The Stanley Parable, a mod for Half Life 2 developed by Davey Wreden and Galactic Cafe, is the indie hipster band of video games. If you are into the scene in any big way then chances are you will be aware of just how good the game is, but if you aren’t really into the it then you probably haven’t even heard of it. Well the mod’s popularity was such that the folks at Galatic Cafe have spent the past two years remaking and remastering the game to release it as a stand-alone title on Steam.
In their “Wot I Think”, Rock Paper Shotgun did their best to define the genre of the Stanley Parable (both the mod and the remake) and frankly didn’t really succeed in defining what the game’s genre is. As these are guys who are both far more eloquent and far more knowledgeable about games than me, I figured why even bother. Of course, there’s another reason why it’s impossible to try and slot the Stanley Parable into a genre and that’s because it’s not really like any other game out there. Now you see there are games with similar elements (RPS name Dear Esther for one) but the Stanley Parable is a completely unique experience, totally different to everything else and totally experimental. Don’t get me wrong, some games like Dear Esther and Antichamber, are very unique and experimental games, but they both do have a genre that you can slide them into. Dear Esther is unquestionably an interactive story experience type game (with a fairly unique twist on it) and Antichamber for all it’s unique and experimental style is unquestionably a puzzler.
The Stanley Parable is unlike any other game I’ve ever played or even heard of, and in fact to try and slot it into a “genre” seems to be doing it a disservice when it goes out of it’s way to be so completely unlike anything else on the market. As well as that, I could try and describe the game but that would actually be, in a way, spoiling the game for you as the entire purpose of the Stanley Parable is that you play it yourself to see what it’s all about (it’s for this exact reason that neither me nor Tim will ever make a video of the game, because we both think that it’s the sort of game you have to investigate yourself and not just watch a Let’s Play of).
There are, I suppose a few things I can reveal without shocking people too much. There are elements of choice involved and an awful lot of little secrets and hidden things. Plus there is a narrator (the voice provided by the wonderful Kevan Brighting) and some writing. Frankly when it comes down to it the Stanley Parable is all about two things: the narrator and the writing (okay, three things if you include Stanley). The writing of the game is some of the most fantastic, ludicrous, insane and hilarious stuff that I have ever experienced in a video game, it never ceases to impress me. And the narration by Master Brighting is equally amazing, his silky and deeply unflappable voice propelling you ever further through the halls of the game.
Honestly when it comes down to it I cannot praise the Stanley Parable enough, it’s something I genuinely think that everyone should play and experience. There might be about 2 to 3 hours worth of content in the game (possibly more if you, like me, enjoy it a lot) so it’s not the longest game in the world either, especially as you can easily play it in short little chunks. Basically I cannot recommend, or indeed insist, enough that people try it out.
Okay, so you might have noticed that I’m being a little bit careful with what I’m talking about. You see, I DO think that once you’ve finished reading this (or even while you are reading this) you have absolutely no excuse to not go over to ModDB and download the Stanley Parable original mod, it’s free and you only need the Source SDK 2007 to run it (which is ALSO free). What I was initially a little more hesitant on is whether or not you should BUY the remake. For indeed the remake will cost you 10 of your British pounds (currently at -20%) on Steam.
For these £10 you will be provided with a far more graphically pretty Stanley Parable, but I had at first struggled over whether to recommend, or not, that people actually buy the game when you can get the mod for free. You see it’s true that the remake has a lot more added textures and looks a lot nicer but as both of these are irrelevant to the game (and frankly we did just fine without them in the mod) if that was all that had changed I would have actually advised away from the game. In fact one of the things which really surprised me about the remake (and I guess I’m an idiot because of it) is that actually the game IS just a remake. It’s not The Stanley Parable 2, it’s just the original with more in it. Honestly I don’t know what I was expecting but I don’t think it was the same stuff.
That said, there is new content. At first glance perhaps not much, but there is a lot of new stuff in the game. And apparently the whole first glance thing is very deceptive because the deeper I explore the world of the new game the more I become aware at how much new stuff is in it. Some of it doesn’t really affect the game but is just amusing and awesome and sometimes there are new paths and secrets and sometimes there’s the broom closet of doom. New choices and new routes and, naturally, more amazing monologuing from the Narrator. I will say that honestly at first I thought they had simply improved the textures and added new SFX files but slowly I have become aware that they have added a whole lot to the Stanley Parable, a lot more depth and a lot more Stanley (or should that be a lot less Stanley?), an awful lot of things which now leave the original mod looking and feeling bland by comparison.
If you are not convinced I would strongly and whole-heartedly recommend that you download both or either of the demo (from Steam – it provides no spoilers of the actual game and is entirely unique content whilst still having that same feel) and the original mod. And what I will say is that if you enjoy either or both (which, if you have any taste, you will) then you can make up your own mind about spending your hard earned monies on the full version. I will say this though, despite all my misgivings, I wouldn’t take back my decision to buy it… And I probably would buy it again.