Tag Archives: Galactic Cafe

The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

Okay, yeah, this is starting off with the bottom four games, number seven through ten. Why? Because I said so. Also because I didn’t plan ahead and now there are ten games to get through and only seven posting days left. Hashtag oops.

But I also think this aligns with a natural division of the list. These four games speak to me in mostly one impeccable, sizable way, but they do so in a way that trumps the breadth achieved by most others from this year. There’s something to be said for setting a goal and achieving it, and that is “hey look, you’re on this one guy’s end-of-the-year list.”

Super Mario 3D World

10. Super Mario 3D World

The Year of Luigi “ends” with a Mario game coming out on top. Yeah, Luigi is in there, but come on. This is a Mario game, and what a Mario game it is. It’s common knowledge/a commonly held conspiracy theory that there are several teams within Nintendo design games. Some act as farm leagues, building up chops on smaller titles with fundamentals while the A-team blows minds.

This is the product of the A-team, the same project group that ginned up the absolutely stellar (ha!) Super Mario Galaxy. In between, we were treated to several games that retread old ground and only marginally stepped off the path, though excellent as they were. Super Mario 3D World looks like more of the same, but it’s all about the details.

Mario has been around for so long, you distinguish new games in the franchise solely on nuance because the basics are always there; he slides when he stops, his jumps have a peculiar Bézier-shaped acceleration curve, and so on. In Super Mario 3D World, there is a host of nigh imperceptible touches that make it just a happy, scary, amazing game. Being a cat shouldn’t be so fun, and neither should be screwing over your friends, but this game does it.

Resogun

9. Resogun

Resogun doesn’t try to do a whole lot. It’s kind of like when you buy the collector’s set of The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix; you know what you’re getting (a bundle of things you like, love, and tolerate in varying amounts and intensities), but the packaging is what sells you.

And Resogun is nothing more than an amalgam of old school video game design put together with modern sensibilities on the outside. It’s Defender with a bullet hell slant and kind of makes your head spin in a very Tempest way. And it’s just fantastic.

Resogun works because it throws everything at you and you have to figure out how to deal with it. You figure out how to rescue humans, what order to pick them up, whether to throw them or fly them into the goal, boost now or boost later, save or expend your Fuck Everything laser, and so much more, all of which is roughly calculated and thrown in the wind within the span of a single millisecond. And it makes the best argument for a speaker on your controller ever.

Guacamelee!

8. Guacamelee!

Guacamelee! just gets me. Its humor could sometimes miss more than it hits and the co-op was kind of a drag, but its combat and platforming is exactly what I needed when it came out. The fighting is intricate in a way that demands to be conquered. It’s just asking for it. It is Spain, and I am Napoleon.

The move list starts out simple enough, but soon you unlock additional attacks that broaden your range of abilities and literal range of your damage potential. And then enemies start to color-coordinate themselves against certain moves, forcing you to think on your feet about who needs to be taken out first (some of those fuckers will really ruin your day if you let them), who just needs to be thrown into a corner, and who is just impossible to attack at the moment.

And then you throw in the fact that you have to deal with two realities of enemies and platforms with the world-switching mechanic. You have to keep tabs on what exists in what realm and what doesn’t, what can hurt you where. Guacamelee! is such an impressively cerebral game that it did and continues to take me by surprise.

The Stanley Parable

7. The Stanley Parable

I don’t think I’ll ever play The Stanley Parable again. I won’t have to. It gave me everything it had to give the first time because I played through it over two dozen times in one sitting. Or at least I think I did. Did I? Wait, who’s talking? WHO’S THERE?!

Honestly, I would only count it all as one playthrough. But I was thorough as hell because that’s what happens when you stumble across a diamond in the rough. You pick it up, dust it off, and hold it. You press it up to your eye and spin it around, looking through it and at all angles. It’s a curiosity, lingering in the desert, uncaring if you find it or not or whether you even give a damn once you do.

The Stanley Parable had such a specific vision in mind and it achieved it. From soup to nuts, it grabbed me by the back of my head and shoved my face into its weird, hairy, immaculately sculpted chest of non sequiturs, simultaneously hilarious and painful meta commentary, and ability to make me fall in love with a break room. (Also, this is a bit of a cheat since this is largely unchanged from its original release, but whatever.)

