5 Days a Stranger

5 Days a Stranger is a videogame. Included in this node is a review for someone who hasn't played this game and a review for someone who has finished this game.

Synopsis
5 Days a Stranger is an utterly fantastic point and click adventure game that was made in 2003 by Fully Ramblomatic. You can download this game free from www.fullyramblomatic.com , or from one of the many gaming sites such as Abandonia.

This game was an experiment by Ben Croshaw to use the AGS engine (Adventure Game Studio) to create a horror game with dramatic character development. Until this work, Ben had only designed comedic games such as The Rob Blanc Trilogy.

You play a cat burglar named Trilby, who has just broken into the DeFoe Mansion. He has been locked inside with four other people by some invisible intelligence.


WARNING: the graphics in this game include a few gory cutscenes.

A Review for Those New to the Game

Graphics
The graphics are worse than Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and could be placed somewhere between King's Quest 4 and King's Quest 5.
Although the minimum level of graphics I need for a game to be enjoyable is quite low, the average gamer might find the graphics in 5 Days a Stranger lacking. In particular, the character Jim appears almost undead in a few scenes of the game, and the characters' faces are quite pixelated. However, as far as I am concerned, the graphics of this game do not hinder the author from telling his story, and most importantly, they do not ruin the amazing atmosphere that 5 Days a Stranger builds.

Gameplay
As far as death is concerned, 5 Days a Stranger is well built in that it can not be put into a "you ate the blueberry pie" style lock (in other words, you can not end up in an unwinnable position because you exhausted an item or did a sequence of actions out of order).
However, it is possible to die in this game, so keep on your toes and save when things look dangerous!
A few of the puzzles in this game are easy, a few are annoying and disconnected clickfests. After one has completed the game, he or she will see that it is a result of Ben Croshaw forcing himself into disjointed gameplay because of a powerful plot device he uses. Without a walkthrough, the game is about 5-6 hours in length.

Plot
This game's plot starts off with a bang and slowly degenerates as the game continues. The plot has a few minor holes which do not noticeably hamper the mood it creates. A fan of a game Dreamweb would enjoy this game.

Atmosphere
This is where the game truly shines. Despite having dated graphics and a few questionable puzzles, the atmosphere of this game is to die for. I was simply amazed by the level of claustrophobia, suspense, and outright terror that a point and click adventure game made with an Adventure Game Creator gave me. Many times, I found myself rushing through the puzzles so I could see the next horrifying dream sequence. Even the dialogue in this game managed to frighten me.

A Review for Those Who Have Finished the Game

Caution! Spoilers ahead!

What Worked
In one of the most powerful scenes of the game, Trilby wakes up and walks into the foyer, only to see all of his new friends horribly butchered. Just as he begins to panic, the door swings open and he sees a hulking form wearing a welding mask and a bloodcovered leather apron, holding a machete. He screams at the figure, who rips off his mask to reveal - himself.

During this cutscene, the player finds himself clicking frantically to try to force Trilby to flee the room. Of course, it is only a dream. Trilby wakes up screaming, and you are given control of him. Now, if that wasn't scary enough, I believe the most shocking dialogue in any adventure game tops this off.

You have Trilby walk around the house, and sure enough he bumps into Jim. You ask where the others are, and he explains that the BBC correspondant is upstairs in the library. You head up there, and the conversation that follows is simply spectacular.

What Went Wrong

Ben Croshaw painted himself into a corner while designing this game and it shows. At one point, you lose your inventory excluding two items. Because of this, items critical to winning the game could not be placed in any scene where you had access to them before your inventory is (nearly) cleared. One such item is a pair of scissors you need to use to cut away a piece of leather from the apron. The scissors for this puzzle simply materalize on a drawer in the living room. Even more annoying, the machette can not be substitued for the scissors in this puzzle - it has to be the scissors for your character to cut the apron. The scissors themselves can be difficult to notice, and will result in a clickfest even if you use a walkthrough!

Another flaw in the game was one of the basic premises. Why on Earth couldn't the players have broken open a window? I thought it would have been neat if AJ died trying to break out of the house, but it would have violated the "you don't see the paranormal while it's happening till the end" rule.

If you continue on the series and play 7 Days a Skeptic, you will find it doesn't suffer from either of these two flaws.

Looking for More?

If at the end of this game you find yourself wishing you were in a dangerous and alienating environment, scrambling for survival and trying to unravel a mystery - I have good news! Fullyramblomatic made a semi-sequel to this game named 7 Days a Skeptic. It too is free and available for download a www.fullyramblomatic.com.

An unrelated game that has a similar alienating and scary feel that I would recommend to someone who was entranced by the atmosphere of the 5 days and 7 days games is Dreamweb. Read this excellent node and give the game a shot. Well, I hope I got you to play this game or I warned you away from this game (if you don't like games without flashy graphics). I have to admit, it is a flawed but powerful game. Its sequel doesn't fall prey to the same sort of holes as the first game, but isn't quite as novel.

5 Days a Stranger is a freeware horror adventure game released on September 29, 2003. It was designed and written by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw (better known for his more recent work, Zero Punctuation). The game was created using the Adventure Game Studio engine, and was extremely well-received by the AGS community, receiving five awards. Due to the reception, Yahtzee made a series of sequels which would eventually become known as the Chzo Mythos -- however, these sequels are very different from this game, featuring a more Lovecraftian style of horror, while this one is more like a simple ghost story.

Backstory

Sir Clarence DeFoe, a lawyer who studied at Warwick University, was the youngest member of the noble DeFoe family line. Having recently married the love of his life, Julia Swanson, Clarence used his law experience to engage in a lengthy court battle to prove his right to inherit the DeFoe family estate. The couple eventually won the battle and moved into the house, planning to start renovations on the 19th Century manor.

