80 Days Review

 

Played on Windows
Available for Android and iOS.

80 Days is well written. I’m just going to start there. If I say nothing else, I have to comment on the level and quality of writing in 80 Days. To take on the writing style of Jules Verne and attempt to produce a game based on one of his books would not be a feat I think anyone can do with ease. Inkle studios tackled it and produced one of the more unique games I’ve played.

The premise of 80 Days is that you are Passepartout, the valet to Phileas Fogg. At the beginning of the story, Phileas Fogg rushes in and tells you that you are about to go on a journey. He tells you to pack quickly and then you’ll be off in a cab. There’s only a few lines about the journey, the simple rules (80 days, around the world). From that, the game just starts with a quick task to grab any items you will need.

To really understand this game, I think it’s worth discussing Jules Verne’s book, “Around the World in Eighty Days”. It’s a fantastic story of Phileas Fogg, and his manservant Passepartout who accepts a bet to travel around the world in eighty days. There’s a bet of 20,000 pounds, and the race starts with Fogg taking out 20,000 pounds for them to travel. There’s a specific itinerary and most of the locations are hit as they travel.

The book is written in a fantastic style from 1873 as an adventure novel. The travel takes many forms. The most famous of which (the balloon) is only proposed and never taken in the novel. However, the idea of various types of travel is key to the story, as well as diversions and time.

The game takes a large inspiration from the book, which is obvious from the name. Beyond the name of the game and the characters, it gamifies the idea of an around the world trip, changes a few rules (most notably 20,000 pounds becomes 4,000) and creates multiple paths. Then it adds a few new storylines (Such as having the world fair in Paris instead of Vienna that year) and adds quite a few novel concepts from the world of steampunk.

To return to the game, the player will pack a bag with what he thinks is necessary and then the game starts with Fogg and Passepartout riding a train out of London headed for Paris. The player’s Passepartout has not been fully informed about the trip, but the game, the theme and the rules of the game are likely known by the player. However where both game and book’s trip begins with a trip from London to Paris. The game changes it significantly and adds in an underwater train.


The “Mer-train”

I’ll admit this is an interesting choice as in 1873 there were trains from London to Paris (if the books were to be believed) but the game develops this idea well. It clearly shows the divergence from the book, not only is this 1873, but this is a world that has been filled with modern versions of steampunk culture.

From there, the game starts as the player is given the opportunity to talk to people on the ride to Paris as well as getting the background of the trip from Fogg if he requires. As the train trip goes on the ride is interrupted frequently for pieces of flavor texts that usually require some choice to advance the story. These choices will be the critical part of the game. They can define characters, areas, people, or actions going on.

The way this trip is going is how 80 Days is played. You reach a location, like Paris. Sometimes you might know of a path out of the city, sometimes you won’t have another location to go to. You can then explore the city, which costs time and will unlock most of the paths out of a city. The exploration will also give a special story that only occurs in that city. For instance, you might go to the World’s Fair in Paris and walk through it, or find an artificer’s guild to explore in another city. Some might just give a little flavor to the city, others might wind up with you getting an extra object or item, or rarely advancing a multi-part story.

You will eventually choose to leave a city to go to a new location, there are set times that the player can use each route (train schedules, car times and such). Often it might take a day or multiple days depending on the path. One of the cleverer systems is to negotiate a better timetable. This can be done by paying off an unmentioned someone, but the player can often use items that they are carrying such as a “London Gentleman’s outfit” to get the same result for free.

When a trip is arranged, the player starts to move between two cities and so a new story will begin. The player is given a chance to converse with people (to learn more about different locations), and new text will pop up pausing the journey to tell its story.

It appears every route has a unique story, and many have unique modes of transportations. There are of course many normal trains and ships, but you also can ride in one of the first cars with Mr. Daimler, ride on camels, or fly in airships. The stories on the routes feel like they’re locked in, and you’ll see the same story if you start a new game and travel on the same route.

The game rarely requires that. While the initial trip is similar on later playthroughs, 80 days allows the player to take it from there, the player can travel through Siberia, the Suez Canal, or through Asia, there’s a ton of routes, and while each route feels like the same story, there are hundreds of stories to enjoy.