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A Question of Free Will

A Question of Free Will

(This primarily concerns itself with The Stanley Parable, so if you plan on playing it and haven’t yet, maybe come back to this later because this will contain mild spoilers. Maybe. You can do whatever. You are your own man. Follow your desires, friend. Fly with your dreams.)

There are many layers to The Stanley Parable. It’s a fantastic game that operates firstly as a commentary on the tropes of the industry. Merely turning on achievements will net you your first one, as will attempting to jump in a game that relegates the space bar to a keyboard abomination.

It is extremely self-aware. There is the broom closet, one of the few doors you can actually open in Stanley’s office. The narrator will then ask you why are you in there, why are you clicking on everything, why can’t you just get out of there and get on with the story. It’s particularly incisive on the linear design staple of obvious one-off paths full of collectibles and side quests.

The Stanley Parable

Then, it is obviously a parable of the tragedies of office life, to resign yourself to spending more time in a bleak, desolate pen of gray walls than at home with your family and friends. What justifies giving up your dreams for something as philosophically meaningless as job and financial security? Giving up what makes you human in exchange for being referred to as nothing but a number is ludicrous, and yet that is the life of Stanley and so many more in the world.

In fact, that “so many more” may include you. You plop down in your seat in your cubicle, slink down, and browse the Internet until 9:30, maybe 10:00 AM. You sit and watch the clock in the break room at lunch, dreading when it counts down the dwindling minutes of your lunch hour.

Four o’clock rolls around and you watch the second hand tick away the least productive time of the day. Good thing you have a half hour commute ahead of you before you get home, eat dinner, and go to sleep before you wake up to do it all over again.

The Stanley Parable

And while that is a striking comparison to the problems of settling into the nine-to-five life, The Stanley Parable is also fairly allegorical. The parable, in fact, may be more accurately described as pertaining to the question of free will.

The narrator actually points it out in the ending where you go through the museum of the game’s development. If all the paths are predetermined in life, then the choices and the life are meaningless and without purpose. In video games, this raises especially interesting questions. Games, even the ones that contain “randomly” generated dungeons, weapons, and enemies, are all crafted with specially designed possibilities.

The Stanley Parable highlights this especially well. It is such a consolidated gaming experience; from the simplified controls to the nearly always binary choices, it is a fundamental form of modern games. Because the major beats of a game are pins that players must navigate to, the space between them are where they make the game their own.

The Stanley Parable

But when The Stanley Parable doesn’t let you jump or shoot or customize your Stanley and doesn’t let you instigate crew romances, that intermediate space where you make the game your own in Call of Duty or Battlefield doesn’t exist. The game’s design forces you to realize very quickly and harshly that you are walking a path already considered.

The narrator knows everything you’re doing as you’re doing it. When you jump out of the window and land outside, it’s a known outcome. When you fall to your death on the lift, the developer already had that planned. Clicking everything in the office, closing your office door, etc. All of it—all of it—was put there deliberately. No matter how clever you think you’re being, you’re walking a line that’s already been drawn.

It’s the illusion of free will. By offering you two doors, you think that going right is defying expectations. By choosing to turn on the mind control device, you think that you are retaining power. The Stanley Parable makes you question the merits of office life, it makes you think about whether operating inside of video game design tropes is good or bad, but it most importantly makes you think about whether your choices matter. Because they just might not mean a god damn thing.

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The Stanley Parable Review: A Masterful Choice

The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable is very difficult to talk about. You can beat it in less than five minutes, but by the time you’re done with it, three hours will have passed. Then in discussing any part of it, you destroy the effect of the game’s actions, though not any part of its intent. And any meaningful diminishing of The Stanley Parable is doing it a disservice, because this is an essential game on so many levels.

If you don’t recall it from years past, The Stanley Parable is a first-person narrative, uh, puzzle game that serves to be more commentary than game, though being a game is part of the commentary. It started out as a Half-Life 2 mod back in July of 2011 by Davey Wreden, though many more people have contributed to the project in its most recent and likely final incarnation. Most of the framework remains unchanged from its days as a mod, but its polish adds a lot to the game.