Built by the colonial explorer Sir Roderick DeFoe, the house had been home to he and his wife Belinda for many years before the birth of their child, Matthew. Unfortunately, Belinda died during delivery of the baby, and the manor became a depressing place as Matthew was raised by various nannies and butlers. Roderick lived in perpetual emotional distress, forever haunted by the loss of his love. Then, on Matthew's 15th birthday, both men were found dead of unexplained causes. Since then, no occupants have ever lived in the mansion for long without dying. Rumours about the DeFoe estate circulated over the years. Many TV programmes were produced, aired on the BBC, to "investigate" the apparently haunted property.

The newcomers were no different. Shortly after inheriting the property in 1993, police discovered their bodies: the once-beautiful Julia marred by the grotesque stabbing wound of a machete, and the noble Clarence found hanged from a tree in the backyard. It was declared a murder-suicide, and the manor was once again locked up.

Hearing the news, the gentlemanly cat burglar known only as Trilby decides to break into the abandoned home and claim some valuables. Once inside, he meets the other four people who decided to do the same thing. Only problem is, the house won't let them leave. And pretty soon, one of them turns up dead.

Can you figure out the mystery of DeFoe Manor before more people have to lose their lives over it?

Development

This information is taken from the special edition's commentary mode as well as forum posts by Yahtzee. Please contact me if you spot any mistakes, as I've not had the opportunity to interview the man himself.

5 Days a Stranger started out based on an unreleased novella written by Yahtzee. The story was a crossover containing characters from other stories he'd written and took place on a space station. Eventually Yahtzee scrapped the setting and moved the story to a mansion instead to be less ridiculous (ironically he later used the space station idea in the sequel to this game, 7 Days a Skeptic). Trilby was always Trilby, but the other characters were changed for the final game because Yahtzee didn't want to kill them off, making the final product into something that's not even remotely a crossover.

The game's music is shamelessly yanked from RPG Maker 2000. Sound design in general is fairly scarce in the game because Yahtzee at that time did not know of any good sound resources (he stated once in a forum post that he wanted to go back in time and leave the 2003 version of himself a link to freesound.org). The whispering that follows you throughout the mansion is Yahtzee's own voice saying two statements over one another, pitched up and down.

The killer in the game is mainly inspired by Jason Voorhees, though his apron and welding mask are taken from the killer in the movie Buried Alive. Many of the scare tactics used throughout are inspired by the classic survival horror game Clock Tower for Super Nintendo. The "Day X" screens were taken from The Shining.

In recent years, Yahtzee has admitted that Trilby in this game is an author insert (or Mary Sue), and that part of his motivation for making Trilby's Notes and 6 Days a Sacrifice came from a desire to de-power Trilby and make him a more developed character with actual flaws. The results of this will be especially obvious to you if you play Art of Theft before 5 Days a Stranger, because that game (made in 2007) is a prequel to this one and (as of 2012) is the only game to feature a better-written Trilby before the life-altering events of the Chzo Mythos. The change is subtle but significant, and proves definitively that Yahtzee has improved his writing skills over the years since this game was made.

Review (no spoilers!)

5 Days a Stranger has its ups and downs.

The point and click interface is pretty dreadful. Your basic actions (walking, talking, etc.) are buttons in the bottom-left of the screen, which you have to select before doing anything. This causes you to repeatedly throw the mouse cursor across the entire width of your monitor during the course of the game, which gets irritating quickly. Using items is a constant annoyance due to the poorly-designed menu you need to use to do it. Most areas in the game will at least let you walk without needing to explicitly switch to the walk action, but not all of them -- trying to use your hands to walk away from the backyard, for example, will cause Trilby to scold you about how he doesn't want to get dirt under his fingernails. It's a big mess of a control scheme. Thankfully these issues were fixed in the sequels.

The actual gameplay isn't much better. It really reminds you of why adventure games are a dead genre nowadays. You need to traipse back and forth across the entire mansion over and over and over again during the course of your five days in this game, with Yahtzee almost-always placing two consecutive steps at opposite ends of the map. In the commentary he actually calls this "challenging", but it's clearly not: it's highly obnoxious. Given his current status as a professional video game reviewer, I suspect he's since learnt exactly what's wrong with this type of gameplay. Backtracking constantly isn't fun, and events often need to be done in a specific order or with specific items for no apparent reason (utilizing good old-fashioned adventure game logic).

Graphics are pretty bad, but passable. Notably, the establishing shot of DeFoe Manor looks literally nothing at all like the actual interior of the manor. Yahtzee seems to do this with all of his games, though, for whatever reason; maybe he just really hates accurate long shots.

But all griping aside, the game is still really fun and worth your time. Why? Because it's an adventure game, and everyone knows what adventure games are and were always really about: the story, the characters, and the atmosphere, three things which 5 Days a Stranger does excellently.

Let yourself get immersed in the game's environment -- preferably late at night with all your lights off -- and you'll have an unforgettable experience. The music and sounds aren't as frequent or as fitting as the last two games in the series (which have original soundtracks specifically composed for them), but it's still really effective. The random footsteps and eerie whispering that seems to follow you through the house -- that moment when you figure out that there's more to the mansion than you previously saw -- any time you're literally inches away from death! -- it's all very well done and gets you to the edge of your seat even with the bad graphics. That's something to be proud of, and it's the thing that got people playing this game back in 2003 and made it spawn so many sequels.

5 Days a Stranger is very poorly designed, but worth playing regardless. What Yahtzee lacked in game design experience back in 2003 is more than made up for with an interesting story, decently-developed characters, and some genuine scares. For the wallet-denting price tag of zero dollars, you really couldn't ask for much better.

Download 5 Days a Stranger here.

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