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The Stanley Parable

Developer / Publisher: Galactic Cafe
17 October 2013
The Stanley Parable - cover art
Glitchwave rating
3.73 / 5.0
0.5
5.0
 
 
2,625 Ratings / 10 Reviews
#494 All-time
#14 for 2013
Stanley works in an office, monitoring data and pushing buttons when he is asked to. One day, he notices his screen has gone blank. He leaves his office, unsure about what to do, and finds that the building he's in is completely devoid of people.
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Title
As its stands currently, The Stanley Parable enjoys a fairly positive average score here, and yet the majority of the published reviews of it are negative. Neither of these facts surprise me: articulating why you hate The Stanley Parable would be very easy, but explaining why you think it's good is much tougher. Well, unless I was just going to say 'I've never laughed out loud so often at a game' - which is true, but it doesn't really tell you anything, does it? Some people laugh out loud at The Big Bang Theory. It's hardly the most reliable mark of quality.

Nevertheless, here's my effort: The Stanley Parable is clearly the result of a lot of time spent thinking deeply and critically about games. This is a deeply unfashionable thing to do. The vast majority of what passes for criticism in the world of gaming is laughably fawning and juvenile, and thinking deeply bears far too much of a resemblance to politics for comfort; even the vaguest hint of that is enough to get people's backs up. Were the discourse in gaming up to the standards of even popular music and television, let alone literature, cinema, or traditional visual arts, The Stanley Parable would not be unusual; there would be hundreds of attempts to grapple with what it means to be a game, to subvert expectations not just of genre but of the very form itself, to encourage the player to consider their own agency in the medium. (Consider that music remains music in an empty room, that a game cannot exist without a player by its very definition, and yet the role of the player has been examined less than the role of the listener.) (Consider also that the one genre of games that has done this sort of thing more than any other is interactive fiction - because it ultimately builds on the back of critical theories about literature, not gaming.) Thinking about how video games might do that is difficult, but progressing and developing art has always been difficult, and if games are to be taken seriously as art (and twenty years of talking to people about games leads me to believe that there is literally nothing gamers want more, are more united on, than this) then this has to happen eventually. That makes The Stanley Parable exciting, despite essentially being a man walking around an empty office. It'a a glimpse of where the weird offshoots to gaming that will come in the future might take us.

Some have taken that as being somehow anti-games, that picking apart the seams we take for granted in games must mean that the makers of The Stanley Parable hate games. If you wanted to, you could respond by pointing out that basically every composer that ever moved music forward was accused by somebody of being anti-music in their day - reactionaries gonna react. A more salient point, however, is that The Stanley Parable simply does not work at all unless the player understands the language of gaming. Imagine somebody playing this, having never played a game before; they'd follow the narrator's instructions, complete it in five minutes, and wonder what the point of it all was. They wouldn't understand why they should take a wrong turn, because they haven't spent years being taught by platformers and shooters that there's usually some kind of collectable or reward at the end of the road less travelled. They wouldn't even spot a lot of the wrong turns - it wouldn't occur to them that you could, say, drop off the llift onto the walkway in the cargo area, or that a designer would only ever clearly mark a door as 'broom closet' if they wanted you to notice it and try opening it. The ending they'd reach (one of about seventeen, depending on what you consider to be an ending) wouldn't even make sense to them, because it's a statement on the very act of playing a game. The Stanley Parable is satire, and like all satire of any worth, it comes from a place of love, or at least of true and deep understanding, of the material it's satirizing. It would not be possible to design this game, to know exactly where to drop its secrets and what visual clues the player will need to find them, if you hadn't spent years playing and enjoying video games. And it certainly would not be possible to include all these arch, knowing jokes about the world of gaming. Hell, I'm not convinced that it would be possible to write this game if you didn't have plenty of experience of gaming in general, not just video games; the narrator is essentially a frustrated AD&D dungeon master who has spent weeks planning this perfectly designed quest for his players only to see them tear it to shreds by doing the 'wrong' thing constantly. I have to imagine anybody who's ever spent time playing any tabletop RPG will recognize at least one person they know in this. I only ever acted as a DM once and I recognize myself in it. Maybe that's why I took so much enjoyment in trying to make him angry as possible, and why my favourite part of the game was probably the moment he threw his toys out of the pram completely and went 'fine, if you hate my game so much, go play Minecraft and Portal instead!'

