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5 Days a Stranger (Windows)

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Developed by
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5463)
Written on  :  Feb 18, 2005
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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5 Hours a Fun

The Good

With the last of the DeFoe family dead, the ancestral manor is sealed off from the world while the law determines what should happen to the estate. Tipped off by his fence, Trilby the infamous cat burglar decides to investigate DeFoe Manor and see if there is anything worth taking. Entering a second floor window with the use of grolly, his umbrella-disguised grappling hook, Trilby doesn't find anything of interest. When he leaves, though, he finds the window he entered is sealed shut. Suddenly Trilby hears footsteps in the supposedly deserted manor, footsteps coming closer to the door.

5 Days a Stranger is an adventure game created with the AGS software. The interface hearkens back to the days of SCUMM: controlling a sprite-based character by pointing and clicking on hotspots around a 2D set. Trilby, the player's character, soon learns that he is one of five strangers trapped in the DeFoe Manor. Even though these five individuals found five different ways into the manor, there is no apparent exit. Doors and windows are sealed, a surrounding wall extends deep into the earth, impenetrable terrain makes vaulting over the wall impossible and, needless to say, there is no means of communication with the outside world.

Each stranger has their own theory on what's happening. One person points out that they are obviously on a reality show. Others think that whoever occupies the manor must be lonely. Someone else thinks that the supernatural is afoot. Regardless of the reason behind their imprisonment, the four other strangers have been there for a few days and have taken a "we'll wait for rescue" attitude. This changes when one of them goes missing on Trilby's first night and later turns up dead.

As mentioned above, players control Trilby by clicking on hotspots. Players click on an appropriate verb icon: feet for "walk to", a hand for "use", a word balloon for "talk to", and then click on the appropriate item or person. Trilby also collects inventory which is accessed through right-clicking. In the inventory screen, Trilby can read articles, examine items, or combine them.

DeFoe Manor isn't overwhelming, but there are many rooms to explore and every room has items which can be examined closer. Trilby can converse with his fellow occupants and typically has a decent conversation with them each time he finds them. The occupants are noteworthy for having different personalities: there's a BBC newsreader who was working on a documentary about the DeFoes and is convinced there's a mystery to crack, a local school kid who entered the house on a dare and now hero-worships Trilby, a skittish man who goes by the name of AJ, and a treasure hunter who doesn't see Trilby as an equal, but does see him as competition.

While many accolades have been heaped on 5 Days, and it certainly deserves the awards it won for its use of AGS, in terms of graphics, use of sound, and puzzle design it simply doesn't match what's coming out commercially or match the innovation found in the independent games being released. I'm not taking away from Ben Croshaw's creation, but if you approach this game expecting anything beyond a terrific single-person produced adventure game you'll be disappointed.

Having said that, 5 Days a Stranger is a terrific adventure game. There's really no logical reason for five strangers to be trapped in a house, but once you get them there, you can have a lot of fun with them. On the first night Trilby has a horrific nightmare with a twist that isn't much of a surprise. However, the other inhabitants had the same dream and Croshaw adds another twist which is surprising. There are other dream sequences which punctuate the game and these blend in so well that you forgive the convention because they are so effective. I also appreciated that Croshaw wasn't afraid to be wordy, transmitting important parts of the story through conversation, books, and television broadcasts.

The Bad

Aside from being unable to leave DeFoe Manor, there really doesn’t seem to be any way to survive in it. The only available source of water is a heavily chlorinated pool and the only thing in the kitchen is an ungodly amount of salt. Meanwhile some of the characters have been there well before the game’s five day span. I’m not even sure where they are sleeping; thankfully Trilby has snagged a couch. Back to the absurdity of not being able to leave the manor, it might be a fun side game trying to think of obvious ways to escape.

The game’s main villain is The Welder: a hulking figure wearing a leather apron, a welding mask, and wielding a butcher’s knife. Aside from being an effective villain, you have to wonder where the accessories came from—especially since The Welder’s origin story doesn’t show any metalworking connection. Also, the name seems a bit off—kind of like calling Jason, The Goalie.

The Bottom Line

5 Days a Stranger is a fun adventure game with a spooky atmosphere and a few real jolts. In design, it’s very similar to classic LucasArts or Sierra style adventure games. Clocking in around five hours, it has a respectable length especially since the game itself has a download size of 1 Mb. Is it as good as current commercial ware? No. But Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw shows real talent and makes excellent use of the AGS software. This is definitely worth checking out.