The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe review for Nitendo Switch, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Publisher: Crows Crows Crows
Developer: Crows Crows Crows
medium: digital
Players: one
Online: No.
ESRB: E10+

I loved The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. I think it might possibly be the best game I’ve ever played. There wasn’t a moment that went by while I was playing it that I didn’t have an enormous grin on my face.

And I have absolutely no idea how to write about it, since I don’t want to spoil a moment of it for anyone who – like me – picks it up without any prior knowledge of what they’re getting into.

Unlike most worries about spoilers, it’s not like The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe has some intricate plot that I don’t want to give away. The story here is pretty barebones, and is told via voiceover just as the game begins: the eponymous Stanley works in an office where he responds to commands on a screen. One day, there are no commands, so he decides to go see his boss.

And that’s it. That’s literally the entire plot. If you were so inclined, you could play through that storyline in five minutes.

The thing is, you might not be so inclined, and that’s where the fun begins. Notwithstanding the official story, The Stanley Parable is really a game about games. It’s a game about expectations, and about tropes, and player agency. You could describe it as “fourth wall-breaking”, but a) that doesn’t capture the extent to which it breaks with everything you’d expect about games, and b) I’m not so sure it adheres all that closely to the other three walls, either.

It’s important to know, too, that even if The Stanley Parable is knowing and self-aware and self-referential, it’s not knowing and self-aware and self-referential in the way that most other games are. Where some games will poke fun at tropes while still using them, The Stanley Parable will poke fun at a trope, and then completely ignore it by going in a different direction, and then circle back to the same trope at a time when you least expect it.

It’s almost easier to say what The Stanley Parable isn’t. For example, even though its original 2013 release date means that sometimes gets lumped in with the likes of Dear Esther and Gone Home (and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Firewatch, and other such walking simulators), that’s not accurate: I love those games, but they’re generally pretty linear narrative experiences. You quickly discover that doesn’t describe The Stanley Parable.

Likewise, there are moments where The Stanley Parable doesn’t feel all that far removed from Portal. Both, after all, are absolutely hilarious, and both were originally built using the same game engine. (Plus, if The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe isn’t my new favorite game, it’s only because Portal 2 remains undefeated for that title.) However, The Stanley Parable simply isn’t a puzzle game, which means such a comparison could only take you so far

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