The Stanley Parable Review: The end is never the end

At a Glance
  • Galactic Cafe The Stanley Parable

    PCWorld Rating

    The Stanley Parable, once a small mod for Half-Life 2, is now a standalone game—and it’s way bigger, better and crazier than before.

This is a review by a man named Hayden. Hayden worked for a company in a big building where he was employee number…he didn’t know. The company had lost count. Hayden’s job was simple. He sat at his desk and pushed buttons on a keyboard. These buttons made articles. Sometimes, these articles were about video games.

Hayden played many video games. Some he liked. Most he felt ambivalent about. Companies kept releasing games though, so Hayden kept playing them. This is what Hayden did every day of every month of every year, and though others might have considered it a gigantic waste of time, Hayden sometimes enjoyed it.

He pressed the buttons. He moved the mouse. The game, actually thousands of lines of code, reacted to what Hayden did. Sometimes Hayden won the game. Other times the computer outsmarted his weak brain and he lost.

And then one day something very peculiar happened. Something that would forever change Hayden. Something he would never forget. He had been playing a game called the Stanley Parable for nearly half an hour when he realized he could neither win nor lose this game. Hayden had never played a game like this before, and at first it scared him. Some people claimed it was “not a game,” but Hayden found that claim slightly archaic. He relished games with obscure goals, with no guns, with something to say. Not that guns and story are necessarily mutually exclusive but…

Hayden thought about this more. No, not mutually exclusive, but there are only so many messages you can send with a straight face and a gun in your hand.

“That’s neither here nor there,” thought Hayden. What was here and/or there was that The Stanley Parable is quite unique.

Or so Hayden believed. He was, of course, unaware of the quite similar game released by a man actually named Stanley in the Eltox dimension. Unfortunately, Hayden was woefully unable to see outside his own dimension—a condition, dear reader, I’m sure you can agree is a damn shame.

So Hayden played The Stanley Parable, delighted at just how unique the game was—though, as mentioned, unaware of the game it resembled in a parallel universe. “This game is positively inspired,” Hayden thought.

And so as Hayden began writing the eighth paragraph—or was it the ninth?—of this review he thought about…

Nothing. Writer’s block.

But as he began the tenth—or was it the eleventh?—paragraph, he realized he should probably explain what The Stanley Parable is. Its essence. That’s presumably why people read these reviews, though Hayden secretly hoped they read it just to see if he ever mentioned the fantastic song “Left of the Dial” by The Replacements. This hope was slightly absurd, since Hayden had never mentioned this song in any of his articles.

Except this one. Damn. Congratulations, readers. You win a prize. Your prize is waiting on the doorstep now.

Did you find it? Ah, too bad. Your nosy neighbor must have stolen it. I never did trust her. Neither would Hayden, for that matter, had he ever met her.

Hayden stopped writing as sirens went by outside. Despite his clean legal record, he still feared there’d been some huge misunderstanding—that the cops were on their way to him.

The sirens left.

Where was he? “Where Hayden was” was in the middle of his cramped apartment, thinking about The Stanley Parable.

He was procrastinating. He didn’t know quite how to explain The Stanley Parable without ruining the whole premise. He wished readers would just stop reading, click this link and download The Stanley Parable demo.

“It doesn’t even spoil the game,” Hayden thought. “It’s like a miniature version of The Stanley Parable, with brand new content, and it’s free!”

To Hayden’s dismay, the readers were still here. They actually expected him to do his job and write about video games. Quelle surprise—that’s French for “what a surprise,” a phrase typically used sarcastically in English but here used with all the seriousness Hayden could muster. He was genuinely surprised readers didn’t skip out and go play the demo.

In a panic, he quoted Proust.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

“That quote wasn’t even thematically related,” Hayden thought. He was wrong, of course. Hayden was always wrong when it came to Proust.

Oh don’t feel bad, Hayden. So are 98 percent of the people on this planet.

Hayden summoned his courage and continued typing. “The Stanley Parable is a game about choices. You play as a hapless office worker named Stanley, slave to a menial job. One day everyone in the office disappears. You have to figure out what happened.”

Oh that’s good, Hayden. Well done. A bit of intrigue to whet their appetites.

“There’s a narrator who comments on your actions. The writing for the narrator is probably some of the best humorous writing that’s ever been in a video game. Whenever you think you’ve outsmarted the narrator, well, you probably didn’t. He’s omniscient, and especially astute at commenting on video game tropes. Are video game tropes low-hanging fruit? Perhaps, but The Stanley Parable is probably the smartest indictment I’ve ever seen, only occasionally indulgent or pretentious—unlike this review.”

Hayden wanted to refer to GladOS—it would be an apt comparison, after all—but chickened out and moved on.

“This game is better than any write-up could ever convey, if only because the game itself is so spoilable. It's all about making choices: if you have a red and blue door and a disembodied voice tells you you’re supposed to go through the red door, what do you do? And what if when the game ended, you went right back to the beginning and choose the other door? Or turned around and go through neither door? Or just stood in a broom closet?”

“The Stanley Parable is a commentary on video games, to be sure, but also has much to say on human nature, free will—or the illusion thereof—office jobs, impatience, boredom, bureaucracy, and even how to use slideshows to assure employees that everything is okay.”

Hayden pauses. Sips water. Speaking for a few paragraphs of text has got him exhausted.

He thinks about how Roger Ebert said games couldn’t be art because of the way choice alters authorial intent. He wishes Ebert had the chance to play The Stanley Parable—not because he thinks the medium needs legitimizing by another industry’s critic, but just because he’s curious what Ebert would’ve thought.

To Hayden, The Stanley Parable is one of the foremost examples of the power of nonlinear stories, of the potential for this weird new art form he’s spent his whole life messing around with. He also hopes that calling out some of these tropes will finally put them to rest (even though a deeper part of his brain knows that will never happen).

“Please, go play The Stanley Parable or at least the demo. I can’t guarantee you’ll get anything out of it, but I hope you will.”

Not the best review I’ve read, Hayden, but it’ll do. I think it’ll do just fine.

THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER

This is a review by a man named Hayden. Hayden worked for a company in a big building where he was employee number…he didn’t know. The company had lost count. Hayden’s job was simple. He sat at his desk and pushed buttons on a keyboard. These buttons made articles. Sometimes these articles were about video games.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The Stanley Parable, once a small mod for Half-Life 2, is now a standalone game—and it’s way bigger, better and crazier than before.

    Pros

    • Astute, witty commentary on video game tropes.
    • Narrator’s voice is so, so good.

    Cons

    • Finding the last few endings is tedious.
    • When you find an action without commentary, you’ll feel sad.
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