The Stanley Parable
Some of my favourite games (and movies and books) are those that achieve a lot with a little. That The Stanley Parable achieves so much with just the layout of a simple office building is nothing short of spectacular. Read on to find out just what makes it so special...
The Stanley Parable is a strange beast. Part choose your own adventure, part meta commentary on the nature of choice and player agency in videogames, for me the final result is one of the most compelling couple of hours in recent videogame history.
Stanley is a man without a plan. He comes into work as normal, but today all his colleagues are gone. Slightly non-plussed, as most of us would be, he sets out to solve this mystery.
In this quest he is aided by the main star of the game, the narrator. Taking the concept of the unreliable narrator to its logical extreme, Stanley's guide through the game is helpful, vengeful, melancholy, pleading and petty at various times, trying to coax Stanley (and in turn the player) into following the narrative path that he has laid out. At many moments, Stanley is presented with simple choices, such as turning left instead of right, and disobeying the wishes of the narrator. These choices initially seem simple, but affect the game in ways that are difficult to imagine.
With at least 10 'real' endings (that I found) to the game, and several odd changes that can happen, the game keeps us on our toes, and is always surprising. The level design, which starts as a simple corridor with a few left or right turns soon warps into a surreal and sometimes nightmarish labyrinth, with many secrets in store. Upon reaching an ending, Stanley finds himself back in his office, ready to try again.
The whole game is also liberally sprinkled with cheeky winks to other videogames, fourth wall breaking moments and jibes at videogame design. Some people may be put off by the sheer meta-ness of the game, but I'm a sucker for this kind of oddness, and having the narrator of a game actively beseeching the player to please, please listen to him instead of doing whatever the hell you want is an irresistible crack at the corridor driven hand holding that permeates many modern games.
The Stanley Parable is a real gem, an odd and twisted game held together by sublime voiceover work and level design that borders on genius. Instead of trying to explain it further, I suggest you just go buy a copy, and discover the madness for yourself!