The Stanley Parable is very in love with itself.
As what I can only describe as an abstract rumination on contemporary game design, Galactic Café’s The Stanley Parable is, from its opening moments, confident to the point of near irreverence. I suppose it’s understandable to a degree, as The Stanley Parable is undeniably witty and unconventional, with a quirky charm and dry self-awareness. It is so overwhelmingly eccentric that it can begin to feel as if not playing along with it and laughing at every joke is an act of disrespect, such is the perception The Stanley Parable cultivates within moments of leaving the main menu to venture forth into a cornucopia of contextually appropriate satire and bizarre dark humor.
The Stanley Parable gives off such a sense of self-prescribed brilliance that I feel both dumbfounded and maybe even a little angry at just how much I dislike it. I get the joke and admire its delivery, but when approached from any angle but the one the game so strongly attempts to cultivate, The Stanley Parable feels like little more than a few intelligent observations on modern game design strung along by a series of amusing, yet immensely inconsistent and inscrutable scenes with no conclusions to be found.
I understand that the lack of closure is part of the point. I can find a certain poetic appreciation for the circular design of the game, and as a lesson in abstract game design The Stanley Parable certainly gets marks for trying. But then it tries some more, and eventually (which is to say sometime within the first 20 minutes of play) I became rather weary of hearing the same joke play out as I raged a supposedly hilarious war with the narrator over increasingly innocuous choices.
There is such an abundance of creativity to be admired within The Stanley Parable, one would think that even in worst case scenarios everyone will be able to find something to like buried in its labyrinth of compounding decisions. But by design each disconnected moment is compiled with the next, creating a sequence of random and oddly directed scenes for which the primary goal is to disorient the player as they continue bumbling through a game with no rules and a rather antagonistic sense of progression.
The Stanley Parable without a doubt knows what it’s doing. The script is tight, the pacing smooth, and the overall concept worthy of praise. And yet I found myself despising every moment I spent with the game. The more I tried to peel back its layers to find the game I had seen praised to the ends of the earth and back, the more I was confronted with the same shallow and narcissistic experience that only became more meandering and unfulfilling the longer I stuck with it. I suppose it was fitting that I eventually arrived in a museum dedicated to the game itself; an internal monument to a project which clearly recognizes its own genius even as I struggle to understand the appeal.