Most demos are pretty straightforward. They give you an early level or two, and maybe an advanced one as well just to get a taste of what’s possible, and send you on your way in the hopes that it was so incredibly amazing an experience that you just can’t wait to re-experience the exact same parts all over again once you’ve bought the full game. And then there’s The Stanley Parable.
The original The Stanley Parable was a lovely little narrative-based game released as a free Source SDK download, technically a Half Life 2 mod but not actually requiring HL2 to play because Valve is awesome like that. It was a game about narrative and making your own choices, or just screwing with the narrator for the fun of it, and while technically it wasn’t particularly game-ish it was still a clever (and frequently funny) experiment in free will. Which sounds very dry, but actually wasn’t at all. Click on that link above and give it a look if you didn’t get to see it back in 2011, because it’s absolutely worth your time.
Nice as the original freeware version was, the sheer overwhelming positive feedback made it destined for bigger things, so on October 17th a new and shinier version is being released on Steam as an actual for-sale kind of thing. Available right now, however, is the demo, and rather than spoil anything by being a walk-though of the first few minutes of the full version, it’s an all-new short story loaded down with the fantastic narration and meta humor that worked so well in the original. Go play it before reading any farther, because it’s far more fun to go in cold than to have someone else’s viewpoint coloring the experience beforehand.
You played it already?
Ok then, here we go-
So that was pleasantly odd, wasn’t it? And like the original, self-referential in far more ways than were readily apparent. The demo is nowhere near as open as the original gamel, with no branching paths or multiple endings, but there are still several ways to screw around with the narrator. There’s reactions and commentary on just about everything- waiting when being told to move on, pressing buttons after finding out they don’t do much, leaving rooms after either doing not enough or too much. The pretentiousness of how fantastic the demo is going to be combined with the low-rent environment is the perfect touch. Walls are mostly cinderblock or brick, and a closer look at the occasional impressive-looking setup usually shows it’s little more than plywood held up with a couple of two by fours. It’s the illusion of luxury, no expenses spared, except it’s all pretty crap. Or rather, it’s a demo meticulously designed to look like the illusion of luxury being actually crap, which is a bit headache-inducing when thought about too hard. The original game was about not accepting what you’re told (among other things), and while the demo’s story may end in utter failure the actual experience is a near-perfect representation of the ideas that make The Stanley Parable such a charmingly bizarre examination of narrative shenanigans.