7 Days a Skeptic

This article originally appeared in Dev.Mag Issue 20, released in February 2008.

It’s a quiet day in the Caracus Galaxy. The starship Mephistopheles sullies forth across the sea of stars, its six-person skeleton crew boldly scouting what no six-person skeleton crew has scouted before. Of course (being a horror game and all), trouble is inevitable for the intrepid crew, and it comes their way in the form of a nondescript metal box floating innocently through the void…

Built using Chris Jones’s free Adventure Game Studio software, 7 Days a Skeptic is the second game to be released in Ben Croshaw’s Chzo Mythos series, and deals with the (literally) far-reaching consequences of the events covered in its predecessor. Set roughly 400 years after 5 Days a Stranger, the player is placed in the role of Doctor Jonathan Somerset, the Mephistopheles’s resident psychologist, who along with the rest of the crew is subjected to a series of inexplicable, and increasingly violent, paranormal events. It isn’t high literature, but it isn’t meant to be. 7 Days, like its predecessor, attempts to emulate the tension of ye olde slasher movies of yore, where a set of characters is confined within an isolated environment while an unpredictable and unknown killer stalks the corridors. Fortunately, Yahtzee hits the nail on the head in that regard, producing a surprisingly unnerving atmosphere by using both the setting as well as some very unsettling dream sequences/visions. Fortunately the writing and plot progression are solid given the premise, and the story includes some twists and turns that keep you interested throughout.

Gameplay-wise, the game is structured very much like 5 Days a Stranger in that the plot takes place over the titular seven days, with each “day” consisting of a series of puzzles that needs to be solved in order to progress to the next day. The interface is an expanded version of the classic verb coin system. Right-clicking on objects brings up a set of verbs and inventory items, which, when clicked, perform the relevant action or use the relevant item. This system does tend to give interaction a very staccato feel, since the menu needs to be invoked constantly for every item the player wishes to interact with rather than allowing a default action to be performed. Nonetheless, the interface is clear and functional and allows the player to see at a glance all the interaction options that are available, rather than forcing them to dredge through inventory screens or cycle through endless verb cursors. The graphics are rudimentary, but sufficiently detailed to serve their purpose, and you’ll quickly find yourself ignoring the MS Paint-y look of the artwork as you play.

Naturally, the game isn’t without its niggles. While the puzzles are for the most part logical and solvable with a bit of brainwork, the game has one or two instances where the solutions are outright cryptic. Worse still, these tend to take place during high-pressure chase scenes which, while succeeding in heightening the tension, start becoming rather tiresome after your n’th death. Yahtzee is also rather fond of hide-and-seek style puzzles where one is forced to comb every nook and cranny of the ship in order to find a relevant NPC. Admittedly, it creates a good incentive to discover the layout of the ship towards the beginning of the game, and makes the characters feel like they actually live on the ship rather than being superglued to their posts, but after a while the frequency with which you’re forced to go through this exercise starts to feel more like padding than proper game progression.

Don’t let the above deter you, though. Overall, 7 Days a Skeptic is a solid point and click game that is well worth your attention, especially considering its price ($0, or $5 US for an expanded special edition). It is also an oft-cited (and dual-AGS-award-winning) example of what can be accomplished with Adventure Game Studio given sufficient time and effort, which makes it a worthy reference if you plan on using the package for future projects. If atmospheric point-and-click horror is your thing, you could do a lot worse.