The Stanley Parable, a game that captured the attention of many games critics, to the point where many outlets were proclaiming it to be their game of the year, is available for Mac. But is it any good, or just a load of old hype?
Humour is a very subjective thing. That I lead in with that sentence will probably give you an indication of which way I’m leaning on this. For me, The Stanley Parable is more of the nod-and-smile knowingly variety of humour than the raucous thigh-slapping sort.
To me, The Stanley Parable is a single joke, stretched out too thin, and made into a game. The game opens with a rather lovely narrated cutscene, explaining that protagonist Stanley, after years of working in an office pushing buttons for some unknown purpose, finds himself alone. You promptly take over, and attempt to find out what happened to everybody.
Or not. See the running joke of The Stanley Parable is that you don’t really have to do anything. This is made clear, rather cleverly, by having the aforementioned narrator accompanying you throughout your journey, telling you what you’re going to do next before you do it. Reach a fork in the path, and he’ll tell you which way to go. But of course, you don’t have to. You can go the other way, and have the narrator react accordingly.
Several times whilst playing the game, and indeed, whilst pondering it afterwards, I was reminded of Bastion, where the narrator reacts to the player’s actions, and the film Stranger Than Fiction, where the protagonist is cued by an unseen narrator. I’ve no idea whether these were points of inspiration to The Stanley Parable, but my familiarity with each seemed to lessen the comic impact of the game’s central device.
And central it is; play through the game with the audio turned off and what you’re left with is a building you walk through, with doors closing behind you and not a lot going on. There is something quite beautiful about the stark emptiness of it all, which led me to make more use of my screenshot trigger-finger than I would have imagined; but ultimately I came away thinking that somehow I’d really missed the thing in The Stanley Parable that so many people seem to have loved.
It’s a very short game, almost insultingly so. Almost. The thing is, this game must be replayed several times for full effect, making different choices each time, seeing what would happen if you went that way instead, or pushed that other button. I say choices, but really, your only input into the game is which direction to move, indeed; the entirety of your input in the game could probably be reconciled quite easily on a flowchart, or certainly a very thin choose your own adventure book.
I can’t help but think that even if you’re the person that this game is for, that you’ll lap up each and every gag the game has to offer, explore every possibility; that even you will be annoyed that there’s no save and restore. Even though it’s a short game, if you attempt to see every outcome (which is perhaps the real “point” of the game), you’re going to run through the same parts of it multiple times in order to reach the parts where it branches. You’ll become over-familiar with several of the game’s areas, and the simple act of getting from A to B becomes a chore, even though you’ll never actually cover much distance. That was what ultimately killed the game for me, well that and I decided I really didn’t care what difference it made if I made a different choice in all but the most obvious parts of the story.
I suspect I must be wrong about this; that this is a game for video game buffs in much the same way certain movies are only relevant to film buffs. I went in expecting something revolutionary, or at least eye-opening; but what I got instead was little more than a sense of, oh, was that it?
Performance & Quality
While the game runs more or less acceptably on Mac OS, the performance seems extremely poor given the low-fi nature of it. Loading times are long, and there are several points where the action freezes, usually just before an audio clip starts playing. Given the nature of the game, I doubt it’ll upset anyone, but still, it does seem to suggest that little attention was given to the Mac version beyond making it run.