There's a key word there: enjoyment. There is no denying that there is a certain amount of chin-stroking academic thought that goes into coming up with a concept like this, and also no denying that this can result in an end product that's very dry; there is no shortage of works that have broken down barrriers, perhaps even proven hugely influential, but have suffered from a major lack of charm and wit that has made them difficult to love. The Stanley Parable understands that the easiest way to negate that is to embrace the inherent silliness of experimentation, to crack wise about it. Having the freedom to truly break the game is one thing; breaking the narrator, laughing at his frustration and exasperation, is another, and the game wouldn't be half of what it is without his commentary. It's fun. No, really - walking around an empty office, figuring out all of its bizarre secrets and poking at things until you make a British guy angry, is fun. Even having somebody occasionally point out the repetitive misery of life and ruminate on how much genuine agency any of us ever have in any moment is fun. That's a very hard line to sell to anybody that's skeptical, but I'd argue that far from being the anti-game some would like to sell it as, The Stanley Parable comes closer to the spirit of the games of my childhood than most AAA games in the last ten years have.
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Appreciating Deconstruction in Games
I don't like attributing intentions or meaning to art. This is also not a discussion on what art is or isn't. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe edition released a couple of days ago. I played it, so here I want to briefly address why, for me, it was one of the most important gaming experiences ever, hopefully it will make sense.

Also note that this post talks about the new edition. The changes were significantly enough to change my perception of the game. Enjoy.

Burning Out
If you've ever followed the works and posts of Davey Wreden you might've come across The Beginner's Guide. It's not a game that many played (especially compared to The Stanley Parable), but it's way more useful to give some context on what's going on here. The game is told by the point of view of Davey himself, exploring the games of a fictional friend of him called Coda. The whole experience consists in navigating trough small interactive experiences with the commentary of the narrator.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Wreden's narration explains that he was inspired by many of Coda's game concepts, providing his own analysis on many of the themes he perceived to appear in Coda's games. However, Wreden had seen that many of the games are based on themes of prisons, isolation, and difficulty in communicating with others, and that eventually Coda's games took a darker tone and took much longer to produce, focusing even more strongly on dialogue that implied that game development was no longer a positive activity for Coda. Wreden felt concerned that Coda was feeling depressed and weighed down by game development, and took it upon himself to show some of Coda's game concepts to others to get feedback to help encourage Coda to develop more. However, this in turn led to Coda to draw into seclusion. At some point in 2011, Wreden believed Coda had stopped making games, until he was sent an email with a private link to a final game by Coda.

The game is supposed to be a window into Davey's life itself. The Beginner's Guide was created two years after The Stanley Parable was released (to almost universal acclaim). What happens when a project you did for fun turns out to be a way bigger thing than you expected? I don't know about Davey but I can talk from my experience: I have a genuine desire to make things for people, until these things actually start to get used. After that a feeling of paranoia, stress and inadequacy starts to fill the development experience. I'm not saying it's a universal feeling but it's what I felt in The Beginner's Guide. A relevant piece is this recent post about Monkey Island 3 by Ron Gilbert

Return to Monkey Island may not be the art style you wanted or were expecting but it's the art style I wanted.

When I started this game my biggest fear was Disney wouldn't let me make the game I wanted to make, but they have been wonderful to work with.