Obviously great liberties are taken here, but the travels are interesting. What makes it work is the writing. I mentioned it earlier and I constantly find myself being taken in by it as if Jules Verne penned a steampunk story. In fact from his writing of “From the Earth to the Moon” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” it’s entirely possible he could have written these pieces if he hasn’t been dead for over a century already.

Someone really understood Verne’s style and writing to the point they are able to create writing on his level here. You get the overly flowery prose of Passepartout, his valet style life, and his own experiences. It’s quite interesting and stands out. Most of the Steampunk is more the stuff of fantasy than anything, and you get the feeling you’re along for the ride with both Passepartout and Phileas Fogg, experiencing the entire world around them.

At the same time, as much as I love Verne’s writing, this game is made for someone who clearly wanted to emulate Verne’s work. This isn’t a typical story, and the language is beautiful, however, these could cause some people trouble. Sartorial is thrown around and I’m sure that’s not a common word for most people, but then inveigle is dropped as a verb. I had no clue what it means, but I figured it out in context.

So if you really don’t want to read a book or are already getting flashes of the SAT nightmares they’ve had, this might not be the game for you. It’s well written but that doesn’t mean it’s made for everyone. If you aren’t up for reading a lot, as that’s the primary draw of the game, this game is probably not for you.

80 Days has a lot of reading but it’s not a simple storybook. There are still quite a few decisions to be made. The player is given 4,000 pounds at the start and is tasked with the journey of taking Phileas Fogg around the world. Odd that the valet is doing all the work, but it’s how the game is set up. Both the transpacific and the transatlantic crossings will cost close to that initial 4,000 pounds per trip. This is in addition to other moves, each trip costs valuable money. To deal with this, there’s a market in every city in the world. The markets each have valuables to purchase. The player can buy items to make the travels easier, make people talk a little more, or valuables that can be sold for profits in other lands. There was a horn I picked up in one city for around 50 pounds. However, I was told that by traveling to Copenhagen I could sell that item for a couple thousand pounds. I had to find room for the object, but the value far outweighed the minor cost to transport it, and sell it for a huge profit.

Deals like that are the lifeblood of the game. A bust of Athena could appear in Athens for 140 pounds but can be sold in Baku for 8000 pounds. Of course, that bust might not appear in a specific game. It’s a random chance occurrence, however, the markets are the key to being able to turn a profit. Players need to check them out to find chances to make money since money isn’t always plentiful in this game. The one key to it though is to figure out where you’re going. Baku might sound great, but on that trip, I was not planning on going through that country, so I had to go out of my way to turn a massive profit on that bust. It was worth it but it also heavily slowed down my travels.


Clearly, I’m on my way to Athens.

On the other hand, if you’re in trouble, you can always go to the Bank instead of the Market and wire London for money. This can be done multiple times, and there doesn’t appear to be a limit on it. However, in this case, you’re forced to trade days for money. You can get very large sums, over 5,000 pounds, but for that convenience, you might have to wait 7 days, where 500 pounds might take you 1 day. This is all a key part of the game.

When you’re in a town, time counts down consistently, the clock is always running. If you have a ship you have to catch at 2:00 PM, for instance, you start a day at 6, might be able to visit the market at 7 AM and browse. Perhaps you also planned to go to the bank which opens at 11, that will take two hours every time you visit even if you don’t request money. The explore task always takes four hours. So if you are very fast, you theoretically could immediately explore, hit the bank at 11, go to the market quickly and then depart the city. This sounds doable, but the time ticks fast when you aren’t in an action that pauses the clock (exploring and the bank will pause it, the market does not).

This is the one piece of the game I’m not fully sold on. The time is overwhelming. I started to get it, but I had limited choices I could make, I could go to the market and waste a day easily, or sometimes I ran out of actions I wanted to do by noon. After the first day, this is how most days went as you can only explore the city once, after that it’s mostly killing time or just quickly resting until the next day.

In addition, looking at the map is a mixed bag. If you’re in a city, and the time is counting down, it’s hard to search the map. If you knew where Baku is, you might be in good shape. I knew about half the names of cities though and while Yokohama might be well known, I wasn’t sure exactly where Copenhagen is without looking at the map, so when the game told me to take something there I wasn’t sure how far it was.

