The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Xbox review — An expanded, evolved narrative masterpiece

This isn't The Stanley Parable of 2013, and it's even harder to define than before.

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Hero Image
(Image: © Crows Crows Crows)

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Hero Image

Source: Crows Crows Crows (Image credit: Source: Crows Crows Crows)

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe openly defies traditional attempts to review it. It's an abstract, convoluted narrative adventure that begs to be described with a long string of intricate, metaphor-laden words, yet constantly subverts attempts to do so; it challenges players to label it, and then paints over the label any time their back is turned. The Stanley Parable is both a game that is excruciatingly self-aware and is not a game that ponders, "If I am not, then what am I?"

Others have managed to capture the essence of The Stanley Parable more eloquently than I'll be able to, but I've been assigned the dubious task of reviewing it. My immediate advice? Don't read this, or any other review. If you're even remotely interested in what The Stanley Parable could offer you, go and play it; just be prepared to have your expectations consistently proven wrong. Even if you played the original game, understand that "Ultra Deluxe" is not just a marketing term and encapsulates a much more significant addition of content than any of the hype leading up to release would have you believe.

2013's The Stanley Parable was a narrative masterpiece that won over the hearts and minds of thousands of players; the Ultra Deluxe expansion builds upon its predecessor in innumerable ways. At points, you may even believe you're playing "The Stanley Parable 2" rather than an updated version of the original.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Crows Crows Crows. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe — What's good

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Screenshot Image

Source: Crows Crows Crows (Image credit: Source: Crows Crows Crows)

What is The Stanley Parable? Would you believe a generic synopsis, which describes the game in the vaguest possible terms, with no regard for or insight into what lies quivering expectantly behind them? Then The Stanley Parable is a story about Stanley, a nobody of no import, attempting to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of his coworkers. If you would instead turn to the general consensus of The Stanley Parable, you may find yourself viewing the game as a satirical commentary on the nature of choices in video games, on narrative tropes, and the video game phenomenon known as "ludonarrative dissonance."

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CategoryThe Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
TitleThe Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
DeveloperCrows Crows Crows
PublisherCrows Crows Crows
GenreNarrative adventure
Game size5.8GB
Xbox versionXbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Playtime8+ hours
Launch dateApril 27, 2022
Launch price$25
Xbox Game PassNo
Reviewed onXbox Series X

Personally, I believe The Stanley Parable is a game about endings. After all, the game is positively teeming with them; you can comfortably describe The Stanley Parable as being possessed of an "infestation of endings." It seems that every choice you make hides another ending just around the corner — ultimately, however, every ending leads you back to the beginning. Every choice is meaningless, every ending amounts to nothing; "The end is never." Some endings are in themselves beginnings, which lead to yet another series of endings, which then branch into new beginnings, until you're lost on an hours-long tangent so far off the path you were initially set on, futilely following the introspective, postulating ramblings of your ever-present, always-charming Narrator.

The Stanley Parable is a game about choices and endings.

Those who played the original release of The Stanley Parable on PC in 2013 will be familiar with all of this. Those people may be wondering what has changed with this expanded re-release, this "Ultra Deluxe" edition. Is this the same virtual experience they already explored in the past? Is this simply a marketing push to accompany The Stanley Parable's long-awaited release on consoles, complete with a minor visual facelift and inconsequential additions?

The marketing leading up to the release of The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe was entertaining, but hardly did the title justice. "Ultra Deluxe" is an apt moniker, as hours upon hours of additional content have been injected into The Stanley Parable. Crows Crows Crows expanded, added, shifted, and changed numerous parts of the original narrative masterpiece, and it shows. There are more choices, more endings, more satire and comedy, and more reasons to poke and prod at the Narrator and ruin their carefully constructed story.

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Screenshot Image

Source: Crows Crows Crows (Image credit: Source: Crows Crows Crows)

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Screenshot Image (Image credit: Crows Crows Crows)

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Screenshot Image (Image credit: Crows Crows Crows)

Source: Crows Crows Crows

Doubling down on what made the 2013 release so unique, the Ultra Deluxe edition also comments on other aspects of the video game industry, like aggressive monetization practices and the incessant push for "more, more more;" the overwhelming power of nostalgia and how it obscures any attempt to create something new; the unhealthy pursuit of perfection and subsequent obsession over negative feedback; the expectation that video games have to become bigger, better, and bolder over time continually; and much more beyond that.

