At first glance, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe looks like a pretty standard graphic update and re-release of the multi-award-winning The Stanley Parable. That 2013 title surprised the gaming world with its satirical, meta comments about the gaming landscape and gaming tropes of the day. But in fact, Ultra Deluxe is much more of a sequel than mere update: a sequel that’s been cleverly hidden within the fabric of the original game itself.
Gamers play as Stanley, of course, a corporate employee cog who faithfully sits in his drab little office tapping away at a drab little computer terminal on a daily basis. But then one day, the numbers that are supposed to be fed to him via his computer stop coming. And when he steps outside his office, there doesn’t appear to be a single other soul in the whole corporate building: not in its winding corridors or meeting rooms; not in its supply closets or warehouses.
The only other presence is a crisply-voiced narrator who seems to oversee every move the beleaguered Stanley makes. And if you follow through with every direction that the narrator declares that Stanley will make, you’ll soon find yourself working through a brief mystery and a suitable story conclusion.
In reality though, that’s only the beginning of this game. For if you go back and don’t follow the narrator’s prompts—turning left instead of right or going downstairs instead of up—not only does he get a tad peeved at your failure to heed directions, but he may also send you back to try again or reshape the world around you altogether. And then, based on your choices, there are numerous different game endings that you can find—each peppered with humorous twists and turns and snarky narrator dialogue.
The game as a whole smirks at the illusory sense of “control” that gamers are supposed to feel when they’re playing a choice-driven game. And at the same time, it gives players a chance to humorously rebel against the “rules”—heading off to places where they aren’t supposed to go and wriggling their way into the inner workings that most games never let you see. The narrator even ushers us into other games at one point—such as Minecraft and Rocket League—to make points about the strengths of his own superior title.
Ultra Deluxe expands those kinds of comments and explorations: the original game, for instance, offered some 19 different endings to seek out, and Ultra Deluxe adds an additional twenty.
The game and its narrator are both crisply funny throughout. There’s no underlying moral to it all, but the game does ask players to think about why they play a video game the way they do. Are they always being controlled, even when they feel free to make a choice? The game also extends that idea into our real world—asking if we should make different choices there, too.
This is also a video game of multiple playthroughs. As such, playtime can be easily kept to relatively short segments. And the game’s script is creative and fun with a Monty Python-ishstyle of humor. (The scripted new content for Ultra Deluxe is said to be “longer than the script for the entire original game.”)
Ultra Deluxe does contain some mild fantasy-focused violence. Stanley can fall through holes and thump down to hidden areas. And he can also fall to his death. (In which case the game restarts.) In one interaction we’re given a sense that time is passing in large chunks, and over the course of years the narrator appears to go crazy and eventually die. There’s also an in-game segment where gamers must try to keep an image of a baby from crawling into a raging fire.
When we refuse to listen to him or make the “proper” choice, the narrator resorts in some cases to name calling, calling us such things as “stupid,” “fat and ugly” and “addicted to drugs and hookers.”
The narrator also falls back on some crudities on rare occasions, including uses of “b–tard” and “h—.” And there’s a wink at much fouler language.
This is a fun game for the right crowd. But even though The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe carries a rating of E10+, it might be best suited for an older group of gamers. The light usage of rude language is one thing to consider. But more importantly this is a game of patience and detail; its humor supposes that you have a good handle on the gaming tropes of the last decade or so.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.