5 Days a Stranger

Developer: Fully Ramblomatic
Publisher: Fully Ramblomatic
Year: 2003
Platform: Windows

Rating: 5

Winner of five AGS awards in 2003, including best game, best puzzles, and best script, 5 Days a Stranger uses every horror cliché in the book to create a chilling and absorbing game.

You play as Trilby, a cat burglar who one day decides to rob the wrong house. A house where there are unexplained noises and unexplained shadows and unexplained locked doors. And also four other idiots trapped like you are. The author, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, created a mythos called Chzo that he uses in this game and four others. The mythos is a cross between Cthulhu, Friday the 13th, and your standard ghost story. I can’t say that the overarching story is that memorable, but the atmosphere sure is. Anyone who has seen a cheap horror movie can more or less predict each beat, but Yahtzee delivers them so damn well that it doesn’t matter.

In a horror game, good pacing is essential.  Yahtzee does this well by making the puzzles fairly straightforward and has the other characters drop some hints as well.  There are some pixel-hunting issues that are frustrating and a lot of backtracking throughout the house. The most annoying spot is the library, as the game won’t allow you read certain books until your character thinks it is necessary, which led me to not bothering to try reading those books again later. But the game is short enough that it’s not too much trouble.  I also wish the other characters had more to do before the game’s final puzzle.  For the most part, they just have one set of exposition topics to reveal each day and don’t do much else other than exist in the story, and we never really get to know any of them.

Back in the day I paid five bucks to get the special edition replete with author commentary, sketches, music, and a special on-screen interview (which is hilarious).  Now it’s free, and I recommend it. I know movie commentaries can sometimes get in the way and be rather droll, but Yahtzee’s commentary is insightful, amusing, adds to the game experience on repeat playings.

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