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5 Days a Stranger
Developer:Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw
Publisher:Fully Ramblomatic
Release Date:2003
Article Posted:October 2006
System Requirements

5 Days a Stranger was released in 2003 as an independent freeware game by renowned indy developer Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw and managed to gather several independent gaming awards, mostly for its story and gameplay. It has since spawned two sequels, with a third one scheduled for a 2007 release. With that in mind, let us take a look at the original game to see whether or not it is worthy of the following it has created since its release.

The protagonist of the game is the self-proclaimed "gentleman" cat burglar, Trilby. We join him as he is about to "liberate" the seemingly abandoned DeFoe manor of any valuable items that may be found within it. However, old and seemingly abandoned residences are of course rarely what they seem to be. Thus, instead of completing the job quickly as usual, Trilby finds himself trapped inside the manor, surrounded by other people who have seemingly been trapped there too, and without a viable way out. It is at this point that the player assumes control of Trilby and has to find a way to get out of the manor, during the five day period implied by the game's title.

5 Days a Stranger puts an emphasis on creating a creepy atmosphere, aiming to disturb the players, rather than directly scare them, in a Resident Evil 1 "zombie dog jumping through the window" way. That is a good thing, given the fact that the visuals of the game are quite simplistic, and realistically, the chances of someone being scared by the game's graphics alone are pretty slim. Things have changed a lot since the original Doom. There are still a few visual tricks that may catch you off guard though, such as paintings that change from normal to twisted. Nothing terrifying, but it definitely adds up to the spooky atmosphere of the DeFoe manor. Pixelated gore can also be found during the game, so younger players and those with sensitive stomachs may want to approach 5 Days a Stranger with caution.

The game's sound also does its part well in creating a creepy atmosphere, with footsteps that can be heard when nobody else is around but Trilby, or the sound of whispers that are audible enough to be heard yet not enough to be able to discern what they say, and so on. The only aspect that leaves something to be desired is the music. You only get to hear any music during specific events, and even then, while suitably moody, the themes feel somewhat uninspiring. This may have to do with the fact that the music was not created for the game itself, as it was borrowed from a public domain source instead.

The gameplay is what you would expect from the typical third-person adventure game. There are inventory puzzles, dialog puzzles, and a lot of searching for clues. Thankfully there are no blatantly illogical puzzles, so everyone should be able to reach the end of the game, regardless of their previous experience with the genre. It is possible to die during the game, so you are advised to save as often as possible, but given the setting, that only seems appropriate. A neat and functional inventory ensures that the gameplay of 5 Days a Stranger, though hardly ground-breaking, remains solid throughout.

Besides creating a strong atmosphere, 5 Days a Stranger also puts a strong emphasis on delivering an entertaining story. Given the genre and the setting of the game, it is pretty much inevitable that there is a dark mystery to be solved. A malevolent entity apparently haunts the old mansion, and threatens to kill every single person who has been trapped in it. As in all good scary movies, the identity of the serial killer remains a mystery throughout, and everybody is a suspect. And this includes even our protagonist, Trilby. This makes the story a lot more interesting, since you will not be satisfied until you find out who the real killer is.

However, the final resolution is somewhat weak, since the explanation provided for the nature of the killer is lacking in coherence and has some logical gaps. Regardless of that, the game still manages to tell quite a strong, pretty entertaining, and suitably creepy story. It should also be noted that further explanation on the mystery provided on the third game, Trilby's notes, which covers some of the logic gaps of 5 Days a Stranger's resolution.

Character development is quite good too, with Trilby portraying the role of the gentleman quite well, even if he is not the deepest character you will ever meet in a video game. The supporting cast is very interesting as well, especially regarding their interaction with each other. However, we do not get to see them very often, given that the emphasis of the story is on Trilby and the mansion's dark history.

Since its initial release in 2003, 5 Days a Stranger has been re-released as a special edition, which offers a commentary track from the author, a whole new scene, three concept sketches, and the soundtrack of the game. The price of this edition is five dollars, something that most everyone would agree is a very affordable price, but it should be noted that the freeware version is still available for downloading. Deciding whether to buy the special edition or download the freeware one is up to your individual desires, but for fans of the horror genre, 5 Days a Stranger is worth playing through.

5 Days a Stranger can be downloaded at www.FullyRamblomatic.com/5Days. The download size is slightly above 1.2MB so it should be easy to get a copy of the game even with a low-bandwidth connection.

The final grade is: 79/100.


PC System Requirements:
Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium® 600MHz
128 MB RAM
Video Card Capable of 320x200 in 16-bit Color
Windows Compatible Soundcard
Keyboard, mouse, speakers
(Note: This game may well run on slower machines than listed above)