By Phil Schipper / October 5th, 2013
|Title: 5 Days a Stranger
Publisher: Fully Ramblomatic
Developer: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
Release Date: 2003
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Age Rating: N/A
Warning: SPOILERS for this game ahead.
The “gentleman thief” known as Trilby is an expert at sneaking into the most impossible places, stealing everything of value, and slinking off into the night, leaving behind only his signature card. So when his informant tells him about the DeFoes, who conveniently died out and left their manor behind with no heirs, the case seems pretty open-and-shut.
The story of 5 Days a Stranger begins when, upon entering the house, Trilby learns three things. First, the valuables are already gone. Second, all the doors, windows, and other exits–including the one he entered through–are jammed shut. Third, the house is not as deserted as he’d thought: he and four others are trapped inside the DeFoe Manor.
So begins your journey to learn everything you can about the house, the people inside it with you, and, you hope, how to get out. It’s a good old-fashioned adventure game, so you’ll spend most of your time walking around the house, talking to the others, examining objects, picking up items and using them to progress.
Like many retro-style adventure games, the game will rarely give you obvious clues as to how to continue. The rest of the time, you’ll have to do your own searching for that elusive next step. It’s rarely the thing you’d think to do if you looked at the evidence and put your mind to it for a while, but honestly, this is far from the illogical leaps you might find in similar games. I did sometimes search for a while myself, but once I did find the answer in the things I had, I never thought, “That makes no sense!” (Though there is a fair share of items that are extremely difficult to notice throughout the house, especially one that only appears there late in the game.) For someone who knows the game well, it’s only about a 3-hour game, though of course that’ll go on longer the more stuck you get.
The horror element will come in when you’ve been at it for only a short time. After meeting everyone, Trilby has a vision that involves everyone else in the house lying dead at the bloody hands of the figure known as the Welder. But when the killer removes his mask, it’s Trilby’s face behind it. What?
It soon becomes obvious that there’s something haunting the house, and that it’s connected to the deaths of the DeFoes. It all began long before, when the house was built, and the rooms that you can’t access at first will slowly unlock and begin to show you the full picture. What’s keeping everyone inside? Why are they being murdered, one by one? How can Trilby stop it before there’s nobody left? He’ll have to stop thinking like a thief, and become someone very different, if he hopes to save anyone at all.
Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw (known for his Zero Punctuation series at The Escapist) created this game in 2003, but it has the mark of a much older game. With simple, pixelated retro graphics and a classic action and inventory system, it would be easy to believe that this was really an early 90’s title. But it’s more of a conscious effort to be understated. The music, likewise, is used sparsely for the game’s key scenes, subtly building up the tension to gut-wrenching heights. Otherwise, you’ll play in a creepy near-silence, broken only by distant footsteps, creaking and whispers.
5 Days a Stranger really is, at its heart, a story-focused game. It tasks you, above all else, with solving the big mystery behind this house, while leaving a greater mystery subtly waiting to be taken up. This greater mystery sets off the beginning of a bigger series, known most commonly as the Chzo Mythos, that sprang from the story of this house. 7 Days a Skeptic, the next game released, is set far in the future, and shows the return of the Welder on a spaceship. It was followed up by two bridging titles, Trilby’s Notes and 6 Days a Sacrifice, that finally wrapped things up. All of them follow in the retro, minimalist style of 5 Days. (There’s also a spinoff about Trilby called The Art of Theft.) To give you an idea of how significant the Chzo Mythos series really is, the Tall Man introduced later on is said to be the inspiration for the legend of Slenderman. I wish I could go on fully about the ups and downs of every game in the series, but I just wanted to point it out because 5 Days a Stranger is the beginning of something fantastic.
One last thing. This game, as well as the rest of the Chzo Mythos, is completely free. I definitely recommend you take the chance to dive into this world. Watch the life of a great cat burglar, expert at escaping the law, turn into a quest to escape something far more fearsome. And, maybe, catch a glimpse of just what that fearsome thing is.
Click here to check out 5 Days a Stranger.
Review copy supplied by the author.
AdventureIndiePCpoint and clickRetro