80 Days PC and Mobile Developed by Inkle Released in 2014
I was first introduced to Jules Verne’s 19th century novel Around the World in Eighty Days by way of the 2004 Jackie Chan movie of the same name. Fans of classic literature may call me a heathen for enjoying that adaption, but after just finishing today’s video game, I have to say this is my new, favorite retelling of Jules’ adventurous tale.
Ain’t easy being a valet
The game puts you in the shoes of Passepartout, the French valet of an eccentric, English gentleman called Fogg. After returning from a regular visit to his club, Fogg orders you to gather all necessary belongings and get on the carriage. Turns out Fogg has entered a wager, claiming he can travel around the entire globe and be back in London within 80 days. While it was your boss who made the wager, it’s quickly unveiled that you’ll be doing most of the actual work.
True to its concept and the original story, you indeed have to find a way to circumnavigate the globe, except the setting is slightly different from the original story. While it’s still very much set in the 19th century, 80 Days reimagines the world as a bizarre, steampunk rendition in which everything is different from how you’d imagine. You’ll be making your way across the world using all manner of bizarre contraptions, such as carriages with metal horses, giant airships, various trains, and less conventional (as well as less comfortable) means of travel. On your journey you’ll visit various cities and get detailed descriptions of their unique atmosphere, with a visit to the Austria-Hungarian empire where armies of automatons marched through the street standing out as my most memorable stop.
The game is all about plotting your routes and calculating risks. You’ll arrive in a city and have to explore to learn what option you have, sometimes you’ll meet locals who can provide such information, though in some parts of the world they may not take kindly to foreigners or you risk running into shady people. Once you have a route in mind you’ll have to manage your luggage to fit the route’s baggage limit and rest until departure, making sure not to miss it as you are tempted to explore more. Another important element here are finances, as you leave London with a meager 4,000 pounds and will have to buy items at markets across the world to sell off elsewhere, with the intent being turning a profit to fund continued dealings and travel.
As you journey you’ll also cope with spontaneous events and story-lines. You may end up on a ship where the crew is intent on performing mutiny, you may meet a lovely lady who becomes smitten with you, or even end up in total disaster. Even in the steampunk rendition of the 19th century, airships can still crash and boats can still sink, which puts even more pressure on your mad quest. And this is where 80 Days succeeds the most, as it manages to make it feel like you are on a globetrotting adventure with little time to spare, and the fact the route you take is entirely up to you is fantastic. And nothing here is placeholder or generic, each location you can visit is brought to life in your short stay, and the world as a whole feels dynamic and interesting.
The only element here that I feel is poorly executed are your supposed statistics. While travelling you’ll also have to manage the health of your master, as tiresome journeys wear him out and he may even be wounded through your misfortunes. You can scour the markets for items that advertise making specific journeys easier, such as desert equipment to counter hot weather or a cushion to lighten the unease of air travel, but these take up precious inventory space. It’s simplistic and doesn’t factor into much, which makes it weird that dialogue options will remind you of certain changes. “Your relation with Fogg has improved!” “You have gained the dependable trait!” and so forth, all of which sounds useful, but I found nowhere where this information was recorded, nor did I ever get the impression it was used for something. It’s not too much of a bother, I just didn’t like not knowing what was actually happening. A similarly small irritation is that you can’t always pause the game to look at the map, for example while you are in a conversation to ask for directions. I kind of flunked topography back in school, so I was just guessing at what might be useful information.
80 Days is truly unique in how well it manages to blend storytelling and gameplay. It succeeds at cramping a lot of world-building and character in small, easy-to-read paragraphs of text at a time, while putting sufficient amounts of management gameplay and decision-making in there to not make it feel like a visual novel. I powered through my first run of the game in one sitting, absolutely unable to put it down for anything besides fetching a bit of coffee. It’s an absorbing read and a fun game. What few irks I can name are completely overshadowed by its achievements.
Story & Gameplay score: 9.5/10
Around the globe
The art for 80 Days is actually remarkably strong considering how much it could’ve gotten away with. Whilst travelling you have a globe with all the known routes on it to look at, with the icon representing your mode of travel shifting along it as you advance. Every city you stop at will have it own art, which all looks good and makes the game feel significant. It really feels like you traveled to a different location with a culture of its own, which is an effect that would be lost if it was just text and sterile buttons to enter various menus. Similarly, during dialogue you get to look at Passepartout and his conversation partner, cartoon representations of people from widely different cultures from all over the world. For a game originating from mobile platforms, my cynicism expected much less effort than this.
Music-wise there isn’t too much, but the main theme is pleasant enough to listen to and doesn’t grate. I hardly noticed it most of the time and when I did it, it just reminded me of how pleasant a piece it is.
Presentation score: 10/10
Amsterdam is lovely this time of year
What makes 80 Days really replayable is that it’s entirely up to you what kind of route to take. There are over a hundred cities to visit and, between them, several hundreds of routes to get there with unique events, dialogue, and characters. A single playthrough may take you 3 hours, but that is just scratching the surface. Even if you find yourself dealing with an event you already know, it may play out completely differently depending on what items you carry and what options you pick.
Extras score: 10/10
I absolutely enjoyed every second of 80 Days, so much so that I wanted to play another round immediately after finishing my first sitting. It’s a fantastically designed game that far exceeds expectations, both in the amount of depth afforded by its gameplay, how interesting its story is to follow, and how well it manages to present everything.