This is the story of Blair. Blair worked at a company called TheSixthAxis. His job was simple: to push buttons on his keyboard and write about the newest and greatest games. He was good at his job, or so he thought. He could string together a decent sentence or two and kept up with new releases.
But Blair missed out on one game, which he would come to consider as the best slice of interactive entertainment from last year. He knew The Stanley Parable wasn’t a totally new release; his friend had explained to him about an excellent Half-Life 2 mod years before, but he just hadn’t got around to it. Due to being a very busy man, and the fact that he kept his savings close, he didn’t get to try The Stanley Parable until it appeared in the Steam Sale. Everyone talking about it just got a bit too much for him to handle.
So Blair played the game, and then wrote about The Stanley Parable in the third person, before deciding to completely switch writing styles, after the embedded trailer, before his readers might have got a bit bored.
That’s me, and I’d just like to stop the third person narration – which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played the game – now and get on to talking about how I wish I had voted for The Stanley Parable as my Game of the Year 2013. We didn’t even include it in the voting. That’s nothing malicious or us going against the developers; it just genuinely slid under our radar when the time came to pick the nominees.
Instead I picked BioShock Infinite, a game that seems about fifty times less smart now that I’ve played with Stanley. While Infinite succeeded, Stanley manages to subvert every trope in the book and comes across as a truly magnificent game. On the surface, it might seem pretentious, but when you delve into it you’ll find one of the most hilarious and rewarding experiences that the medium has to offer.
If you’re unaware of what Stanley’s Parable is, then its the tale of an average man in a boring job whose co-workers vanish from the face of the planet one day seemingly without cause. But it’s not just one tale; it’s about fifty or more, each of which procedurally changes as you pick different doors, find new paths and press buttons along the way, with a good variety of endings and completely different narration each time.
And it’s The Narrator that really makes the game. Stanley isn’t a talker, so it’s up to this seemingly omnipotent (but as you’ll soon find, just as stuck as Stanley) narrator to guide you through the levels, with insightful and laugh-out-loud commentary along the way.
You don’t have to follow him, though – in fact at times it’s better not to. He might get angry, but he can’t really do anything about it, as you ultimately make your own path, destroying the story he’s trying to tell much to his annoyance. He’s no GLaDOS; he can’t really change the environment and it’s clear he’s just a spokesperson for who or whatever is putting Stanley through this endless hell of corridors and office supplies.
There’s really no solution to The Stanley Parable. There are, in total, just under twenty endings, each of which are more hilarious and even better than the last, but there’s no way out – you’ll always end back in Stanley’s cubicle. Back at the start.
The developers, Galactic Cafe, have been extremely experimental with the execution of some of these endings. People often describe something as breaking the fourth wall, but The Narrator often reaches out straight through it, putting the subject beyond the wall and addressing you directly.
It’s extremely smart writing, and something that holds up no matter what you do – the game’s incredibly polished, at least on PC, meaning that even when you think you’ve broken it, you’re actually just on a path which will lead you to yet another ending. It’s at times far too good, and the Mac version is seemingly prone to crashing, leading me to think “oh wow, they’ve emulated a crash screen” and waiting for a snarky comment from The Narrator before realising that I had actually just lost my progress.
But it’s never really about how far you’ve progressed through the game. You’ll restart every several minutes at times, with the longest ending route taking just under half an hour, so there’s always something to find, and little need for a save option button even though it’s there, hidden away in the extras menu alongside perhaps one of the smartest and most hilarious Easter Eggs I’ve seen in a long time.
To say I’m enamoured with The Stanley Parable would be an understatement. This is a perfect game, as smart as it is hilarious (and there’s a whole load of hilarity) which is unlike anything we’ve ever seen since the release of the first Portal. It’s like Portal in a way, but it is that and so much more than that. It’s an evolution of storytelling for the medium, and a game absolutely worth your time and money.
The Stanley Parable is my favourite game of last year. The Stanley Parable 2 will be the best game ever if it comes, and if it does not I absolutely cannot wait to see where Galactic Cafe take us next instead.