So…I’ve been trying to write this article for a while, and have had some trouble doing so. How do you tell people about a game without telling them much of anything about it? This is the problem with both The Stanley Parable and Gone Home, two story-driven first person exploration games that I’ve recently played and loved. The short answer is to just tell you to play these games without going to YouTube, as it WILL cheapen the experience…but really, who’s going to do that? Games cost money, and most people aren’t going to spend $15-20 on something they know nothing about.
Let’s start with The Stanley Parable. You control Stanley, an office worker who pushes buttons in his office until one day, he doesn’t receive any orders to do so. This makes him wonder what’s wrong, and starts exploring his office building. You can play a demo that’s not a part of the actual game. The developer, Galactic Cafe, knew that they’d need to entice people into playing their game without spoiling it.
One thing that the demo doesn’t really show off (although they do hint at it a fair bit) is the concept of choice. If I had to make any sort of comparison, I’d say that The Stanley Parable is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There is a narrator who provides humorous commentary, but also gives direction. The first choice you’re given is a set of doors. The narrator says “when Stanley approached two doors, he took the one on his left”. If you take the door on the right, the entire story has the potential to end differently. Every choice you make vastly impacts the story, or at least irritates the narrator, which is fun in and of itself.
PROTIP: Go into the broom closet and shut the door. Trust me.
Controlling the game couldn’t be much easier. There’s no jumping, weapons, or puzzles. You can left click your mouse to press a button or pull a lever. Right clicking allows you to crouch, although you need to use the crouch approximately 0 times to make it through the game. If you’re looking for action, you should probably look somewhere else. If you’re looking for a dozen interesting 10-15 minute stories that all start the same way, look no further than The Stanley Parable, my favorite game of 2013.
If The Stanley Parable is akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, Gone Home would be a short story. You arrive at your house on June 6, 1995, and no one is home. This game is even tougher to explain than The Stanley Parable without spoiling anything, as it’s up to you to piece the entire story together, including your name. You walk through each room of the house, examining objects you find everywhere. These can be anything, like a receipt, a note from (or to) a family member, books, cans of soda, posters of both real and fictional bands, cassette tapes and cases, or Super Nintendo cartridges, among other things. Certain items will trigger narrative pieces.
PROTIP: Although you can play the cassette tapes, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re into C-tier Grrrl Rock.
I was 13 in 1995, and Gone Home honestly made me miss the 90s while I was playing it. Everything feels right, and if you grew up in the 90s you owe it to yourself to play this game just for the nostalgia trip. Once again, there is no action or puzzles, you simply explore the house at your own pace (it’ll probably take you 2-3 hours if you go at a leisurely pace). I found this was a great game to play through with a friend, as we took time to talk about the things that we found and made inferences based on what we had learned each time.
If you’re looking for a slightly different experience than you’re used to, both The Stanley Parable and Gone Home are great games. As noted above, neither game is very long, but that didn’t negatively impact my view on either game (I mean, not many of the Super Mario games are really very long, and I’ve played through all of them countless times). They’re an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, offering an experience that has yet to be attained by cutscenes, Quicktime events, or Sega CD’s FMV “games”. Download The Stanley Parable demo at stanleyparable.com– if you like it, you’ll love the full game. And if you liked The Stanley Parable, there’s a good chance you’ll like Gone Home.
DISCLAIMER: I can’t honestly say “if you liked The Stanley Parable you’ll love Gone Home” (or vice versa). The Stanley Parable is a really funny game that can (and often does) get pretty dark with its humor. Gone Home is a pretty dark and ominous game that has funny moments, but the draw is the story that keeps you confused and captivated the whole time.