Clever writing, superb narration and meaningful satire prop up an otherwise weak game.
As I sit here mulling over the meaning behind The Stanley Parable's parables I'm dismayed to find an overall depressing and pessimistic undercurrent. After playing all endings except the "Art Ending," I look at the big picture and it seems to me that the game is saying something along the lines of "Follow all of 'The Narrator's' commands or else something bad will surely happen to you." "The Narrator" being interchangeable with "The Man" or God or any authority figure. Even the "Heaven Ending" is twisted, albeit humorously, to be unappealing to the player.
At a more surface level The Stanley Parable is parodying modern life, particularly work life, as well as video games themselves. It is here that the game shines and earns the praise it's received. I appreciate the jabs it takes at the mindless routines that consume much of our lives. Getting us to see our faults while simultaneously making us laugh is this game's greatest strength. However, as I stated in the previous paragraph, what happens within the game when you try to break out of the preset path seems to discourage the very same type of action that the game's satire encourages. This makes for a muddled message that makes me question the clarity and depth of the game. Perhaps I'm focusing too much on the real life issues when they meant it to be foremost a critique of modern game design where you often can't deviate substantially from the narrow narrative path.
Excellent voice acting and witty comedy make the first few hours with the game very enjoyable. The way the game is designed to be replayed many times to explore different choices ultimately catches up with it as the repetition grows stale. To be fair, they did a lot to mitigate this by speeding up certain sections or by changing up what the Narrator says in successive playthroughs. It took me 5 hours to complete nearly everything the game has to offer (excluding 1 ending that requires 4 hours of ridiculous tedium). That time includes a significant amount of repetition and a short time on the web checking for any endings or achievements I had missed. Being that short I can't call this a good value for your gaming dollar.
6/10 and a weak "thumbs up."