7 Days a Skeptic (PC) review
"7 Days a Skeptic is a Jason X tribute. That's one genre for which life is simply too short. It was produced by Ben Croshaw, maestro of the AGS adventure game-creation program, and as such boasts many admirable technical achievements. They just don't come packaged in a very enjoyable game. "
7 Days a Skeptic is a Jason X tribute. That's one genre for which life is simply too short. It was produced by Ben Croshaw, maestro of the AGS adventure game-creation program, and as such boasts many admirable technical achievements. They just don't come packaged in a very enjoyable game.
The story: in the year 2385, a clutch of space cadets wander a distant galaxy in a small cruiser christened, I am afraid, the Mephistopheles. (Oh, for the days when sailors considered mere cormorants or church bells to be inauspicious.) You might wonder what this scenario has to do at all with the previous game, set in the present day in an old English manor. Soon, however, the ship happens across a derelict iron coffin with inscriptions on its lid. The inscriptions, it turns out, were wrought by Trilby, the hero of the preceding 5 Days a Stranger, who warns, albeit through uselessly opaque language, against opening the coffin. Does it stay closed? Don't make me laugh.
First off, I'm pleased to report that Croshaw's dialogue-writing skills have improved. The frequent awkwardness of 5 Days a Stranger's lines has almost vanished here. The dialogue (particularly Adam's later lines) is, to use an oxymoron, strikingly natural; it's not the content, which is rather perfunctory info relay and chit-chat, but the style.
Graphics go both ways. On one hand, the resolution and detail is improved from the previous game. Croshaw still knows how to animate characters; he's aware of when a little bow of the head, pause, or check of an item just received will make a conversation seem all the more real. He boasts an excellent sense of pacing, and the overall production seems more polished. On the other hand, the ship's so visually monotonous - nothing but dreary grays and slate blue. The choice is conscious, but it makes trudging back and forth across your environs all the more a chore; 5 Days understood how the early VGA efforts compensated for their blockiness with a bright palette. (I do like, though, the small close-up stills on the game-over screens that illustrate the specific demise you suffered; it's one of those little details that tells of care and craftsmanship.)
Interface has taken a turn for the worse. In 5 Days, the cursor could switch between several different modes - an eye for "look"ing, a hand for physical interaction, a voice balloon for talking with others - and it would stay switched until shifted to another function. The system proved remarkably efficient. Here, though, you click on an item and then sift through a small icon-based pop-up menu for your option, which results in a lot of awkward fumbling; adventure gamers, I think, are used to verb-object commands ("LOOK at MACHETE"), and the inverse short-circuits our King's Quest lobe. (Also frustrating: the method for inspecting items in your inventory is unintuitive (you right-click twice) and never mentioned by the in-game help, and if you choose to "look" at an item across the room, you have to wait until the character clip-clops over to it for a description.)
Croshaw has also included a couple Clock Tower-esque sequences where your comparatively-helpless character is being chased about the ship by a murderous pursuer and, upon discovery, can elude death only through split-second action. The point-and-click system is particularly ill-suited to the quick reaction this gameplay demands, though; at one scripted showdown, I knew what to do and when to do it but died about seven times in a row due to the clumsy interface. Worse, a) the hotspots are minuscule, often only a few pixels wide, and b) during the dialogue scenes that often precede the chases, your cursor disappears, meaning you have to spot where it's resurfaced once the frenzy begins and hunt out an eensy little target in the space of a few seconds while under a madman's gun. (If you haven't figured out exactly which hotspot you should be clicking, or what to do, then Dagon help you; the game leaves no time to act in these scenarios, let alone puzzle-solve.)
Otherwise, there're a couple nice multi-part puzzles, but much is either too straightforward and busyworkish or obtuse. One, the primary puzzle on Day 4, has apparently proved a complete roadblock for most players; I didn't escape the hue and cry and went in informed of the solution, but I agree that the game doesn't provide enough direction. The gamespace is unevenly used, as well; I liked how the ductwork repeatedly figured into the plot, but entire rooms serve no purpose in the storyline and are completely wasted. The story is also flat. 5 Days gave us an unusual puzzle, a murder of which all the suspects seemed genuinely incapable. (Yes, one of the guests was an antisocial loudmouth, but the kind who gets bumped off in the second reel as comeuppance, not the kind who kills people.) Here, though, yes, everything is as it seems, the guilty parties announcing themselves with nervous and atypical behavior. (I should give 7 Days credit, though, for bumping off the cast in a somewhat unexpected order.) A couple memorable scenes are very noticeably copied and pasted in from 5 Days, with only the characters changed. Then there's the gore; there's a lot more here. (As another reviewer noted, where 5 Days was mystery-horror, 7 Days is pure slasher.) While it didn't excessively horrify me, it did turn me off as in bad taste. 5 Days had horror, yes, but it was primarily interested in being an adventure game, not in showing us other people's spleens.
Also: I complained about its predecessor's plot holes, but 7 Days a Skeptic far exceeds any game's quota of stoopid. Nice that the laws of gravity apply in such strict indirect proportion to dramatic necessity, relaxing to allow blood to stick artistically to the sides of the ship instead of floating away and bad guys to walk normally all over deep space. (The latter phenomenon exists despite a multi-part safety procedure the character must studiously follow on every spacewalk to avoid floating away.) What's the use of an escape pod that takes twenty-four hours to prepare? A crewman's missing; another's acting oddly and won't open his cabin. Well, if someone's AWOL and there're only about ten rooms to search, then I think that door's coming down, don't you? Didn't some of the material for that abominable science project go tumbling down an antimatter chamber, utterly irretrievable? How CAN we see someone in the hallway, seemingly alive and intact, if we've just discovered their butchered remains, anyway? (No, it's not a ghost; the ship's automatic doors open and close in the character's wake, as if detecting a physical presence.) And about that iron coffin - Trilby sends it away on a twentieth-century spacecraft, but it resurfaces in the faraway galaxy the Mephistopheles is surveying four centuries later. Consider that the nearest neighboring galaxy, the Andromeda, is 2.5 million light-years away. That means that this metal box adrift in space is traveling at least...let's see, over 6,000 times the speed of light. (Trilby hardly needed to go outside the Milky Way for his solution, anyhow. My suggestion: send that mother to Venus and see how it withstands the 90x Earth's atmospheric pressure and sulfuric acid clouds.)
I generally do not play Comic Book Guy with my entertainment and can sit by happily while, say, Jeff Goldblum disables an alien fleet with a mid-'90's PowerBook. C'mon, though - this is third-grade stuff. It's way too much dumb to ask a player to swallow.
Yeah, I've done nothing but complain about a game that's free and took a lot of time to make. Croshaw responds to kvetching by offering "a refund on the exorbitant price you paid for [the game]" - but, dude, you are spending a player's time as well. It seems odd to decry a horror game as "unpleasant", but for the most part, 7 Days a Skeptic wasn't spooky or scary or thrilling or any of the experiences I seek from a horror game - just a seamy experience that left a bad taste. I doubt I'll be returning to it.
The Special Edition of 7 Days a Skeptic, available for $5 from http://www.fullyramblomatic.com/7days/, features a few "outtakes" and an Easter Egg, all more entertaining than the actual game, plus a running commentary from Croshaw containing too many variations on "I know [x] was wrong, but I was too lazy to fix it". It also includes an early warning system for the chase sequences that makes them a bit less cheap without eliminating the challenge.
Note: Much has been made of the twist at the end of the game, perceived as a downer. I thought it was subtly hilarious, though.
Community review by Synonymous (November 22, 2007)
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