It's ironic that the people who don't want me to make the game I want to make are some of the hard core Monkey Island fans. And that is what makes me sad about all the comments


At one point a developer transitions from developing for himself to developing for others. I think this is a natural and necessary step, but I personally don't handle it well, and I think neither does Davey. The Beginner's Guide is a testament to that. And so is The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Edition (in part)

Delivering A Product
If you're not familiar with the timeline of the release of the game here's roughly how it went:

7 December 2018 / Announcement Trailer
27 November 2019 / First Delay Announcement (coming 2020)
2 December 2021 / Where is The Stanley Parable(coming 2022)
30 March 2022 / Release Date Trailer (out 4/27/22)

There's a recurrent theme in all these videos and it's something like "Please, stop. It's coming when it's ready". I might be wrong but I felt the fear of expectations coming from all the trailers. I find it hard to deliver something when no one is asking for it, I can't imagine how stressful it might be to deliver something of this order of magnitude, especially coming from a guy that made "The Beginner's Guide"

Dear Davey, thank you for your interest in my games. I need to ask you not to speak to me anymore. I wonder at times whether you think I am making these games for you. You've so infected my personal space that it's possible I did begin to plant solutions in my work somewhere, hidden between games. If there was an answer, a meaning, would it make you any happier? Would you stop taking my games and showing them to people against my wishes? Giving them something that is not yours to give? Violating the one boundary that keeps me safe? Would you simply let them be what they are?

Then The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Edition came out.

What makes a game?
The Stanley Parable is probably one of the few games that is less fun the less games you've played (I think another one is Undertale). I find this fascinating. For anyone that didn't play the original the game is a "Walking Simulator": a game where your only interaction is to walk around a map where something happens (usually a narrator talking about something). The core theme behind The Stanley Parable (at least the original one) is "player agency": the narrator narrates something and the game gives you a choice, either you follow what the narrator said or you don't, then the narrator reacts accordingly usually breaking the 4th wall. Davey wanted to discuss the illusion of free choice in games and how usually it's non existent. Is it actually "making a choice and leaving the main path" if that action is intended and scripted?

A person that never played a game in their life simply wouldn't get The Stanley Parable. They would just reach the end and move on. They wouldn't understand why they're supposed to "go trough the left door" and they probably wouldn't even see many of the alternate options because they wouldn't be familiar with standard video game tropes.

On the other hand if you played many games, if you're used to getting optional rewards from secondary paths, then everything suddenly makes sense (kinda). You have expectations, they're subverted. And it takes a lot of time and research and knowledge to understand what those expectations are. n What makes a game? Is it the act of playing it? Is it having a player? Can a game even be a game without anyone playing it? Does it need gameplay and what even is gameplay?

I think those are the questions posed by the original game, and in my opinion it works wonderfully. But at the time The Stanley Parable was just a novelty for me, the new edition changed everything.

New Paragraph: Ultra Deluxe Edition
[This part obviously contains spoilers]

How do you make a sequel? The Ultra Deluxe Edition deconstructs this whole concept. The name of the game implies it's just an enhanced version, but at one point in the game the whole main menu becomes "The Stanley Parable 2". You have a part in which the game explores some random ideas for what might be a sequel to the game, they all seem absurd, then they're thrown into the game and completely change how you experience it. I think the best example of this is "The Bucket"

At one point the narrator introduces "The Reassurance Bucket": an item that is supposed to help you with finding the right way, comfort and reassurance in your choices. Then all the original endings change acknowledging the bucket. I personally grew used to the bucket and for some bizarre reason formed an "emotional connection" with it. The game succeeded in delivering a completely new experience (something worthy of a sequel) by just adding a bucket and changing some lines of dialogue.

But the part that resonated with me the most was The Skip Button Ending:

The first time you get to experience the new content ends up with a disappointed narrator because of the lack of it. You go on a trip down memory lane with the narrator revisiting the original reviews for the first game and thinking about how great it was. Then suddenly Steam reviews appear. They're negative but bring points that some people would consider reasonable. The narrator reads some of them and agrees with the necessity of adding a "skip button" in the game to skip the rambling monologues (which, keep in mind, are the most important part of the game), and then he adds one.

You, as a player, now have the ability to skip dialogue, except that every time you do you skip more of it. 30 seconds, a minute, an hour, two weeks. You, as Stanley, as the character, stand still for the whole duration and don't notice the skip. The narrator on the other hand lives inside the game. Does a game exist without a player? He keeps talking, he feels alone, he begs you not to skip his dialogue.

