5 Days a Stranger (Windows)

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Written by  :  Christina Nordlander (26)
Written on  :  Aug 02, 2005
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Trilby. Rocks.

The Good

I could ramble on about it for quite some time. The graphics are not groundbreaking, but quite nice. The setting reminded me more than a bit of "Maniac Mansion", to which it can be compared with some justice: "5 Days a Stranger" may not be as rich or imaginative, but it wins by miles in the atmosphere department.

The characters. Trilby is the kind of character I would have wanted to marry when I was younger. His witty remarks and unshakeable style are high points of the game. The other characters are more or less well-developed, certainly no one-adjective stereotypes, but even so they pale slightly next to Trilby. The dialogue is generally good to very good.

The greatest kudos, however, goes to the atmosphere. To bring up "Maniac Mansion" again, there is a similar finely-balanced mixture of humour and horror in both games. However, "Maniac Mansion" (in my opinion) is a comedy game with horror/science fiction elements; "5 Days a Stranger" is a horror game with some humour. I am not going to call it comic relief, because most of the time, the acerbic wit actually serves to sharpen the sense of fear. There are some scenes (notably when Trilby is locked in the shed) where comedy and horror seem to weld together into a fragile, but very sharp, edge. I really didn't know whether to laugh or feel sick. I intend this as high praise. The whodunit plot kept me at the edge of my seat, whatever my problems with the backstory (see below). I swear I was hardly up to going upstairs in the dark afterwards.

The music is not an original work, but it is well used, and the sound effects are quite good.

I must also mention the excellent ending sequence.

The Bad

Some niggles: it's very short, puzzles are nothing special, it can be hard to figure out what to do next, objects turn up in rooms when the plot demands them. That's out of the way. My main problem is with the plot, meaning some spoilers.

I enjoyed the "possessed killer" part of the plot, and liked the idea of the house that lets no-one out. However, the backstory of the DeFoe family felt strangely hackneyed for an otherwise inventive game. I guess no-one but me is to blame for the fact that "Anchorhead", my favourite text adventure (1997, if I remember correctly) also features a mansion vacated by a madman who shot himself and his family, as well as a hideous backstory involving a freak twin brother. It's not as if the plot was original back then.

Unoriginality aside, some parts of the plot didn't seem to connect. I'm not quite sure what the idol had to do with the ghost - OK, that might have been me missing some text. But what the heck was with Trilby's car?

The Bottom Line

While "5 Days a Stranger" is not perfect, its strengths well outweigh its flaws. With a charmingly sarcastic (anti-)hero, a throat-clenching plot, and atmosphere like few other games, it should be solidly recommended. The golden age of adventure games never ended.