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Sorrel’s Side Quests: ‘The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe’ updates and interrogates a contemporary classic

The Stanley Parable released in 2013 and changed everything. It wasn’t the first game to interrogate the mechanical foundations on which it rested, but it was, at the time, arguably the best. The game was functionally a walking simulator in which the player, controlling a character named Stanley, navigated an office while a narrator explained his actions. The exciting part of the game came from the fact that the player could constantly act in opposition to the narrator.

The best summary of the “point” of The Stanley Parable can be found at the very beginning of every single playthrough. Before nearly anything else, the player comes to a set of two doors. The narrator announces, “When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left.” My own natural instinct (and that of many others) is to enter the door on the right. The narrator, frustrated, points out that Stanley is going the wrong way. So on and so forth over numerous choice points.

By obeying and disobeying the narrator at various points in the story, Stanley will come to a variety of different endings. Nearly all of them have something witty and incisive to say about how choices function in video games. Ultimately, it’s a story about how players engage with mechanics like “choices,” and what it means to interact with art and artists in the context of video games. It’s extremely interesting. It’s also been done better several times since 2013.

Enter The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, a full remake of the original game featuring a variety of new endings and storylines. Everything in Ultra Deluxe builds on The Stanley Parable, but it also builds on the last decade of gaming. It interrogates the concept of the “remake,” asking what, exactly, a game needs to do to be something new, but it also interrogates The Stanley Parable itself. Like that original game so many years ago, it’s hard to talk about what Ultra Deluxe does so well without totally spoiling it, but it does an awful lot.

The narrator of The Stanley Parable was a joke. One of the core questions of The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is, “What happens when a joke needs to stay funny forever?” Is The Stanley Parable still funny? The narrator certainly wants you to think so. But in his new dialogue, there’s an undercurrent of self-consciousness, an anxiety that it’s too late for this particular game. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe isn’t sure there’s a place for The Stanley Parable anymore, and that’s exactly what allows it to carry the same level of metatextual insight the original game had nine years ago.

The Stanley Parable was always a game about games, but The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is a game about The Stanley Parable. It’s all very meta and it’s all just as funny as it was back then, but it’s also an intensely personal examination of an incredibly important work of art.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a freshman studying games and animation at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @gendertoad.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Opinion Writer

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