Parable; a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. Based on this definition, someone going into The Stanley Parable might infer that the game will be about a lad named Stanley who, for the duration of the game, will accompany the player on an adventure that will impact them in some meaningful way. With no prior knowledge to the game, I downloaded and went into the demo as blind as can be without actually being blind, and from that small demo, The Stanley Parable roped me into a misadventure I never thought I’d take, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome(s).
Desk 427 of a nameless office seats Stanley, The Stanley Parable’s incomparable hero. All day, everyday, Stanley sits at his desk, obediently typing commands that are fed to him through his computer monitor. One day, however, Stanley doesn’t receive any commands from his monitor. Bewildered, Stanley decides to leave his desk and check on the status of what is holding up his immensely important job and is shocked to find that all of his coworkers are gone; the office has been left completely and utterly deserted. The only soul left is Stanley and the very peculiar voice inside his head, narrating his every action.
This is where the game truly begins, with Stanley stepping out of his small cubicle and into the office. The Stanley Parable plays like any other Source Engine game that comes to mind, which is to say that it handles as one expects these sorts of games to handle. Stanley can perform the very basic of locomotive actions: walking and… not walking. Stanley cannot jump, run, or crouch. This, however, doesn’t stop Stanley from getting around, and he’s going to have to get around a lot if he wants to experience the vast office that lies ahead of him. At first, Stanley’s office seems unsurprising, but it doesn’t take long until the player finds himself exploring never ending parking garages and underground bunkers. Getting to these places is often accompanied by choices of uncertainty, and they never cease to lead to something vastly interesting and comical. The gameplay isn’t anything to be blown away by; it’s extremely simple and straightforward, and hardly anything within the world itself is able to be interacted with. Yet, the act of exploring and discovering Stanley’s intriguing world is an unbelievably good time in its’ own right, and the player quickly forgets the basic controls and gets lost within Stanley’s delightful office.
The world that’s been created by the Galactic Cafe team is endearing and charming, but it also isn’t afraid to show its’ morbid and bleak side every now and then. Cubicles are decorated with computers straight out of the late 90’s, meeting rooms are filled with white boards loaded with satirical office jargon, and the darker parts of the office scream inspiration from the likes of Portal and Half-Life. Aesthetically, The Stanley Parable is very simple, but its’ simplicity is overshadowed by the games fantastic sense of wonder, which is strengthened with every step deeper into Stanley’s fascinating story.
Narration plays the largest role in The Stanley Parable. Throughout the entirety of the game, an ever present narrator accompanies the player, all the while making amusing comments on the, often ridiculous, situations at hand (not to mention that the narrator is voiced stupendously by Kevin Brighting). A lot of the time, however, the situations aren’t very ridiculous at all, and it’s at these times that the writing in The Stanley Parable really takes center stage. The player might venture into an utterly stale office lounge, but then (and always with spot-on timing) the narrator chimes in and describes Stanley’s hilariously vivid, and even somewhat disturbing, thoughts about the room. Moments like these take average, boring, dull scenes and transforms them into something funny and entertaining. These moments aren’t few and far between either; they’re littered throughout The Stanley Parable and are easily what make the game the gem that it is.
The Stanley Parable is something of an oddity, and as it turns out, I felt quite odd writing this review. Exploring the world of Stanley and his narrator is quite an adventure, despite the extremely simple controls and limited interactivity with the charming environment. Coming away from The Stanley Parable, there’s so much more that I want to say about the game, but because the game focuses so heavily on narrative, I feel as though I would be robbing those who have yet to play it the unforgettable indulgence that it most certainly is. I feel as though I’ve experienced something meaningful and important, and to put it honestly and frankly: everyone should play The Stanley Parable.