As you skip more and more the narrator becomes unstable, rambles a lot and seems to become crazy. Then you have just silence. Centuries pass and you're left with a destroyed room, no one talking, a wasteland outside. You go out, walk a bit and then the game restarts, there was nothing to do either.


This links back to the beginning of my review. Whose game is The Stanley Parable? Is it Davey's? Is it the studio's or the players'? How does it feel to go against the wishes of your user base when you want to preserve artistic or functional integrity of a product? I felt desperation in that ending, and a desire to just do whatever one wants to do. I felt connected to it because I also develop small games, I also develop small products and whenever someone asks (or demands) a feature it's either

A) "Oh, I didn't think about it and it seems cool. I'll add it"
B) "Yes, it makes sense but it doesn't fit into my vision of the product"
C) "It's a terrible idea"

Sadly situation B and C are the most frequent ones, and the ones that sometimes put me off from developing something. I'm mentally afraid of them.

Conclusion
I find incredible how the new edition of The Stanley Parable managed to evoke so many feelings and thoughts in my mind just by reusing assets and volountarily revisiting an old game, modifying it. As stated in the introduction I'm not inserting meaning into Crow Crow Crow's work, but I'm grateful for what they delivered and for the food for thought they gave me. Ultra Deluxe Edition is something you should probably play, especially if you have experience with gaming otherwise it just might fall flat, but for $20 it's the best value for money I've ever had in the last years.
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thevinter 2022-05-18T16:21:42Z
2022-05-18T16:21:42Z
5.0
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The Stanley Bottle
These days I'm not superrr huge on giving scores to things - boiling down my entire experience of something like a game or album or movie to a single number on a 1-10 scale feels wrong and all it ever really does is draw scrutiny to the scores you gave other things that could be completely different in every aspect besides the medium it shares, because how do you review a game like this and give it a score? It's not something you'll judge by cutting edge graphics, deep and varied gameplay or whatever component of a typical video game you try and assess it by because that would be missing the point entirely - none of that really matters when looking at this game, and 'nothing really matters' is a phrase this game lives by

The best way to define this game is that it is a meta-narrative walking simulator where every path you walk will lead to an 'ending' and makes you think a lot about player choice/agency as a whole with a funny narrator that pretty much only lives beyond the 4th wall. Are you really making a choice if every thing you do has been scripted and written and voiced and programmed before you even did it since every path has been so carefully thought out already? Some of the endings here linger on this futility, some are funny joke endings and some are a mix of both. The 'broom closet' ending is a good example of this - the game doesn't really end here per se (generally an 'ending' will cause the game to reset) and all that happens here is the narrator berating you at the fact that you, the player, are choosing to stay within this broom closet instead of going out and experiencing all the game has to offer and that you are effectively pooping on the hard work of the developers by plonking yourself down in here. Experiencing all these endings and going on all these numerous branching paths is pretty much all this game offers and there isn't exactly one 'true' ending - regardless of the result of your actions, it will all cause the game to reset and bring you back to you staring at your computer in your office

Because of this though, the game needs to ensure that you actually want to engage in its content and prevent you from getting bored, having to essentially run through this loop every time and thank God that there is enough variance in both the endings and the narrator switching up his dialogue (and sometimes commenting on the previous ending you encountered) to keep you engaged. Sure at some point you will have to look up what else there is to do but even then it will not spoil the enjoyment you get from the new ending and can actually help you appreciate how many bases they covered in terms of the player thinking they can break the game and it actually leading to an amusing ending instead

As much as I enjoyed playing this game, it made me wonder just how reliant the player's enjoyment of this game is on how many games they have played/how invested they are into video games. I am like the prime audience for this considering how much I play games and think about how they work, but for the casual gamer I can imagine they would pick this up for like an hr or so, chuckle at a couple of endings and the narrator's quips then drop it and never play it again. Someone who isn't super knowledgeable on video game tropes would have the subversion of them in this game fly completely over their head, whereas I love the idea of having these hard-wired expectations I have from playing them so much get completely upended as I try to mess around with the game as much as possible and make funny British man get mad

