The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Gaming Review

Plenty has already been said about why 2013’s The Stanley Parable is so phenomenal – so much, in fact, that one section of 2022’s The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is a literal shrine to all of the praise and accolades that have been deservedly heaped upon it. To prattle on further about how it cleverly messes with your own video game expectations or how it dissects the choices games often give us would only belabor long-since made points (not to mention risk my own words showing up in the inevitable 2031 re-rerelease). But then again, there I go doing exactly that, because despite those points having already been well made both about and by The Stanley Parable, they still ring as true as ever – and Ultra Deluxe’s new content proves it has plenty more worth saying, at a scale that goes far beyond a simple remaster.

I’ve never given much thought to the “skip dialogue” button in a videogame, but after playing The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe I can’t stop thinking about it. The button (it’s a physical button in the game world, so you have to be standing in a specific place to use it) is just one of several new features you can take for a spin in the “expanded reimagining” of 2013’s The Stanley Parable. Once again, stepping into Stanley’s shoes turns the act of playing a game into a hilarious, surprising, and at times deeply thoughtful examination of games and game development, players and player choice, and yes, even the consequences of pushing a button.

I’ll get this out of the way early: It feels like a trap to review The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, considering that part of this expanded version takes place in a museum of memories, where the narrator reads aloud from several reviews of the original game. Not just professional reviews from Destructoid and GameSpot, framed and hanging on walls and lit by candlelight (MARKMEETS ‘s own 90% review is missing, I noted with some disappointment), but also Steam user reviews unceremoniously dumped in piles and scattered around a rainy dockyard, including one which suggested a skip dialogue button was needed because the narrator talked a bit too much. It really gives you something to ponder while you’re pressing the new skip dialogue button because the narrator is talking a bit too much.

Back to my point: Reviewing a game so willing to shine a light on its own reviews seems a bit like stepping onto a trap door clearly labeled “trap door.” On the other hand, walking into traps you’ve been warned away from, and doing things you’re not supposed to do before finding out the game really does want you to do them, is how you play The Stanley Parable. So, why not review it? Maybe it’ll wind up framed in The Stanley Parable re-re-release someday.

Before we get too deep, a quick spoiler warning: The Stanley Parable is a hard game to talk about because so much of its charm and delight comes from discovering its surprises for yourself. I am going to do my best not to ruin that experience while I tell you why it’s one worth having, but I will be talking about some of what already made the base game stand out, as well as the general scope and structure of how Ultra Deluxe builds upon it. So while I’ll avoid ruining the specifics of any jokes or endings, my real recommendation is that you should stop reading here, play it totally fresh, and then come back and see how your own thoughts compare to mine. But if you need a little more to go on before making that leap, read on.

The Stanley Parable is a surreal adventure game at its heart. You play Stanley, wandering the halls of his office as a narrator (brilliantly voiced by Kevan Brighting) instructs you on where to go. Of course, the now thoroughly interrogated gag here is that you don’t have to listen to him at all. The office is a labyrinth of paths to choose from or stumble upon, each choice sending you further down its branching tree of hilarious stories and toward one of its countless endings. Every journey is full of jokes that had me genuinely laughing out loud (even years after the first time I saw them) framed within a constantly winking satire of the way games are traditionally supposed to behave – be that mundane things like getting to ignore the “correct” path, or more elaborate examples like a reset not always setting the metaphorical sliders back to zero.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe may bill itself as a long-awaited console port with some nicely improved lighting and a bit of new content, but that last part is, shall we say, severely understated. When you first start it up, Ultra Deluxe asks if you’ve played the original before, and developer Crows Crows Crows stressed to me that it’s important to answer this question honestly. Ultra Deluxe contains the entirety of The Stanley Parable, and if you haven’t played that then it’s one of the easiest recommendations I’ll ever make – but if you have, this rerelease offers far more than a literal trip into The Memory Zone.

Ultra Deluxe’s new content feels comparable to the original in size and scope.

Given how many secret paths and hidden endings The Stanley Parable contains, it’s hard to tell exactly how big the new content in Ultra Deluxe really is, but I feel confident saying it’s comparable to the original with four to six hours of stuff to see at the very least. There is essentially an entirely new game to play through here, and the idea that it’s being presented as anything less is probably one of its best gags. Some of Ultra Deluxe’s content takes place in brand-new areas that pretty much feel like a straight up sequel, while other additions play out as remixed or altered versions of Stanley’s usual paths through the office. (I don’t know for sure, but I assume the question about whether you’ve played before determines how early this new content will pop up, as things start off entirely unassuming.)

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe

While The Stanley Parable pokes fun at games as a whole, it seems only right that Ultra Deluxe shifts its gaze toward the concept of sequels, expansions, and DLC – as well as some pointed self reflection about both the original game and its wider reception. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but the new writing is no less clever, insightful, or funny than the old, and the way it all meshes together is a pretty brilliant take on an extremely difficult task. Framing everything this way, as new content for an existing game rather than the standalone thing it likely could have been if Crows Crows Crows really wanted to, allows Ultra Deluxe to make many points about the relationship between modern games and their updates more effectively, which was a real treat.

At the same time, Ultra Deluxe’s new stuff didn’t always land quite as well for me. It’s all extremely entertaining, but one of the drawbacks of housing this pseudo-sequel within the original is the feeling that we’ve seen many of these magic tricks before. It’s not that they don’t hold up or aren’t still impressive, and it’s not that there aren’t plenty of new ones which delighted me all their own – but even if the well hasn’t run dry, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we are ultimately revisiting it (something Ultra Deluxe even enjoyably teases itself for). Because of that, some of the new and remixed paths alike initially felt like slightly more passive experiences than the base game’s – but upon reflection I’m not sure if that’s actually true or if their impact was just blunted slightly by the fact that I better knew what to expect nine years later.

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Simon Costanza
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