There are quite a few mods that go on to become standalone games. The ability to create a game inside an existing game is the next best thing to having a game engine to work with, and many independent developers had taken advantage of this very early on. We have games like CounterStrike and the upcoming DayZ standalone versions that are doing quite well. But what we have here now is something a bit more special, with narrative and presentation as the primary directive. The Stanley Parable is one of the masterpieces made with that spirit of experimentation and creativity which you must play.
The Stanley Parable was a mod for Half-Life 2 released back in July 2011 that has now become its own game, mostly an HD remake. When the mod came out, it was a quiet hit that had players scratching heads, raising eyebrows, and rubbing chins. It’s a lot like Antichamber in its focus on narrative progression, but it’s a bit less minimalist in its approach. You are led through the game by a narrator, who pokes at what you do and whatever choices you make throughout the game. The setting is abstract and the aim is mostly dictated by the narrator, who is there to see you go around in circles like a rat in a maze.
As with the mod, this is a first person interactive fiction game that was created by Davey Wreden, who had come up with the concept for the game three years prior to the mod’s release. You play as Stanley, an office worker whose job is to monitor data coming up on the screen in front of him. One day, that screen goes blank without explanation, and he ventures out of the room into the other parts of the office since he doesn’t know what to do. Along the way, the narrator questions him, coaxes him to make certain choices, and gets annoyed whenever his advice is defied. He’s like a
The substance of this game is carried by its humor and wit, which come through the narrator who is trying to keep you as confused and uncomfortable as possible. It is also carried by its unpredictability, so this is not a game that you want to get spoiled of at all. It relies upon the full undivided attention of its audience to hit its message home, and it’s all about the journey. There is no concrete grasp of the destination to be had, but that actually works in favor of the game. It does have its limitations with its progression, but they were done so intentionally. There are multiple endings though, so fascination wouldn’t end with finishing your first playthrough.
In terms of presentation, this game does it quite well. You may not get super top notch graphics with this game, but everything does look pretty good nonetheless. There is no waste in terms of the environmental design, with every object being there for a purpose. The interactivity keeps players immersed, and the story that unfolds slowly as the game progresses. But the glue that binds everything together is definitely the narrator. He is excellently voice acted, passive-aggressively wicked, witty, and sardonically funny. The whole production is incredibly well-written, very intelligent, and poignant in a way that most would not expect.
There isn’t really anything wrong about this game other than that it may bore those who don’t like “artsy fartsy” games, in which case it’s more of an issue of preference. What this game represents is the indie spirit in game development that makes way for new ways of telling stories and presenting interactive experiences. A lot of other games like Gone Home, Antichamber, MirrorMoon EP have done the same in their own way. Some of them are grounded in reality, while others are quite abstract. What The Stanley Parable offers is something in between those two extremes.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 9.5/10