The new stuff that the Ultra Deluxe edition brings is an unsubtle commentary on the idea of a sequel - from the notion that they are just soulless cash-grabs/rehashes to the problem of creating something different enough from the original to make something that can actually be called a new game whileee also simultaneously being similar enough that it stays true to the original's legacy and the shitstorm that can create (dumb twitter people loved complaining about GOW Ragnarok/Zelda TOTK/Spider-man 2). The Ultra Deluxe edition blatantly feeds into this in a hilarious manner by starting off with doors with flashing neon lights saying like 'new content' and 'NEW NEW CONTENT' and then entering a series of rooms that introduce you to the most hilariously disappointing features and content added which the narrator tries to make up to you. He offers you a 'reassurance bucket', which is literally just a bucket that you pick up and take with you on every run through if you choose to do so, which sounds like poo but actually ends up altering like every ending and some in very major ways such that it actually adds a lot of new and entertaining content especially for players returning to the game simply by you holding a bucket, not to mention the brand new endings it includes as well (the Bottom of the Mind Control Room Ending is amazing as well as the Infinite Hole one)

The absolute pièce de résistance of this game and one of my fav moments in gaming ever is the 'Skip Button Ending' tho. After being disappointed with the 'new content', the narrator decides to make himself feel better by entering a space where he literally goes through reviews of the game, which start off positive but later on he uncovers overwhelmingly negative Steam reviews that piss him off and he takes one particularly to heart critiquing the narrator not shutting up and just wanting to get on with the game. This flabbergasts him enough to implement a 'skip button' whereby every press of it will move time forward to alleviate this criticism of the narrator dragging on. It however has the unintended consequence of moving time forward more and more with each button press, and what starts of as a hilarious shtick soon devolves into actually kinda scary territory where you have no idea what each skip will lead to and the narrator wonders where the hell you were during each skip, and gets to the point where he goes insane and the facility is wiped off the earth and you are just left with an empty sandy wasteland as time has eroded everything around you. The amount of work that went into this one ending is insane, as you can just press that button at any point during the narrator's rambling and there's like 20-ish skips in total you can do so there's a whole bunch of dialogue you can just miss if you decide to press the button early and cut off his rambling which lasts a good while (that being the point of the button in the first place). It's one of the coolest things I've experienced in a video game and a great example of something only an interactive medium can achieve which can be said about most things you'll end up doing in this game

What a cool little game huh
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The best videogame interpretation of Hell - endless, irrational and ruthless.
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Crazystone 2023-12-23T11:50:11Z
2023-12-23T11:50:11Z
5.0
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Can't say this was the most fun game ever, but it definitely made me think a lot. This game just did what it wanted to do and didn't compromise. It's not over the top just to be over the top. It's over the top because it wants you to look at how goofy you are as a human being and how sometimes your choices don't matter. Is the narrator stupid? Is he a genius? Or is he just a series of prerecorded voice lines created for the sole purpose of making you perceive the game in a certain way.
I feel like this game is trying to make a metacommentary on gaming as a whole, but most gamers are too attached to their preconceived ideas of what a game is and what it is supposed to feel like that they miss what this game is trying to say. The fact that this game elicited a lot of negative responses proves the statements The Stanley Parable is making.
This isn't a perfect game, but it is an experience worth having.
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trevorphoenix777 2023-09-01T05:36:45Z
2023-09-01T05:36:45Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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[https://www.example.com/page/,Link to another site] - Link to another site

Linking
When you mention an album, artist, film, game, label, etc - it's recommended to link to the item the first time you mention it. Doing so will make it easier to search for your post and give it more visibility. To link an item, use the search box above, or find the shortcut that appears on the page that you want to link. You can customize the link name of shortcuts by using the format [Artist12345,Custom Name].
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Title
this game kickstarted my love for surreal media and i will forever cherish it
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[spoiler]text[/spoiler] - Text hidden with spoiler cover
[https://www.example.com/page/,Link to another site] - Link to another site

