If you’re like me, you might tend to ignore video game rereleases. I don’t have much interest in remasters and deluxe editions of games I’ve played before. I love the Mass Effect trilogy, but I don’t have a level of nostalgia for it that would make me replay it all again with improved visuals and quality of life tweaks. “New content” can entice me with the right game, but I find myself let down by that promise more often than not.
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe understands that trepidation. On its surface, it’s a fairly standard rerelease that brings a 2013 classic to consoles. The graphics have been slightly modernized, there are some welcome accessibility options and, yes, new content. That last part is a bit of an understatement — and that’s by design.
Like the original game, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is a surprising narrative, meta adventure game that defies player expectations at every turn. Only this time, it’s less of a philosophical self-reflection on freewill and more of a searing satire on the current “content era” where fans are seemingly never satisfied.
The end is never the end
When The Stanley Parable first released in 2013, it was a bit of a revelation. The game, which is about a man named Stanley waking up in an abandoned office, brought a level of fourth wall-breaking meta humor that hadn’t really been seen in games at the time. The entire game is narrated by a disembodied voice in Stanley’s head who guides him through a set story. The player doesn’t always have to follow that path though, much to the narrator’s frustration. Every side hallway is a rabbit hole that leads to another unexpected ending.
The result was a small magnum opus about freewill, as told through the lens of a video game that gives players the illusion of “choice.” It featured various endings, which ranged from absurd to unsettling. For console players who never got a chance to experience it, Ultra Deluxe is a much-needed rerelease. The simple nature of the game means it still holds up well, even if some of its philosophical waxing can sound a little juvenile by today’s standards.
Ultra Deluxe is an entirely different beast — one that I don’t actually want to tell you much more about (I’ll keep spoilers light from here on out). Like the original game, its secrets are best kept secret. What I will say is that the game isn’t exactly your typical re-elease. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to fans of the original, considering that nothing should ever be taken at face value in The Stanley Parable. I spent 20 minutes poking around Ultra Deluxe without being clear as to whether or not I was even seeing new content … until the game quite literally signposted it.
What ensues from that point is a whole game’s worth of extra content that seamlessly intersects with the original. It’s a remaster, an expansion, and its own experience altogether in one swoop. And naturally, developer Crows Crows Crows has something to say about that. Rather than dissecting something as heady as freewill, Ultra Deluxe grapples with something that’s a little easier for it to chew: Its own legacy. What does The Stanley Parable mean to fans in 2022? Is there really any good reason to revisit it? Must we keep digging up the past to further feed the bottomless hole of content?
Admittedly, Ultra Deluxe kind of invents its own problems — it’s not like anyone was forcing Crows Crows Crows to revisit the game. However, the developer uses the rerelease label to get at a grander thesis. The more Ultra Deluxe tries to justify its existence with new features, the more it dilutes The Stanley Parable’s point. Salient meditations on choice get washed away in a sea of arbitrary glut. Language itself even loses its meaning at one point, in a move that’s straight out of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist playbook.
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is an ingenious game about the conflict between art and content, two concepts that feel increasingly at odds with one another. As long as we’re stuck in an age where fans demand more time, sequels, and fan service, the end is never the end is never the end is never the end …
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.