In The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe, I can’t bring myself to leave the broom closet. The narrator, who’s trying to guide me through the game, is getting more and more irate at my apparent fascination with this pokey little room. Despite their continued assurances that nothing is going to happen, I’m still convinced something will. I delight in putting it to the test and feel rewarded each time the narrator makes another comment. I don’t know how long I spend fixed on the spot before I eventually relent… but I can’t resist finding out what will happen if I step right back in again. I can more or less remember playing around in the very same broom closet years ago when I first played the original Stanley Parable back in 2013. And now, thanks to its Ultra Deluxe version, I’m reliving the magic of Crows Crows Crows’ narrative-driven adventure all over again – with the added bonus of discovering all of its new content.
For those who are new to the adventure, The Stanley Parable is a game made up of choices that plays you as much as you play it. As employee 427 (aka Stanley), a dutiful button-pushing office worker, you set out to find out why all of his co-workers have disappeared. The narrator tries to guide you through the office with a scripted path, but it’s up to you to decide if and how you follow it. Of course, there’s so much more to it than that. It’s a hilarious, meta, fourth-wall-breaking, first-person adventure that never really ends… or does it? Each time you begin the same moment over again, you never know quite what to expect next. Trust me when I say that you’ll want to experience all it has to offer without knowing too much. As Crows Crows Crows director William Pugh puts it, “so much of the joy of the game is about being surprised.”
“This is the story of a man named Stanley”
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After playing through several sessions of the Ultra Deluxe release, I’m reminded of just why it is that The Stanley Parable continues to hold up. It continues to be one of the most unique and interesting narrative-driven indie games out there – it messes with you, pokes fun at itself, and plays around with the idea of what a game is in the most humorously self-referential way. The narrator, brilliantly brought to life by the voice of Kevan Brighting, will constantly surprise you with their reactions and responses. If you’re anything like me, you’ll question your choices on account of what they’re telling you time and again. Are they an unreliable narrator who can’t be trusted? Or are they really trying to help you? And just who is this narrator, anyway? It’s a joy to listen to every line delivered, and find out how much was scripted to account for just about anything you as the player can do.
It’s been great to rediscover what makes the game so enjoyable on PS5 all these years later. After its success and popularity on PC, Pugh tells me there had always been plans to bring the game to consoles before the Ultra Deluxe version started to take shape. “There’d always been a plan for bringing the game to PS4,” Pugh explains. “Since the game achieved its incredible success in 2013, it felt very much the expected thing to do. This was before [the] Nintendo Switch was even announced, way back in 2014 or 2015. We started considering options about if it’d be easier porting the game to a new engine, or if it would be worth attempting to get the source engine compiled for newer consoles. Eventually, we decided the best path would be to port the 2013 version to Unity and use that as a base for porting the game to be multiplatform.”
The port was being worked on in the background for Crows Crows Crows by a couple of contractors, including “a really talented multidisciplinary contractor called Rito who among many other things made pl_hoodoo for Team Fortress 2”. Pugh loosely oversaw and managed the process while the team at Crows were creating the VR comedy-adventure Accounting+ with Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. Once Accounting+ had wrapped up, the team took another look at porting work in 2018 and decided more needed to be done to polish it up, which ultimately led to the creation of Ultra Deluxe.
When you begin Ultra Deluxe, you’re prompted with a question asking whether or not you’ve played The Stanley Parable before. Since it’d been too long since I last had, I decided to begin all over again. When I eventually came to the new content – which is helpfully and clearly marked out for you so you absolutely can’t miss it – I had no idea what to expect going in, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. So just how did work on a port turn into the release of an expanded, recreated version full of new surprises?
“Me and Davey Wreden started having some calls to figure out exactly how we were going to stick the landing with the project, and we had always loosely talked about putting some extra content in there – like a special ending or something. But those conversations in mid-2018 really started shooting sparks,” Pugh explains. “We had both spent a lot of time away from The Stanley Parable at that point (I’d shipped 3-4 games with Crows Crows Crows and Davey had put out Beginner’s Guide). So we really started engaging with the idea of, ‘Okay, if we’re coming back and going to do more Stanley Parable, what could we put in that would be really cool, what would make this game more interesting, what would get us excited about this world again?'”
“At that point, I started chatting more seriously about the prospect of committing further to this project with Crows Crows Crows co-founder and art director Dominik Johann, who’s been the visual mind behind all of Crows’ games and projects over the years (co-creator of Accounting and who also did the art on MINIT),” Pugh says. “We also threw around some ideas for what we thought would be funny, what would be some cool ideas we could see Stanley and The Narrator getting into. We brought those pitches to Davey who then took them down another rabbit hole. We started mocking some stuff up and the next thing you know we had to change the name of the whole game because the new content was getting more and more significant!”
From everything I’ve experienced so far, the work put into Ultra Deluxe has certainly paid off. I’ve laughed and been caught entirely off guard more times than I can count, and it’s been a real joy to rediscover the game in this polished, new package full of secrets to uncover. Since you replay the same sequence, The Stanley Parable has always been a great game to pick up and play over intervals, and when it comes to Ultra Deluxe, you’ll want to boot up the game several times to see some more surprises come into play. Crows Crows Crows’ adventure is one you’ll want to discover or revisit for yourself. Without wanting to spoil too much, the additional content fits right in perfectly and really is in keeping with the spirit of the original.
At face value, the developers have combined old and new in The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe seamlessly, but doing so wasn’t without its challenges. Pugh adds: “I think everybody on the team has had different difficulties with the idea of taking this, uh, highly-regarded and well-remembered game and bringing it back to life in 2022. The Crows team is incredibly talented – but everybody has had different challenges. Recreating the feel of the source engine in Unity, balancing the eerie liminal space feeling of source engine games with advances in graphics and what players in the 2020s expect a modern game to look like – basically, I’m trying to say that answer is going to be different for everybody on the team.”
All of which seems fitting, given a similar degree of variety and idiosyncrasy applies on the player-side too. How you’ll enjoy The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe will depend on whether or not you played the original, how much of it you remember if you did, your own sense of humor, and whether you consider the narrator to be benevolent, patronizing, deceitful or all of the above, as they lead you down the office path time and time again. I for one enjoyed every minute of the journey, and I think many of you will too.
The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.