Linking
When you mention an album, artist, film, game, label, etc - it's recommended to link to the item the first time you mention it. Doing so will make it easier to search for your post and give it more visibility. To link an item, use the search box above, or find the shortcut that appears on the page that you want to link. You can customize the link name of shortcuts by using the format [Artist12345,Custom Name].
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Supported: YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Vimeo, Dailymotion
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nohzdyve 2023-01-03T16:31:09Z
2023-01-03T16:31:09Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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[tt]text[/tt] - fixed-width type
[color red]text[/color] - colored text (full list)
[spoiler]text[/spoiler] - Text hidden with spoiler cover
[https://www.example.com/page/,Link to another site] - Link to another site

Linking
When you mention an album, artist, film, game, label, etc - it's recommended to link to the item the first time you mention it. Doing so will make it easier to search for your post and give it more visibility. To link an item, use the search box above, or find the shortcut that appears on the page that you want to link. You can customize the link name of shortcuts by using the format [Artist12345,Custom Name].
Paste the address (or embed code) below and click "embed".
Supported: YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Vimeo, Dailymotion
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Catalog

Ca_Game The Stanley Parable 2024-05-30T15:15:34Z
2024-05-30T15:15:34Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Shivam The Stanley Parable 2024-05-30T11:42:15Z
2024-05-30T11:42:15Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
blobbb The Stanley Parable 2024-05-29T15:11:06Z
2024-05-29T15:11:06Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
ComunistaLusca The Stanley Parable 2024-05-29T10:15:26Z
2024-05-29T10:15:26Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
fatherkyle The Stanley Parable 2024-05-28T12:40:36Z
2024-05-28T12:40:36Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
MaestroOak The Stanley Parable 2024-05-28T05:13:29Z
2024-05-28T05:13:29Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
slobrew The Stanley Parable 2024-05-27T23:12:12Z
2024-05-27T23:12:12Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Enkerou The Stanley Parable 2024-05-22T10:18:48Z
2024-05-22T10:18:48Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
bruisesthatwontheal The Stanley Parable 2024-05-22T08:23:53Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2024-05-22T08:23:53Z
4.5
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
blockhead1110 The Stanley Parable 2024-05-21T19:39:50Z
2024-05-21T19:39:50Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
pinkultra The Stanley Parable 2024-05-21T05:45:27Z
2024-05-21T05:45:27Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
asdp The Stanley Parable 2024-05-19T18:53:05Z
2024-05-19T18:53:05Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
to play.
Media
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Comments

Rules for comments
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  • Keep your comments focused on the game. Don't post randomness/off-topic comments. Jokes are fine, but don't post tactless/inappropriate ones.
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  • Any spoilers should be placed in spoiler tags as such: [spoiler](spoiler goes here)[/spoiler]
Note: Unlike reviews, comments are considered temporary and may be deleted/purged without notice.
  • Previous comments (60) Loading...
  • boysdontcryBDC 2023-12-09 06:33:45.288433+00
    NO!!!!!! THIS…. IS…. STUPID!!!! YOU… ARE… A… BUCKET!!!!
    reply
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  • youarefuckingcrazy 2023-12-19 17:36:00.126662+00
    Removed by user
    This post was removed by the user.
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  • Dr_Chair 2024-01-20 09:19:30.07463+00
    I instinctively read criticism of the Ultra Deluxe edition as RP of the narrator criticizing himself within the Ultra Deluxe edition.. I can even hear it in his voice
    reply
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  • BitterAndThenSome 2024-01-30 23:17:06.605161+00
    "the ultra deluxe is godawful", yeah, the narrator is UNFUNNYYYYY
    reply
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  • vivus 2024-02-19 01:59:33.849606+00
    finally played ultra deluxe after wanting to play it for years and years since it first got announced and i was completely thrilled with it, really happy
    reply
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  • LuraEternal 2024-03-30 13:06:31.386888+00
    It was Skyrim! It was Persona 3!
    reply
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  • Cognizant_Koala 2024-05-15 13:20:17.635092+00
    Wait til the Narrator finds the Glitchwave reviews
    reply
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