"The reader, having browsed the available articles, wisely decided to click on one that promised to discuss the masterwork that is The Stanley Parable."
The Stanley Parable is a difficult game to categorize. For many people, it's a prime example of the "walking simulator" genre, which Gone Home and Dear Esther are other examples of. However, it's so packed full of satire and so short by comparison that it's hard to group it with these other games.
The Stanley Parable is more a critical analysis of gaming tropes, expressed in game format. It's funny, although it's technically insulting it's own players. It's short - you can "beat it" in five minutes easily, and replay value is probably limited to just a few times before it outstays its welcome.
That is to say, the game hates you and it fails on virtually every axis we use to evaluate games. Yet, I'm still going to recommend that you play it.
The Stanley Parable is the story of Stanley (surprise, surprise), an office worker with no redeeming qualities to speak of. He sits in a dark office and pushes buttons when he's told to, and doesn't ever have a single original thought. One day, though, his instructions dry up and he's left to his own devices. What will he do?
This set up is narrated, and the narrator "guides" you through the story, sometimes helping and other times mocking or hindering you. You can follow the story that's been set out for you, or you can rebel and refuse to do what you're told, or even "go rogue" and try to break the game.
Almost every option in the game has been accounted for, and each pathway you take leads to another adventure or funny bit of dialog. The narration is top notch, and there are a million little easter eggs if you're paying enough attention.
It's only a couple of hours long, even if you explore every nook and cranny and see every ending. It's an incremental revision to a Half Life 2 mod, with a higher price tag. The interactivity is limited to moving around and looking, while occasionally clicking on an object. Beyond the narration the audio isn't anything special. The visuals are primarily of a dull, dingy office complex.
Still, if I was given the choice of taking one door and having bought and played The Stanley Parable, or taking another and being $5 richer, I'd pick The Stanley Parable any day of the week.
...and all day on Tuesday.
(Cult of the Fiver is my monthly series on great games that can be had for cheap. Want to stay on top of all our recommendations? We have a Steam Curation Page! In Pre-Cult articles, I collect my thoughts about a game I plan to feature in this month's entry.)