I stumbled upon this gem of a game through a video hosted on Penny Arcade. Okay, so it's not really a game; it's more accurately a mod created with the Half Life 2 source. But it's more than just a mod; I would describe it as an interactive story. You don't have any weapons, there are no enemies to fight, and there's not a goal, as such; you merely walk through a succession of rooms, interacting with a handful of objects. Occasionally there will be a choice to make, like whether to go left or right at a hallway junction or to push button A or B.
Yawn, right? But what sets the Stanley Parable apart, what propels it up through the ranks of user mods on a million tons of jet fuel into the motherfucking stratosphere, is the professional-caliber narration and truly inspired script. The narrator is so good you can easily imagine him doing voice work on the big screen, and his pacing and modulation are pitch perfect. And as for the story, well, let's say that it not only breaks down the Fourth Wall but pulverizes it with a sledgehammer into a fine dust, and then mixes up that fine dust with water and paste to create a paper-maché one-tenth-scale model of the Hagia Sophia.
This, my friends, is fucking art
And it's free
The Stanley Parable tells the tale, strangely enough, of Stanley, a button-pushing worker drone in a large, nameless company. His job is basically to push buttons all day. Instructions on a computer screen tell him what buttons to push, how long to push them, and in what order. He endures this mind-numbing tedium in a state of dull submission until, one day, the computer screen goes blank. Stanley gets up from his desk, and that's when you step in.
The story plays out like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, with each choice determining what happens to Stanley. It's possible to "beat" the game in a few minutes, but that's only one ending. And you'll want to experience all six endings. They are each so delightfully different, each one in its own way so wildly surreal and post-modern and a scathing conceptual commentary on bleah bleah bleah just go download it already.
Did I mention that it's free?
You can get the Stanley Parable here
(I got it through Desura, a Steam-like software streaming platform. If you're on a PC, you don't need Half Life 2).
Or, if you don't want to bother, you can see a run-though of all six endings on YouTube
. The video quality of the YouTube clip is good, and you'll basically see the entire thing, but I can't help thinking that the whole point of the Stanley Parable is the illusion of interactivity that you get when you play the game on its own.