Our Review of The Beginner’s Guide

The Stanley Parable is an awesome, must play game by Davey Wreden. Smart, insightful, funny, the game really made you think about the relationship between the game player and the game designer. It made us reflect on all the times we'd fought against the path the game laid out for us, or tried to glitch the game in some bizarre way. We hadn't really thought about the way a game requires the player and designer to work together, the designer creating an interesting story and the gamer dutifully following the narrative path laid out, without ever straying too far from the path or looking too closely at the invisible walls. The follow up, The Beginner's Guide, is an even more abstract use of gaming as the narrative itself, rather than using gaming to tell a story. You're never asked to pretend you're not playing a game in The Beginner's Guide; you're supposed to reflect on the invisible walls, rather than ignore them. For all of its innovation, however, we couldn't help but wish it was more fun to play.

The Stanley Parable was a brilliantly insightful game that was still a lot of fun to play. The Beginner's Guide just isn't a whole lot of fun. In the Guide, you play as an unnamed protagonist being guided through a series of games created by a mysterious designer whom your narrator enormously respects and wants you to understand. So, to be clear, you're playing a game designed by a guy whose work your narrator adores and is attempting to help you appreciate. You play through the designer Coda's games while the narrator comments on how unusual and brilliant they are, particularly when Coda designs a game with no escape or ending. It's an interesting experience, like walking through a museum with a guide pointing out the brilliance of various works of art.

The problem is, of course, that the games aren't terribly fun to play. By design, they're all halfway done and never meant to be enjoyable in the conventional sense, which makes them interesting (and sometimes fascinating) but not really all that fun. The graphics are a fun throwback to the mid-90's FPS games out there and there's some fun nostalgia in that. Certainly, there are some memorable moments, like when you encounter these bizarre TV-headed characters or when you repeat a particular section over and over again with minor variation. At the end of the day, however, you're playing through a series of half-made games to better understand a game designer whom your narrator thinks is brilliant. It is probably the only time we've played a game which hasn't asked us pretend like we aren't playing a game which is pretty cool. On the other hand, these games you play aren't great.

To be honest, I may not be smart enough to fully understand this game. If I had more experience in game design - or maybe just a better education - I could understand more about what the game's trying to tell me. I think I got the Stanley Parable just fine, but the Beginner's Guide is more complicated, less fun, and more difficult to recommend. I really did enjoy the fact that you play the game as a gamer playing a game, unlike every other game which asks you to pretend that you are a Space Marine or questing adventurer. The game has a lot to say about the way games teach us to solve problems and the dangers of applying that logic to other people. Definitely the use of gaming in this manner - playing through a person's game to discover more about that person - is a brilliant device. The smartest people out there will like it, people who like innovative game design will really appreciate it, but most folks will find themselves drifting back to The Stanley Parable.

GRAPHICS: 70

The graphics are appropriate for what the game's trying to do but they still aren't that pretty to look at. It would be nice to see something graphically impressive to balance out the fact that the game isn't all that pretty. Voicework is pretty good though.

GAMEPLAY: 75

The gameplay is restricted by design. Again, the game is the narrative, and you play through simplistic, half-formed games experiencing very basic gameplay with a running commentary track. This is super interesting conceptually, but not a lot of fun to play.

REPLAYABILITY: 50

I can see showing this game to other people and I think the innovation in this game is something I'll want to show my friends. But I'll probably never play it again on my own. Though I may play through The Stanley Parable again.

OVERALL: 70

If you enjoy innovative, thoughtful titles, then this game is something you may enjoy checking out.  Meanwhile, we're going to pass the time waiting for the next title from Davey Wreden by playing though The Stanley Parable a few more times.