The Beginner's Guide Review: Wreden, Begin Again

Davey Wreden's follow-up to The Stanley Parable attempts to loosely tie together disparate game sketches, but fails to live up to its predecessor. Our review.

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Davey Wreden, creator of the critically acclaimed Stanley Parable, has finally produced his follow-up: The Beginner's Guide, or a selection of deep cuts from amateur game developer "Coda's" collection of unfinished titles created via the Source Engine. For $8, it amounts to what is essentially a how-to in game design for spectators masquerading as a fully-voiced personal narrative that overanalyzes nearly every single decision and design choice by "Coda." However, this sophomore effort is a sadly self-indulgent exercise that requires little thought or little input from the player to complete.

The Stanley Parable was a fascinating exercise in interactive fiction for a glittering few moments, and anyone who played it could understand why. After winning over the hearts and minds of critics and those who continually push for narrative legitimacy in a medium that's already proven time and time again its ability to weave believable and enjoyable stories, it was content to exist in a vacuum alone. It was a gem to be placed on a pedestal. It didn't have much to say, but it was an experience that begged at least one completed run-through, if only to be able to discuss it with friends. The Beginner's Guide attempts to recapture this magic, but fails.

Commentary Track

The Beginner's Guide follows narrator Wreden as he takes players on a guided tour through several unfinished projects created by an acquaintance named Coda. These range from large rooms with interconnecting passageways, a staircase that slows you down as you ascend it, a prison that was said to lock players in a cell for an hour before releasing them, and several other annotated works that Coda never saw fit to complete. As such, they're barely playable, save for a few moments of interactivity here and there via the typical WASD and mouse combo.

But this isn't about playing the games so much as experiencing them, as you'll find out from the very beginning. As Wreden offers insight into what the player is seeing onscreen, he often waxes poetic about the hidden implications of Coda's creations, evidenced in the first level, a Counter-Strike map. Coda has strewn several boxes across the map and Wreden is quick to interpret them as deliberate attempts to give what would otherwise feel like an ordinary game map a more human touch.

Perhaps that is what Coda meant, but who's to say? Why should we care? From the beginning of the interactive experience these suggestions come off as ham-fisted and contrived. While there's nothing wrong with searching for deeper meaning in the ins and outs of everyday life, let alone game design, none of Wreden's statements sound authentic, or even as though they were culled from a different person, which "Coda" likely was not.

Every new area merits a new explanation. Glitching out and rising above an unfinished skybox in the first level is related to a transcendent experience, as Wreden describes how Coda must have been fascinated with the way the view makes you feel "small." A door-opening puzzle that is re-used over and over in Coda's games is symbolic of "shutting the door on your past" and moving forward. Surely it couldn't have been an uninspired puzzle that was simple to design? At one point you play a “game” that forces you to only walk backward through several doorways while you take note of various messages on the walls around you.

Even that merits a long, drawn-out rumination on why it’s innovative. It’s not. It’s pretentious.

Director's Cuts

Unfortunately, the entire game is riddled with these anecdotes, sentiments that are meant to feel deeply personal and at times depressing, and the ideas that permeate The Beginner's Guide are those of a creator who desperately wants to communicate a message that's far more complex than it needs to be. It's Wreden attempting to weave a story that's very obviously an amalgam of ideas created specifically for this game, which felt extremely forced and silly by the end of it all, especially with a final chapter that made some rote and indecipherable decisions.

It's very clear the type of audience Wreden felt he was catering to by creating a two-hour experience that you can interact with as a mock-game, which can leave you feeling alienated unless you choose to believe there really is another person in the story beyond Wreden himself with dual personalities.

There's a place for this type of content, but not so much within the stratosphere of gaming where general audiences go to find their next addiction. It's a project that's more in-line with media you'd give a loved one or a colleague you'd like to share ideas with. Obviously a traditional game isn't what The Beginner's Guide set out to be at all, but it doesn't quite flourish as an offbeat art piece either. Charging an admission fee for what is essentially an explainer reel with jumbled tidbits of mundane unfinished game ideas is ludicrous, even in the name of thinking outside the box in terms of game design. Play The Stanley Parable instead.


