What is The Stanley Parable?
This is a question that even those who have played The Stanley Parable can sometimes struggle to answer, but fortunately, with the rerelease of this former Half-Life 2 mod as a standalone game just around the corner, developer Galactic Cafe has decided to release a demo so you can try it out for yourself.
The demo is available via Steam, and I suggest you play it before reading any further in this article. I'll put a handy screenshot in the middle so you know where to stop reading and where to pick up again afterwards, assuming you want to.
Ready? Off you go. I'll wait.
Welcome back. That was quite something, wasn't it? As demos go, it was certainly one of the more memorable ones out there. Did you enjoy the part where the things happened, and then the other things happened too? That was my favorite. But I also liked the part where you had to figure out the stuff in order to make the other things happen. That was great.
In all seriousness, The Stanley Parable's demo is an interesting example of what happens when a developer thinks about the concept of a game demo in a somewhat unconventional way. The Stanley Parable itself is, of course, an interesting example of what happens when a developer thinks about the concept of a game in a somewhat unconventional way, but the way the demo handles itself takes things to a whole other level of meta-ness.
What's perhaps most remarkable about the demo is that while most game demos are satisfied with simply taking a contextless slice of the games they're promoting, The Stanley Parable provides a unique experience that you actually won't get in the full game. Presumably, anyway. The whole thing could just be a particularly epic troll -- even more so than the original mod version was anyway -- but even if it isn't, it's oddly fascinating, and it really works.
The reason it works is that it accurately gives you an idea of what to expect from The Stanley Parable without spoiling anything about it. In a short game so focused on story (or, more accurately, narration) this is particularly important; the reason the demo is so effective is because it accurately conveys the style, tone and feeling of playing The Stanley Parable in the context of a completely different situation to the one found in the full game. The demo explores the same concepts of being under the control of an omniscient, omnipotent narrator and what it means to defy that unseen presence. It also isn't afraid to poke fun at a few things about modern gaming in the process, but crucially, in doing so, it leaves The Stanley Parable itself completely undisturbed and ready to be enjoyed with "beginner's mind" for those who are yet to experience its peculiar charms for the first time.
The Stanley Parable itself is out on October 17.