This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).
The trailer promises so much. The Stanley Parable was to be a mindfuck of epic proportions.
It was, and it wasn’t. I am still conflicted about whether I actually enjoyed this game. The narration was fantastic, and my heart skipped a nostalgic beat when I loaded up the very Half-Life-2-esque graphics. It brought me back to the late ’90s, reminding me of both Half-Life, and Goldeneye in the atmosphere and setting. Portal gets mentioned a fair bit in comparisons, and while that is probably true, for me that is not as strong an association.
So what is the problem? Why am I not more committed to a judgement? Honestly, I am not sure. I tend to love games that play the mindfuck card, that leave you guessing as to what really happened, that leave a lot of stuff unanswered. And while it is usually the narrative that provides that experience, in The Stanley Parable it is the game world that does it. That makes the experience more intense, more fulfilling, and so more enjoyable in a lot of ways.
On the other hand, I think it overshot the mark in some respects. It felt like the payoff graph was a bell curve. At the start you are totally clueless, and everything is bizarre. As you play there is greater understanding, which allows you to explore more purposefully and feel like you are getting some sort of progress, i.e. learning more. Then, I found that after a number of playthroughs, I wasn’t getting enough new stuff to keep up the motivation to repeat content ad infinitum. It became a chore, and so I stopped.
I consider The Stanley Parable to be an amazing example of blurring the lines between games and art/philosophy, or of games as art. As a game it is still basic, although more involved than something like Gone Home or a visual novel. I definitely enjoyed it more as an artistic endeavour than as a game experience.