ON THIS WEEK’S Breaking Down the Backlog, I explored an office over and over and over again until I learned the true meaning of choice.
It seems I have a propensity for choosing “walking simulators” when deciding what to play next, as The Stanley Parable is the fourth one I have played. I am not complaining though, as they have all explored completely different concepts that are never touched upon in more ‘traditional’ games, in unique ways whilst still being fun. The Stanley Parable is up there in how weird and wonderful it is, even when compared to Jazzpunk. It can get more surreal and self-referential than pretty much any game I have ever played.
The highlight of the game, indeed the only reason it is even remotely any good, is the narrator. He tells the story while simultaneously reacting to what you are doing and is totally hilarious from start to finish. A fine example of said brilliance is this: You find a broom cupboard you can enter and, if you do, the narrator comments on how there is nothing note-worthy in here and you should move on. If you don’t, he gets angrier and more incredulous until he comes to the conclusion that you, the player, must have died so he asks whoever discovers the body to carry on playing the game after disposing of the body. You can then leave and come back to the closet and he says, “Oh, you too? Can you give the keyboard and mouse to a trained monkey who can actually play this game?” or words to that effect. It had me rolling with laughter. Not since Bastion has a narrator reacting to your actions been so good.
And that example is basically what The Stanley Parable is in a nutshell. You traverse an abandoned office following The Narrator’s orders until you reach the end. There is an achievement for getting to the end in four minutes and twenty-two seconds, if that gives you any indication just how quickly you can finish the game. If you do mainline it, it is has a pretty good, if cliché, story. But the real joy is when you decide to ignore The Narrator and do the opposite to what he says you ‘did’.
This is where The Stanley Parable really shows its depth and best ideas. It delves into philosophical ideas around self, the nature of story-telling and even game development itself – all with a hearty dash of sarcasm and its tongue firmly wedged into its cheek. You see and hear some insane things that genuinely left me stunned when they happened. It is a game that demands you to play it repeatedly and go off the ‘required’ path at any opportunity, just to see how crazy it can get.
The Stanley Parable is a strange, wonderful experience. It doesn’t take long to explore, but I still haven’t seen everything (as far as I am aware) after two hours of play. This genre of game isn’t for everyone, but if you can appreciate a piece of art masquerading as a game, then buy this game for any price.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Ys 1 (and maybe Ys II)