This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. The Beginner’s Guide is available now on Steam for $7.99.

Senior Editor

Fueled by horror, rainbow-sugar-pixel-rushes, and video games, Brittany is a Senior Editor at Shacknews who thrives on surrealism and ultraviolence. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake and check out her portfolio for more. Like a fabulous shooter once said, get psyched!

Review for
The Beginner's Guide

3

Pros

  • A handful of interesting ideas you'll interact with

Cons

  • Pretentious, overbearing commentary
  • Rote narrative
  • Extremely short

From The Chatty

  • reply
    October 2, 2015 8:30 AM

    Brittany Vincent posted a new article, The Beginner's Guide Review: Wreden, Begin Again

    • reply
      October 2, 2015 9:06 AM

      Does this even have "game" elements? Sounds like a video

      • reply
        October 2, 2015 9:09 AM

        It does, but just barely. You can move around using the WASD keys and mouse, but there's very little interaction with your environments save for rudimentary puzzles and guided exploration.

      • reply
        October 2, 2015 10:44 AM

        It's as "game-y" as Stanley Parable.

    • reply
      October 2, 2015 10:20 AM

      I agree with this review.. I watched my wife "play" it yesterday and it is total drivel.

      Already seeing glowing user reviews everywhere about how people who don't like this must be idiots or just don't "get it." I've got a degree in Philosophy, so I'm at least decent at separating bullshit from genius and this... this is bullshit.

      • reply
        October 2, 2015 10:46 AM

        Is it Psych 101 stuff attempting to blow our minds?

        • reply
          October 2, 2015 11:02 AM

          Essentially. Pick a psychological issue that's bothering you - say you feel stuck at a dead end job. Instead of talking to someone about it or actually changing your situation, you go home and make an insipid unplayable game that is literally nothing but dead ends. An acquaintance of yours takes that game and narrates it like it's a masterpiece of quirky indie game design. Repeat ad nauseum.

      • reply
        October 2, 2015 1:05 PM

        Oh gee! You got a degree in Phil! You must know "exactly" what you're talking about. Get off your high horse you ignorant twat.

    • reply
      October 2, 2015 10:32 AM

      Hmm I really enjoyed The Stanley Parable for the humor. I'm fairly sure I couldn't take a similar game without it. It's ideas about agency or free-will or whatever were okay but ultimately not very compelling.

      • reply
        October 2, 2015 11:20 AM

        Stanley Parable felt like an aimless version of Portal to me. I chuckled a bit, but I don't think I'll be revisiting it after playing for an hour.

    • reply
      October 2, 2015 10:43 AM

      3/10? Harsh. I just finished it and it was quite thought-provoking. Still chewing it over.

      • reply
        October 5, 2015 1:38 PM

        I'm firmly in Camp Austin on this one. As a creative-type person who tends to not release my 'works', I got really attached to The Beginner's Guide. I keep describing it to people as "this game that becomes a weird view of the roles and responsibilities between an artist and the audience" but that is just my fast-and-dirty way to gloss over the other weird sub-threads of the game that I found far more interesting.

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      October 2, 2015 1:04 PM

      Game to short? Not like its predecessor? Pretentious? What a worthless review.

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        October 2, 2015 1:09 PM

        I think the argument that it's too short is unnecessary. It's 2015, games don't have to provide time-based value as long as they're engaging and worth thinking about during and after.

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          October 2, 2015 1:22 PM

          Here's the thing. Given it's development time, it's only natural the game would be this short. The game is as long as it needed to be, without wasting too much of the players time. It's like a movie, where you play this in one good sitting (not that I'm comparing the two any further) to get the most out of the experience. It sets out what it's supposed to do and has no bearing to it's "predecessor," if you would even call it that considering they're two different games to set out to do differing things. To say a game is pure drivel and pretentious nonsense as a euphemism for, "I don't get it," is something that I just can't stand.

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          October 2, 2015 1:28 PM

          Especially when most people seem to have no problem paying more to see a movie. I actually prefer shorter games because I don't have time to finish anything else.

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        October 2, 2015 2:57 PM

        Not sure how anything with valid criticisms is worthless, but hey, to each his own.