puzzle adventure with absolutely phenomenal writing.
Basically, Valve showed us that a game doesn’t need to be saturated with complex and even unnecessary features to be a smash hit. In fact, all you really need is a simple, well functioning concept; clean, polished mechanics; and dialogue that can make you laugh out loud. The plot in Portal wasn’t even that substantial. You’re playing a woman who wakes up in a now abandoned scientific facility, and you have to pass through a gauntlet of tests created by a sadistic AI in order to escape said facility. All in under a few short hours of gameplay.
So if you don’t need a genocidal body count, countless gallons of blood, teeth rattling explosions, and enough steroid pumped action heroes to cast an Expendables film to be a critical success, what else don’t you need?
Well, the team down at Galactic Café have sought to answer that question with their game, The Stanley Parable.
The Stanley Parable follows the office drone protagonist, Stanley, during a rather bizarre day. He exits his office to find that every single one of his coworkers are missing. This simple—albeit peculiar—premise sets the stage for The Stanley Parable’s overarching theme: free will.
The game is narrated by an authoritative, though not unkind, British male whose voice is reminiscent of Stephen Fry’s. This voice guides Stanley and—by extent—the player through the game, informing the player of the decisions he will make. This takes the player to the true launching point of the entire game: a room with two doors. The narrator informs the player that "[Stanley] entered the door on his left”.
It’s at this moment that the player is provided with his first real act of free will. And it’s at this moment that the game becomes truly spectacular.
I won’t go into any details about the various choices that the player will face as they play through this very short “gameette”. That’s for the player to find out for himself as he explores his options in a game that creates and shatters an illusion of free will right before your eyes.
Galactic Café decides to take Valve’s choices one step further and almost completely do away with any gameplay elements. You can walk around, you can jump, and you can interact with objects. That’s it. There aren’t any platforming elements; there aren’t any enemies or tricky puzzles to decipher. If they limited player involvement any further it would be a short film.
But the true beauty of this choice is that it removes any distractions from the player and allows the developers to showcase the truly captivating element of the game, which is its writing.
The narrative is brilliant, witty, quirky, and hilarious, all while making you think. I mean, it isn’t called The Stanley Parable for nothing. And the question that most players will find themselves asking is “how free is free will when each outcome is completely scripted?” Even some of the most inane actions that a player can make have a scripted response.
Sure, the game is short. But it is rich with detail. It’s a puddle with the depth of a lake. And depth is a quality which many modern games are lacking these days.
In short, The Stanley Parable seeks to challenge modern gamers by focusing on narrative as opposed to mechanics. It takes the medium of gaming one step closer to being a recognized art form. And for that, I thank the developers at Galactic Café.
Grade: A+. It’s $15. Go buy it.