"To someone who frequently grapples with existentialism and ideas in general, this is a personal and satisfying experience."
What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets. And choices. Unless you're Stanley. In which case you stay in your office, press buttons you are told to press, and live life as others dictate it. In the case of The Stanley Parable, as the narrator dictates it. Or you, the player. Someone's controlling Stanley.
At the onset, we learn who Stanley is and how he lives his life. Then, one day, he finds that his entire office is empty, devoid of employees for some reason unbeknownst to him. He leaves his office, at which point a narrator becomes his only companion. You, the player, control Stanley in first-person perspective. Although everyone seems to have vanished, signs of life are scattered throughout the halls, such as knocked over coffee cups and scattered paperwork. Players take a forced, linear journey through those halls until they reach a choice between two doors. The narrator states that Stanley chooses the left, but that is completely up to you. This is when the "game" starts, if that's how you choose to define it.
That's what The Stanley Parable's all about: perspective, choice, philosophy, narrative structure — you name it. Throughout the experience, many concepts are called into question either by the narrator or through the mechanics: doors close behind Stanley, he's forced to make certain choices, idling yields results — sometimes. The Stanley Parable is sandboxy in that the limited environment offers many methods of interaction. Although it can be completed in less than an hour, I obsessively exhausted every possibility through the obvious choices as well as obsessively clicking everything and idling in every room. I frequently restarted the game just to exhaust all of the possible openings to the journey. Is chasing easter eggs the sum of the gameplay experience? Or is it the self-reflection? Is that more the story? Is there a need to classify these things? As a reviewer, which do I choose? Do I even score the gameplay? What choice should I make? Someone tell me.
Simply put, The Stanley Parable is a meta-game. I'd even call into question whether or not it's a game, rather than an experience. For those looking to deploy units, level up, or even engross themselves in a gripping point-and-click adventure, this is not the game for you. Writing about The Stanley Parable is difficult in that almost everything that can be said about it is a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the narrator is the star, armed with an amusing and thoughtful script that is only surpassed by the expert voice acting. Graphically, The Stanley Parable struggles with blurred textures and papers whose writing may be pertinent to the "story" or simply entertaining as a joke. Still, everything looks as it should and the game isn't hard on the eyes. Controls don't play a major role in the game, since the only real options are walking and the rare left click on objects.
My views here may be absolute rubbish. I may be objectively wrong, and what right do I have to rate something that doesn't adhere to the traditional, structured way in which we play games? What one gets from The Stanley Parable is up to the individual, but to presume that what it sets out to do is done well would be presumptuous. I enjoyed the experience because I already think about what it calls into question. The game served more as a catalyst for what I already do. To someone who frequently grapples with existentialism and ideas in general, this is a personal and satisfying experience. I will remember The Stanley Parable because of its approach and inventive use of game design as a medium for sharing ideas. On the surface, The Stanley Parable can be enjoyed for its personality, jokes, and references. If this rambling review has whetted your interest, then this brief game is worth the experience, but not at full price.