Reviewing The Stanley Parable is no easy task. This is a game by It's mere design difficult to talk about without ruining the entire experience for someone who hasn't yet played it. So this is my attempt to review a game that not only defies typical video game tropes, but shines a spotlight on how absurd they can be.
The Stanley Parable has you playing a man named Stanley (sort of). He has an office job where his monitor tells him to press buttons all day. One day his monitor stops telling him what to do, and he finds all of his coworkers have mysteriously vanished, and thus the adventure begins.
As you explore the abandoned office building the games narrator will tell you what Stanley is thinking, insight into what is happening, and the actions Stanley takes. Often times before you even take said actions. Therein lies the core concept of The Stanley Parable, the game will often present choices of where to go, then routinely remind you that none of your choices matter. That no matter what you do, you are on a linear path to a specific ending. Each of the wildly different endings the game has to offer can be reached in fifteen minuets or less. Then the game automatically restarts you in your office to begin again. Typically everything is reset and exactly as it was. Though sometimes there are a few chuckle-worthy differences if you play through a few times in a single sitting. All in all, you can see everything the game offers in as short as a few hours, but there are Easter Eggs for the more dedicated players to hunt down.
This usually comes off in hilarious ways. Attempt to defy the narrators instructions and he will get more and more agitated at your actions, often insulting and lambasting the player directly. Depending on what path you decide to take, he will develop a sense of companionship with you on the adventure, other times he will be antagonistic. It is all very clearly pays homage to GladOS from Portal fame, without ripping it off wholesale.
As funny as the game can be, the deconstructionist mentality can often be very insightful as well. It often pulls back the curtain on tactics that other games use to fool the player into thinking there's more to games than what is actually there. It calls into question the contradictions of games that claim the choices you make change the entire experience of said game, as well as the unrealistic expectations we as gamers can sometimes have because of the way these games are falsely presented to us.
Unfortunately The Stanley Parable suffers the same issue as many "Art Games", in that they tend to forget they are games. There's very little you actually do in the game, you don't interact with any part of the game in any meaningful way. You essentially walk around until you trigger the next sequence of events in whatever branching path of the game you are on.
This feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. A few puzzles thrown into the game for you to solve could allowed for some rather humorous moments where the narrator could point out that these seemingly random puzzles that are entirely out of place in an office building are only there to pad out the length of the game and so you can feel like you accomplished something.
All in all The Stanley Parable is a game that everyone should experience. It calls into question the methods and tactics the video game industry has becomes to dependent on in interesting and often hilarious ways. While some may justifiably quibble over the games short length or lack of any real gameplay mechanics, for $15 this is a game you will remember long after you have played and forgotten many of the upcoming $60 AAA titles you may be excited about.