Title: The Stanley Parable
Developer: Galactic Café
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X

Achieving humour in video games can be a very tricky quirk to master. Most games attempt to amuse the player through simple jokes that could easily be placed in any run-of-the-mill sitcom. The Stanley Parable subverts this.

What developers Davey Wreden and William Pugh have crafted is a hilarious yet endearing meta-parody/criticism of video game design that will stay with the player for some time.

This version of The Stanley Parable is actually an update to the original Half-Life 2 mod released in 2011. Many of the mechanics and jokes carry over from the original. The player takes the role of Stanley; a silent office worker who is employed to push buttons all day for his menial job. One workday, every employee in his office suddenly disappears leaving Stanley to wander the office by himself.

There is no combat or strict gameplay in The Stanley Parable, or even any other physical characters. Stanley is limited to pushing buttons and walking. He’s not completely alone though. His actions are guided by a mysterious narrator, voiced excellently by Kevan Brighting, through whom the game’s source of humour is delivered.

Strictly speaking, one could finish the game within seven or eight minutes. Once the player begins to ignore the commands of the narrator, the game begins to show its true colours. The Stanley Parable contains over a dozen endings, depending on how the player defies these orders.

These endings are incredibly varied in their delivery, each providing a tongue-in-cheek look at game design. Nearly every one of them is smartly written and funny, providing the player with a variety of set-pieces including a short trip into the world of Minecraft.

The less said about the game’s various endings the better as the enjoyment in The Stanley Parable comes from discovering the innovative ideas created by Wreden and Pugh. Even the game’s achievement design pokes fun at the way games usually implement this feature.

It’s all wrapped in a straight-forward, Spartan visual style that still makes use of some of the graphical tricks in the Source Engine’s library. Players of the original mod should be aware that much of the material here is repeated, with only limited amounts of extra content added in.

The humour may also be less amusing if you don’t play a lot of games. Much of the game’s comedy comes from lampooning the arbitrary goals and choice-less stakes put forward by common game design.

Regardless, The Stanley Parable is a delightful exercise in humorous criticism. It’s a smart sendup of the various tropes and mechanics in the world of video games, one which will leave you wanting more.