How do you improve on perfection?
Where do I even begin with this? You can’t review The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe like a normal game — no, not even close. Sure, you can call it an open-ended walking sim with multiple endings, but while that may be true, it doesn’t even come close to doing the experience of playing it justice. The Stanley Parable is what every other video game that claims to be art should aspire to, because it is able to so effectively convey its thesis while at the same time entertaining you to all hell.
Nine years ago, we reviewed The Stanley Parable when it originally came out, and James Stephanie Sterling’s sentiment was that to give anything away was to ruin the game’s whole appeal, and the same goes for The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. So much of what makes this game special is the surprise and the discovery of it all, so in order to maintain the spirit of The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, all I can tell you is that this is a must-play. Not just as one of the best games of the year, mind you, but as one of the best games period.
I’ve written pages and pages of notes trying to piece this review together, trying my best to convey why I think this game truly is genius (a word I use sparingly in any part of my life, let alone when discussing video games). I like to think I’m a tough critic, especially when it comes to narrative games, but The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe has a way of immediately disarming me every time I boot it up.
For all of its commentary and cynicism, at its heart, it has so much charm, and so much love for the medium it’s so dedicated to deconstructing. With any other game, I have to stop and pick apart every little mechanic or how it feels to play or how the UI looks, but at risk of sounding hyperbolic, speaking about The Stanley Parable in that way would feel sacrilegious.
When you’re in the business of thinking about thinking about and writing about thinking about video games, there’s nothing more refreshing than a game that just takes you on a journey, and The Stanley Parable does just that. There’s never a moment where you’re hoping the game is going to present you with something engaging — it just does it, it does so masterfully, and it escalates to places you weren’t expecting, but you’re so glad it did. I will say that if this kind of game isn’t your thing, you’re not going to enjoy it because the Ultra Deluxe content leans even harder into absurdism. But if you’re willing to let go of any preconceived notions of what a game is supposed to be and roll with it, you’re going to have an amazing time.
The new content
I hate talking about it in these terms, but fine: if you’re worried about getting your money’s worth, don’t worry, you’re more than doubling the original game’s run time. If you’re talking about quality, well, the new deluxe content kind of just makes me want to throw my hands up and be like, “I don’t know what you want me to say.” It does exactly what it needs to do. It’s hilarious and self-aware and dripping with irony, all while still having whip-smart writing that makes me happy to sit back and soak it all in for a while because it’s just that good.
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is The Stanley Parable for a new era, for 2022. If the original was a commentary on game design and the way players think about autonomy and choice in video games, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe‘s extra content is a commentary on game reviews, online commentary, sequels, and hype in the industry — and it does so with the same level of wit and sarcasm that you’d expect.
A game for the modern era
The whole experience reminded me a lot of Bo Burnham’s Inside. Love it or hate it, that special captured exactly what it felt like to exist in the first year of the pandemic specifically, in a way that I think will act as a sort of time capsule for future generations. The new content of The Stanley Parable‘s deluxe edition has this same type of specificity — if you want to know what it feels like to be a game developer, journalist, or really anyone who works in games in 2022, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe has you covered.
Another review-y topic that I actually did want to touch on is the game’s accessibility — something the devs put a lot of thought into this time around. There are all kinds of new settings to accommodate all kinds of players, like more options for subtitles and improved in-game textures that feature text, new control schemes, such as one that allows players to go through the game playing entirely with one hand, and even content warnings for some of the game’s more intense moments. You can tell that Crows Crows Crows put a lot of effort into making sure all players can enjoy the experience, and I have to give them kudos for that.
What are you still doing here? Just go and play it!
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe might joke about overly aggrandizing reviews, but it’s one of the few games that’s actually deserving of one. For all its smugness, I’d love to sit here and tell you that The Stanley Parable is pretentious and full of shit, but it earns every right to its pretension. And I for one and so glad I’m here to see it. There’s a reason it’s considered one of the best games of all time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]