Kevan Brighting returns as the quixotic, constantly piqued, perpetually charming Narrator, and their performance is just as mesmerizing and alluring as in 2013's The Stanley Parable. Brighting delivers every word of The Stanley Parable's indelible writing with impeccable inflection and enunciation, and never fails to draw you into what they're saying. The Stanley Parable couldn't exist without the Narrator, and I'm ecstatic to say that Brighting is at their very best in Ultra Deluxe.

The best way to experience The Stanley Parable is to play it yourself.

I won't spoil anything I saw in The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. Even if I just focused on new content I noticed, this review could easily be thousands of words longer — and it wouldn't be enough. The best way to experience The Stanley Parable is to play it yourself, so you can witness the direct consequences of your choices and attempt to understand why things are happening. There's an insurmountable amount of chaos and absurdity, and very little of it is likely to fit inside your idea of a "video game."

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe doesn't just include additional content. There are more accessibility and localization options that invite new players to experience it (there's still not a ton, but it is an improvement), and the game in general appears to look and perform better. It's certainly not a visual showcase, even on Xbox Series X, but I never had any complaints about the playing experience in the Ultra Deluxe edition.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe — What's not good

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Screenshot Image

Source: Crows Crows Crows (Image credit: Source: Crows Crows Crows)

While the Ultra Deluxe edition may be a more considerable expansion than many may have initially suspected, it is still, at its base, "more The Stanley Parable." If you played the original and didn't enjoy what you found, you'll most likely feel the same about this version. If you're expecting to play a video game, complete with objectives, a variety of gameplay mechanics and overlapping systems, and an actual all-encompassing story to wrap everything up, you won't find any of that in The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe.

Don't expect anything from The Stanley Parable — just explore.

None of this is a con against the game — not really. The Stanley Parable wouldn't be what it is with any of those more traditional video game elements. It is something to bear in mind, however, if you're considering playing it. The Stanley Parable is a "walking simulator," as some may describe it, and relies entirely on the player's willingness to embrace absurdity, and boldly defy the game and the Narrator at every turn.

If you allow yourself to be led and follow the "main story," you can complete The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe in a matter of minutes. If you careen off the beaten path and forge your own route (or at least the illusion of your own route), The Stanley Parable can keep you occupied for, easily, more than a dozen hours. It is a narrative adventure, a drama-laden trek through the life of Stanley and the musings of the omnipresent Narrator. Don't expect anything; explore, listen to, laugh at, and ponder The Stanley Parable.

The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe — Should you play it?

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe Hero Image

Source: Crows Crows Crows (Image credit: Source: Crows Crows Crows)

Should you play The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe? A seemingly simple question with a purportedly equally simply answer, but the reality isn't as clear cut. This is one of my favorite games of 2022, and it is an experience that will stick with me for a very long time. Without a shadow of a doubt, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is one of the best Xbox games released in years, and accomplishes with aplomb absolutely everything it set out to do.

The Ultra Deluxe version is a marked and substantial improvement over the already-incredible original, and it's available, for the first time, on console platforms. It's astounding how good this game is, when you effectively only walk around and occasionally press the "A" button. It is insightful and clever, genuinely hilarious, and will surprise you at every turn.

Still, a "Call of Duty" this is not. This is a game that actively disregards much of what makes a game a "video game," and that alone is polarizing. There are no puzzles to solve, objectives to complete, and no sense of accomplishment for having "finished" the game; The Stanley Parable is an experience, and it will give you as much as you're willing to put in.

If any of what I've said even remotely piques your interest, go and play The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe right now. Support the developers and their awesome work, the culmination of years of planning and iteration. Be the latest person to enter the perspective of Stanley in Room 427, to hear the encouraging voice of the Narrator, and to attempt to understand why the "end is never."

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.