Every so often a game comes along that is so good, it changes the way you think. I hate The Stanley Parable, and I hate it, because I think it’s my favourite game. Ever.
It may have been a good month since I’ve even managed to consider slaughtering a concept or opinion with my inability to articulate before flaunting it around in the digital space for nobody to bawk at disgustedly, but that hasn’t stopped me moping around like the loose-lipped irritant I really am. With the next generation landing like a small ball of innards and hair from the mouth of an aging cat, and finding the idea of diving into that about as appealing as being dribbled on, you could say, I’ve not had a lot to say. Not that would be fresh and interesting and relevant, anyway.
And then I remembered at no point have I been fresh and interesting and relevant; though I continued not to write anything. Anyway, that time is well and truly over, and whilst there are one or two matters pertaining to all these new consoles that really need a good seeing to, the first order of business is to gush wildly over why I’m giving up hope. Giving up hope!? I hear you call with an indifferent, verging on bored sort of drone. But why!? Because The Stanley Parable already did it.
If you’ve not heard of The Stanley Parable, you’ve probably closed the browser in anger since I’ve used it three times already. It started life as a Half Life 2 mod that has now, with the kind of audacious self-gratification often reserved for the Jimmy Kimmel show, glided onto Steam in the shape of a full release, at some point the last two months and changed everything. Again. Like Apple, but good.
As many other more competent games writers have already said, to truly explain this game would be to commit a crime unto the game itself. Even the demo doesn’t let you into the same world you’re shoehorned into in the full affair. Allegedly. I didn’t try it I just bought it with the kind of haphazard, talentless blind clicking that would make Terry Richardson erect.
That said, for any of this to make a lick of sense (and let’s face it there’s not much hope for that anyway) you’ll need to know a bit. TSP puts you in the first-person shoes of Stanley, a purportedly cubical-dwelling nobody, and throws you into an endlessly repeating, almost lucid scenario in which you must discover why all your colleagues have mysteriously disappeared. Sounds interesting, correct? It’s the tip of a finely tuned, ball bouncingly funny, grin-slapping, 4th wall demolishing iceberg that does everything, everything, right.
In fact, fourth-wall demolishing doesn’t quite do that particular element justice. At every glinting opportunity, the game obliterates any shred that may have remained of that wall, raucously tearing it up into a million pieces and then forcing you to eat them, as you voraciously obey.
The narrator, a fully realized, living, breathing person residing inside your computer watching your every movement, calls you out on every attempt you make to deviate from the storyline. He guides you, goads you, begs, pleads, instigates laughter, falls to bits, and delivers lines with the kind of dynamic rhythm that almost outdoes Basil Fawlty administering a damn good thrashing.
The game’s seemingly endless layers cavort and curl as you snake a different path through the same office, with a knowing smirk so wide, Mark Cerny would have to move his tall standing lamps out of the way. References galore, you need only take a look at the achievements list to realize what kind of game The Stanley Parable is. Masterful.
With each new play-through, you start the game and immediately begin darting about the room like an inebriated gazelle, desperately leaping toward computer screens and desks and windows to see if something different has appeared; pathologically rattling doors to see if one has been mysteriously unlocked, and generally traipsing around like an unhinged maniac. When the level began again for the hundredth time and the phone turned out to be ringing in the adjacent office I euphorically poured tea all over myself in excitement.
There was one moment involving a broom closet that went on for so long, I momentarily lost the ability to breathe. It is many years since I have laughed at a game in a manner by which the developers actually intended. The story, which at first seems so impossibly tiny you question what all the fuss could have been about, unravels into something increasingly, absurdly majestic. And at each occasion wherein a choice is laid before you, another story strand is born; you realize you can start again once you’re finished with that particular plotline, and make the opposite choices, all of which seem to yield entirely different results. It is wonderfully written, a matchless example of the craft which must have been nightmarish to tackle, but has been executed so cleanly, you might never even consider it.
So. A few hundred words ago I said I hated The Stanley Parable. And I stand by it. I hate it because it’s better than me, it knows everything I want to do, it knows exactly how to make me laugh, it knows that if I were ever to write a game (God forbid) it would go exactly like the one I just played. I hate it for creating something I love absolutely conditionally, and then fulfilling all those conditions. This is a true achievement and you need to go and pay the trite ten pound charge and get involved. Immediately. If not. Sooner.
P.s. I was kidding about the hating it thing.