The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Review – It Had to Happen Sooner or Later

    Title: The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
    Developer: Crows Crows Crows
    Release Date: April 27, 2022
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Crows Crows Crows
    Genre: Narrative

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe is a rather unique beast. In order to review this game, I’m going to have to really swerve out of the way of even minor visual spoilers, because going into specifics is going to neuter this experience. Luckily, I think most people will take me at face value, if only because The Stanley Parable was, without hyperbole, already one of the best video games ever created.

I’m going to start with a factual description of what this title is. A lot of people, particularly those that own the original version of the game, are likely going to see the $30 price tag attached to Ultra Deluxe and think that what they are getting is a much larger experience than the original, but the meat of Ultra Deluxe is given to the player almost upfront. After seeing a few of the vanilla game’s endings (I recommend doing all of them first if you’ve never played before), you are presented with a literal “ULTRA DELUXE CONTENT” door to walk through, following which is what I would consider the “campaign”.

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe asks you to set the time upon startup.
Your only spoiler: this is more important than meets the eye.

This campaign is the thing I am trying my best not to spoil, because it is about a ninety-minute experience that so thoroughly breaks through the limitations of the video game as a medium that I, as a reviewer, would be ashamed to rob anyone of the surprise. What I will say about it is that it is, as you would expect from writer Davey Wreden, a deeply metatextual narrative that completely removes anything resembling the fourth wall from the game. I would also heavily recommend that one plays The Beginner’s Guide, Wreden’s previous game, before jumping into the new content presented in Ultra Deluxe.

After finishing the “campaign”, the base game is updated with a nearly full suite of new endings, most of them being humorous rewrites of the old ones triggered with an elegant and simple flag near the start of each run. (There are also two brand-new endings, each of which also has an Ultra Deluxe variant.) For the rest of the eight-hour runtime, the player will simply be completing mostly the same tasks as before, with one major added twist that will eventually lead the player to the end of the Ultra Deluxe campaign.

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The map itself has not seen any major changes, and almost all of the new endings are achieved by doing almost the same exact thing as the older ones, but the price tag is still higher because the game has been entirely remade in Unity. Not only is it impressive that they managed to recreate a title that was so heavily associated with Valve’s Source engine, but Crows Crows Crows went the extra mile by still making the game look like a Source title with updated lighting effects.

But of course, in a game like this, the narrative is ultimately the primary appeal. Without giving too much away, The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe is a game in heavy conversation with itself, as well as with the playerbase and the player themselves. If you know anything about the explosive success of the original remake back in 2013, there is (intentionally) a lot to read into here, in terms of the game and also Wreden himself.

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The writer’s style has always been games with a heavy focus on metatext, meaning that even his most straightforward narratives are meant to have some greater idea to convey or meaning to interpret. The story of The Beginner’s Guide may seem fictional, but to what degree? Does the Narrator of The Stanley Parable speak directly for Wreden, has he attempted to remove himself from the story entirely, or is there another element that more closely represents him?

With Ultra Deluxe, I found this emphasis to be even more clear than ever. It’s a plot that seems like it could be a direct adaptation of Wreden’s thoughts after the original game went viral, but could also be a hyper-exaggerated take on fan response. What did people want from The Stanley Parable, what do people want from Ultra Deluxe, and what do people want from Davey Wreden himself?

Ultra Deluxe is easily going to be one of the finest gaming experiences of the year, despite its short length relative to most. This is a game that gets in, says exactly what its creators wanted to say, and then gets out…maybe. The most ridiculous elements of the original are still perfectly preserved here, and then amplified in the new content, letting the player experience exactly what they want to. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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