It adds a lot to an already substantial game. Not necessarily substantial in how much time it takes, but it lampoons, addresses, questions, pokes, and gently ribs so much you hold dear with how stories and video games work. It takes a little chunk of your time to tell you the story of a man named Stanley who works in an office doing nothing more than receiving commands and then input those commands into a keyboard. Every. Single. Day.

(From here on out, there will be minor spoilers for the game because it’s pretty much impossible to discuss the point of The Stanley Parable without bringing up its content, nearly all of which is specific and particular. If you have any inkling of playing this game—and you should—then stop reading and go play it. Otherwise, I guess you can keep going. Or do whatever you want. The Stanley Parable taught me better than to try to control someone.)

But one day, his coworkers disappear. And a delightfully British narrator voiced by the absolutely stellar and game-making Kevan Brighting steps in to give personality to the otherwise voiceless proceedings. Or more accurately, a narrator steps in to direct you where to go to find out what happened on this strange, empty day. You don’t pick up collectibles or even jump; you just go about Stanley’s life.

If you follow all of his implicit instructions (think of the narrator from Bastion, where sometimes he describes your actions and other times he describes the action around you), you can finish the game rather quickly. The speedrun achievement, in fact, is for a completion time of 4:22, and you will find an interesting story that comments on the pointless nature of office life and working at a job you don’t love.

The Stanley Parable

As a guy who used to work in a giant corporate office housing one of the biggest fast food companies in the world, this landed so close to home, I had to wonder if my name was actually Stanley. I’ve had countless attempts trying to subtly influence my friends to pursue their passions in lieu of job security and daily indignation (which has so far produced a man quitting his 9-to-5 to drive around New Mexico and sleep in a camper). This is the first point at which the game becomes essential.

But when you start to deviate from the script, then the game begins to show its true colors. You will end up playing through the game multiple times, each time ending up in a different predicament, but each one as poignant as the last. One ending, which you can bring about with startling efficiency, addresses the cowardice of ignoring the world beyond your grasp. Another makes you question what it means to exist in a life of predetermined paths. Though it will often have you chuckling at its words, the game will also make you think.

It will make you think about the philosophical implications of choice and existence, yes, but it also will make you question what that means inside a video game…while playing a video game. The design of the game is very linear, but its serves a purpose: its own blueprint of player interaction has been so finely tuned that when it comments on the nature of player agency and curiosity, you accept that the developer knows what he’s talking about. (It makes me wonder, though, if people less versed in video game tropes will find it equally fascinating.)

The Stanley Parable

Nearly all of your actions have been considered. You will face a choice—left or right—over and over again, and this choice will come to affect the way you view all other choices both literally through the game and through your mental considerations. And your choices will lead you down so many varying paths of defiance and acceptance. This, more than anything, is a game about free will.

Thematically speaking, The Stanley Parable is about you accepting that your choices are ultimately meaningless. It directly addresses it in one particular (and small, confined) instance, but it spreads what could have otherwise been a rote dissection of game design out into a side quest, a pulse-pounding action sequence, a parodic wink/nudge of the industry’s so-called standards, and so much more. As soon as you step away from the straight line leading you from A to B, you reject all the virtual impetus inherent in the medium, but to get anywhere, you have to accept them once more. Do you have control, or does the designer? Is that the true parable here?

It would be heartbreaking of the game wasn’t so entertaining. Of course, the moment following playing The Stanley Parable will probably be some of the most somber of your gaming career, but it’s an important experience. It’s why it’s important to read dissenting opinions of both game reviews and Supreme Court decisions. It’s why satire is just as vital to discourse as is genuine opinion. It’s why you should play The Stanley Parable.

The Stanley Parable

+ The narrator is damn near close to perfect
+ Metaphysical commentary on choice presented in a medium based on choice is brilliant
+ There are moments where the game is truly beautiful, psychologically and graphically
+ Inspirational mainline about getting out of a drone job
+ Sobering realization that choices and life in games are meaningless

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Game Review: The Stanley Parable
Release: October 17, 2013
Genre: First-person narrative
Developer: Galactic Cafe
Available Platforms: PC
Players: 1
MSRP: $14.99
Website: http://www.stanleyparable.com/

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