The Stanley Parable
Have you ever had someone who isn’t very familiar with games see you playing a game? Have they ever asked you why you did what you did, and assuming it was a linear game, have you ever had to explain to them that you are physically not allowed to divert from the linear path laid out to you?
The above are questions that very well define what The Stanley Parable is. It is a first-person adventure-game, to give it my simplest generalization. It originally started as a Half-Life 2 mod, but has been rebuilt as a standalone game. The game involves you waking up in your office, with an unseen narrator dictating the story in a linear manner. However, the game presents several opportunities (some very obvious, some very well hidden) to divert off the linear path set out for you, and with this, the narrator reacts to your actions and presents colourful commentary to go with it.
The Stanley Parable is a game that challenges linear game design, and the subconscious nature of the gamer to simply go with it and accept a world designed with a very closed-path structure. The scenarios present in the game, as well as the incredible voice over and lines spoken by the narrator are what present most of the comedic nature in The Stanley Parable, and while it doesn’t involve much in the way of gameplay mechanics (there’s a use button, movement, and a crouch), it manages to be a great, engaging experience nonetheless.
Top 10 Runner-up: Beyond: Two Souls
David Cage loves movies. He also seems to enjoy making video games. Somehow he decided that games should be more like movies. That is the best way of describing any Quantic Dream game.
Beyond: Two Souls displays this right from the box art, which features Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe’s namesake at the top, just like a movie poster. The game describes the life and times of Jodie Holmes, a small girl who seemingly has a ghost she can communicate with. No one knows who this ghost truly is, but apparently Jodie gets enlisted into a top-secret military facility for testing and training purposes. The structure of the story jumps back-and-forth in Jodie’s life, from her early childhood, up until her mid-20’s.
The gameplay is largely based around walking around environments, interacting with whatever the game allows you to interact with. You can also take control of Aiden, Jodie’s ghost friend who has several context-sensitive actions of his own you can utilize. When the game gets into larger set-piece moments, the game essentially turns into a cutscene where you need to engage in QTE sequences to progress.
While having a very linear story, there are small secondary decisions and choices Jodie can make which will affect some aspects of the story, although most of it is simply relegated to just being included in an epilogue scene. At times, I actually really enjoyed Beyond: Two Souls, and there is one sequence in particular that I thought looked visually ASTOUNDING, although I imagine there was a lot of visually trickery involved in making it seem that way.
I don’t consider Beyond a must-play by any stretch, but it is certainly the most exciting game Quantic Dream has actually made, and if you don’t mind adventure games, it’s an alright 8-9 hour experience. Also, it has Willem Dafoe in it, so it kiiiiiiiiiiiiiinda is a must-play in many ways.