This is a series of reviews for generally shorter games that one could find for $15 USD or less. If you have a recommendation for a game that fits this category, let us know!
As a walking simulator, The Stanley Parable does mostly what you would expect from the genre: from a first person perspective you walk throughout an environment while a narrator and the environment reveal a story. However, something that makes this title stand out from its peers is the aspect of choice and influence: where in a title such as Dear Esther the story is set throughout, your paths through The Stanley Parable often immediately affect the story.
In this title you play as office worker Stanley, who has discovered that all of his coworkers have disappeared. From this prompt the story changes dramatically, depending on the paths you take. The ever present narrator dictates your actions, often before you take them, letting you chose to follow the guidance of the unseen voice, or to choose your own path. This varies from ignoring his prediction which of two doorways you will walk through, or interacting with the environment in an unpredictable way. The varying twists and turns you take can lead to a mind control conspiracy, a “broken” game, and even a “broken” narrator, among other destinations.
As a walking simulator, game interaction is limited: you can walk, crouch, and occasionally click on items in the environment; the real draw here is creating your own story, and questioning the actual power of choice, particularly in a video game. In one play-through, you might jump into an abyss to prove your freedom of choice has more power than the narrator, despite that same choice sending you into oblivion. Trying to rebel against the narrator might end up in the game trapping you into its own narrative, or “breaking” the game altogether.
While this “choose you own adventure” style walking simulator may be lacking in action and excitement, it is no less an interesting experience that can provide some food for thought about the nature of choice in video games, the impact of narrators, and even “metagaming,” or using knowledge of game design or outside influences knowledge that can impact a games story in different ways. Currently at $15 USD on Steam, the price tag may be a bit high for the content provided, but I nonetheless recommend making the choice of giving The Stanley Parable at least a cursory glance. This is not a title everyone can enjoy, but it is an interesting experiment in digital interaction.