So many games promise adventure, but often provide nothing more than a lifeless sandbox, full of wooden characters and cartoon killing. Some games by contrast promise a story and meaningful characters, and leave you with a boring, linear mess. At a glance, 80 Days would seem to be a linear story that you click-through, like a ‘choose your own adventure’: but it’s so much more, and provides an adventure unlike any other game I’ve played in a long, long while.
You play Passepartout, the French man-servant of Phileas Fogg, an aloof English aristocrat, and your goal is to get him safely around the world in 80 days. You must use trains, planes, automobiles, submersibles, rockets – or just about anything you can climb on.
Akin to a board game, you must balance resources and decisions against the clock, weighing up whether it’s worth taking the train or the car, or exploring the city (and flirting with an airship engineer), or repacking your master’s bags to make him feel better. This feeling of pace is remarkably well done, and every second lands as hard as a bum on a locomotive’s bench. It really boils down the key issues that you face when going on long journeys: balancing your money, happiness, and time, leaving you exhausted and in need of a holiday, but satisfied at a job well done and a life well savoured.
The pace and game play is supported by a gripping use of music and sound, which captures a TinTin-esque sense of adventure mixed with lurking danger. It sweeps you away, swaddling you in a feeling of intrigue and motion, yet tempers itself by the bustle of a marketplace or the chatter of crickets at night.
The atmosphere is key here, and the game is worth playing for that reason alone. It will remind you in all the ways that big budget games fail in this regard. The stage is set for a great quest, and filled with excellent characters, all unique and interesting. That’s why your protagonist, Passepartout, works so well. It’s not that the game gives you a fully realised puppet to control, but that the characters you meet inform who you are through your actions. I regrettably was a bit head strong at times and literally lost my shoes because of it. I changed from a peerless valet to serial womaniser, and was chastised. All the while I kept an eye on the eerily quiet Mr Fogg, who never stooped to such levels, and yet I felt a sigh of relief when he approved of me sticking my neck out.
As each part of the world slowly encroaches, you are forced to choose a route, some of which are only open due to your clever use of time at a previous city. That guard you chatted to on the train? Well turns out there is a route from Vienna to Zurich that is cheap and fast. However, the wine you bought in Paris sells in Berlin for several thousand pounds – so which do you value more? That money might be needed later to buy a ticket on a state-of-the-art airship! These short-term decisions are hounded by the long-term plans you make. You might want to avoid Berlin because really you were aiming for the Suez canal, so what do you do? Will the Suez even be worth it?
It’s hard to find fault with this game, and it will likely turn even the most cynical. It’s a blast. It’s the story-heavy single player game you were waiting for. The writer, Meg Jayanth, should be commended on managing to achieve the fine art of script writing: it’s never boring, always relevant to your interests, and never stands out as being laboured or obvious. I had a particularly hilarious run-in with some very ‘smiley’ sailors who I thought were pirates, but in the end… just turned out to be creepy (well, I locked myself into the cabin, so perhaps I’ll find out next time if they had ill intentions). The game is full of such wonderful characters and moments, expertly written.
The game’s direction is also peerless, and the aesthetic choices are just right: bold enough to be obvious on a small screen for tablets, but creative and consistent, furthering the atmosphere. The game is unique and I wish there was more like it, and I expect that, despite the 80 day limit, I will play it over and over, each time discovering a new way around the world.
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