It’s incredibly bold to hide a sequel to a game in an expanded re-release of the original experience. But when it comes to something as pleasantly weird and hilarious as The Stanley Parable, it makes sense – in fact, my belief that The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe would be anything else seems basically insane with hindsight.
Ultra Deluxe is as intriguing to play as the original game, perhaps even more so today given that its message is directed towards the modern gaming landscape. Some of the nuance will be kind of lost on you if you weren’t playing games or paying attention to space in 2013 because it’s based on understanding how the conversation around games has evolved over the course of the last decade. But it’s an entertaining experience whether you have that background or not.
Although billed as a sort of director’s cut of the original, Ultra Deluxe is more like a sequel that exists in The Stanley Parable. You always kick things off by playing the role of Stanley, an employee with the insignificant role of sitting in a drab office and staring at his computer screen all day, pressing the buttons on his keyboard that are given to him. said. And then one day, his screen stops telling him what to do, giving him the freedom to listen to the haughty, overbearing narrator watching his every move or to do whatever he wants instead.
Of course, it’s not really freedom. When given the option to go through a doorway left or right, Stanley has no options – he’s directed down one of two possible paths, each of which can branch into several predetermined outcomes. After reaching one of these conclusions, the game resets to the beginning, allowing you to try a new path and discover another outcome.
It’s all meant to reflect the illusory sense of choice the player faces when playing a game advertised as a “choice-driven narrative”. It was a much more intriguing narrative setup in 2013, when such self-reflection in video games wasn’t entirely common and commented game design choices were more prevalent. In 2022, it now feels like we’ve already had that conversation. The industry has since relied on this topic to create games that comment on a specific experience through some level of hindsight on the topic of choice and how it works in a medium where the message recipient is not an observer. passive – like the notion of code-switching and embracing new speech patterns in Signs of Sojourner or investigating power and privilege through varying degrees of autonomy in Disco Elysium.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this makes Ultra Deluxe’s first few minutes boring, but it’s also not a good first impression for newbies, given how outdated the commentary might seem. For a little while at least, you’re just playing the original game – which isn’t as unique as it once was – which makes Ultra Deluxe’s opening feel a bit outdated.
Luckily, you can just skip straight to new content if you want, with the game giving you the option from the start. If you choose not to, you’ll need to play The Stanley Parable multiple times and see some of its different endings in order to unlock the new content.
Much of the new content plays similarly to The Stanley Parable, letting you follow the narrator’s directions or do the opposite. You can press the button or not press the button. You can jump or not jump. You can carry the bucket or not carry the bucket (you must carry the bucket). Your choices will cause the story to branch out, allowing you to achieve several different endings – some are hugely entertaining variations on how the experience might already end in The Stanley Parable, while others are brand new. All are rewarding to discover, with a few surprises tucked away in a few.
The crucial point this time around is how the illusion of choice is redirected to further encompass the gaming industry as a whole. Since 2013, the relationship between developers and players has changed, with bad faith players realizing they can weaponize social media to demand changes to games, and developers learning the skills never needed to balance the desires of a insatiable player base and their own art. vision when any possible changes can potentially be achieved through an online update. It really brings a whole new, almost horrifying meaning to The Stanley Parable’s catchphrase “The end is never the end is never the end…”
It’s a compelling concept to explore: the idea that a developer listening to their players is just as arbitrary as if a player decides to walk through the door they’re told when playing a game. Stanley kind of touched on this in 2013, when some of his endings involved that the illusory sense of choice in games could be extended to other forms of interactions, like your role at work or conversations at home with your family.
Ultra Deluxe simply takes that idea into game development and then runs with it, delivering an experience that’s hilarious and fun, but can also be scary or tragic. And I dare say some of the new endings feel almost nostalgic. Regardless of their tone, what I’ve seen so far has convinced me that I need to keep playing this game and see what other results I can uncover.
To say more about this game could potentially spoil some of its delicious surprises (of which there are a lot). The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe took me on a roller coaster of emotions – I’ll be scratching my head in confusion one moment, then staring at my TV dumbfounded, my mouth hanging open in disbelief bewilderment the next. As far as I can tell, there’s no unifying mystery to solve here; nor is there an indistinguishable moral lesson that the game asks me to uncover. What there is, however, is an attractive lure for a stimulating experience about video games and the evolution of our reception.