Overall if the time wasn’t so oppressive or the game had some manner to find the cities easier, I’d be in better shape. This might be a gameplay system, but whereas Carmen Sandiego tried to make kids learn about the world and history, I don’t believe 80 days does this intentionally. Penalizing people because they didn’t know where Agra is doesn’t seem like part of the gameplay. There’s a way to pause the time by opening the options but that doesn’t feel intentional.

Then let’s talk about choices, this seems to be one of my favorite topics for reviews. Now I’ve already kind of said it. There’s a lot of choices here, and since the goal of the game isn’t a specific endpoint but how fast you can go around the world, the choices will matter, including which paths you take. There didn’t seem to be any real bonehead moves, though one ship I was on did crash, as part of its story.

I do have an issue with choices. If the choices were limited to “I was a man of few words” versus “I was a loquacious friend to all.” I could live with it. Even adding in Fogg’s personality would be acceptable. The problem is the game extends this to cities and other people. I have a real problem when the game took me to a city which had Chinese people basically keeping the city running and basically made me choose between it being a slave run city or a city of happy workers. I had the ability to condemn an entire race into slavery, or make them happy?

Now it seems like the choices in the game are all or nothing. There’s no undercurrent, if I choose happy workers, there are no slaves, if I choose slaves, it’s fully slaves, not just a misunderstanding. The fact is the game is pretty much whitewashing an entire cultural problem with that choice. There are a few choices like that which are bigger than big, and made me feel odd or shake my head. I forget what I chose, but I remember the choice itself was troubling.

I’m not asking for social commentary being shoved down my throat, I’d have a larger problem with that, especially when Verne never forced issues like that or bogged down his stories trying to make the reader understand an obvious point. But being able to ignore slavery because someone chose all the workers to be happy is sketchy.


Running from Bucharest to Thessaloniki

There’s also this idea that Passepartout has states. Passepartout can be organized or steady, but I’m not sure exactly what this affects, I once was steady, then was steady later in the same game. Not exactly sure but it’s an odd system that isn’t well explained, and I’m not sure how much it affects.

One other issue I had with the game is on my third playthrough I started to see some of the same experiences. The game takes about two hours and thirty minutes, and the developer benchmarks it to be about 2 percent of the entire script on the first playthrough, and I believe that. There’s a lot of text and a lot of experiences in here.

The issue I had with this is before you explore most of the game you’ll have to explore the opening multiple times, and there are some different openings but ultimately I saw the same story twice in three attempts because I chose a similar route. I would really have liked some way to say “I’ve already been on this route, please speed me along to my destination” instead of dealing with the story.

Another choice would be to replay the game from a specific location. If I wanted to explore more of the USA, let me start in San Francisco if I’ve been there before. Instead, the game forces me to start from London and then have to get to America which is a pretty far trip to get to a specific point in the game. If something interests me, I wish I could be moved to the location quickly after a game ends, not another two-hour journey started over.

Finally, there’s one other issue with the game and I touched on it before. The reading can be a problem. I love reading, I used to read before bed (now I write), it’s a true joy. After my first two-hour playthrough I started to get antsy. I wanted to do something active, I wanted to go play something, to fight and experience something.

It’s not that 80 Days is a bad game, and it’s definitely a game, it’s just a passive game. You make choices, you travel a bit, you race the clock in a city, and then you travel some more. I heavily enjoy the experience, and wouldn’t mind coming back to tackle the game again, but at the same time, if someone is looking for action, or adventure (in the gaming sense) this game might not be for them. If on the other hand you enjoy reading and want to read more Jules Verne, this game is for you.

I’m not 100 percent sure what the optimal experience might be for the game, it is probably better for mobile, rather than a PC and an extended gaming session, but either way, it’s an enjoyable read, and worth playing through at least once for fans of the famous author it’s inspired by.

4/5

Final Thoughts: 80 Days shows that writing isn’t dead. It tells a story in the voice of Jules Verne, along with a wonderful world. It’s not for everyone, but for people who want to read a good story, 80 Days suffices.

Stats: 4.5 hours played. 7/35 achievements earned.

I bought this in a Humble GameOn Bundle, however, I bought the bundle for Her Story and got this in addition to what I wanted.