Wot I Think: 80 Days

Videogames can take you on a thousand different adventures, but few offer the thrill of travel as 80 Days does. It’s a story game adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days, and it’s accordingly full of exciting, exotic locations to visit, with capers to pull, revolutions to incite and derring-do to perform at many of them. Yet it’s in the quiet moments that it best captures the sensation of going on a journey. For me those moments were the mathematician I met, full of hope for the future of her home country, and the air pirate who kidnapped me in northern Europe but then entrusted me with delivering something personal to her. For you, they might be very different – but wherever you go, the appeal is the same. 80 Days is full of romance, and mystery, and intimacy, and a deep, abiding sense of melancholy, because it understands that what make journeys and adventures compelling isn’t only the mutinies you lead, but the people you meet along the way. It is consequently the most human game I’ve ever played.

Here’s Wot I Think.

80 Days [official site] casts you as Passepartout, faithful servant to stoic, reliable English gentleman Phileas Fogg. If you’ve never read the novel – or seen the cartoon where they’re all talking cats – then the story begins with Fogg informing you that he’s just made a wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in under 80 days. From that thin justification, Verne’s original story sets off at pace for a whistlestop tour of a world which, at the time of its publication in 1873, was in the midst of multiple social and technological revolutions.

That time in which railways seemed to have suddenly shrunk the earth of course seems quaint in retrospect, so 80 Days makes some significant alterations to the story. In the main, this involves introducing science fiction to one of Verne’s few stories not to already contain it, by making your modes of travel not just trains, boats and cars, but steampunk hovercraft, gyrocopters and airships, and by otherwise filling the distant cities you travel to with mechanical marvels. This infused the story with some of the same sense of grand invention that it might have had upon release, without undercutting its Victorian charms.

Better still, the game finds ways to infuse its encounters with a similar sense of social revolution. This is partly historical given that you visit cities in the midst of real civil wars, but it also quietly comes across through the dozens of capable women you encounter on your journey. It’s not outwardly political, and in a better world it wouldn’t be remarkable, but be they robot designers, chief engineers, mathematicians, ship captains or anything else, 80 Days feels refreshing for its treatment of both gender and sexuality.

Otherwise the story is mainly up to you, its structure shaped by the novel but its details shaped by the decisions you make about where to travel next. Heading east from London, you might decide to head down to Africa and across Asia, to steam across the Russian steppes, or to head due north to discover what mysteries await at the pole. You’ll make your decisions, initially, according to two resources: the time each journey will take, and the cost. But as a choose-your-own adventure, I feel like the cleverness of 80 Days’ mechanics is too easily overlooked.

As you explore the locations you visit and talk to people on each mode of transport, you’ll discover new routes, which wind their way across the game’s global map. These routes sometimes depart from your current location, but they’re just as likely to be positioned on the other side of the planet. What these routes do however is plant seeds for where you might want to go next. A loose idea that you might head south suddenly hardens with the discovery of a route from South America to Dakar. The marketplaces you visit do something similar, by revealing that the bottle of wine you just bought for a few measly bucks in Paris will sell for $2300 in Moscow. These self-set objectives create tension as you try to fulfill them within the constraints of time and money, but they also lend a flighty sense of improvisation to the game as you’re just as free – and likely – to drop them again as a new whim strikes. 80 Days whips adventures up via unexpected and dramatic events, but you’ll also create it for yourself when you suddenly discover you’re only a few hops away from Timbuktu and all other plans are abandoned.

Aside from money and time, your third resource is, most significantly, your relationship with Fogg. A small meter between 0 and 100 sits in the bottom right of the screen at all times and, as you travel in uncomfortable or perilous conditions, gradually ticks down. You can choose to ignore it, or you can re-fill it by seeing to Fogg’s needs; forgoing a bout of exploration around your train carriage in favour of re-folding his clothes, giving him a clean shave, or playing a game with him. This might have been tedious, but each action is, like any in the game, performed near instantly with a single button press.

The result, for me, was a simulation of a relationship about tenderness. You are Fogg’s servant, employed to look after him, but it feels like an act of deliberate kindness to choose to help him when he’s feeling seasick rather than going off to flirt with yet more strangers. I can think of only a handful of games which have a relationship at their core, but I struggle to think of any which are as much about choosing to take care of someone. It’s a structure that works well enough here that I’d play more games that mimicked it almost exactly. Perhaps an adaptation of The Thin Man in which you play Nora Charles, her husband Nick’s face squashed in the corner becoming visibly more drunk with each crime solved.

In general 80 Days has a somewhat unusual treatment of choice, since the decisions you make during each vignette of story don’t fall at regular intervals. Sometimes you are choosing what action to take; sometimes you are choosing how to respond to someone else’s action; sometimes you are choosing the outcome of your own action. You’re playing the part of Passepartout in partnership with the game, but it’s clear that this is not a game about winning, even though the target score is in the title.

For all the grand, old-fashioned adventuring, it was the decisions about how to feel or what to say in response to events that I enjoyed most. Whether to be flustered in the face of adversity, or to be stoic. Whether to be judgemental of a newly encountered culture, or whether to be open to it. Whether to grumble and cast blame, or whether to be a comfort to others in times of hardship. True to its time period, 80 Days concerns itself with manners. This is often for comedy’s sake, but just as often felt to me like a kind of power fantasy. I had the power to be unflappable, to be good.

All of this works as well as it does, of course, because of the writing. The script is evocative without being flowery, and it’s wonderful at conjuring an atmosphere and depicting character through just a few sentences of description and dialogue.

She looked at my eyes for a moment, then smiled quickly. Taking my hand, she walked along the edge of the rail, the wind tugging her hair into a wild dance. The train’s lamp was a single candle in an endless night. Lifting my hand past her cheek, she pointed my finger out into the desert. “There.”

I saw nothing except evening stars…

I keep talking about humanity and kindness and romance and words, because those are among the things that make 80 Days remarkable, but I don’t want to make the game sound like something worthy. It’s also tremendous fun. Its brevity means that it’s a pacey game to play. You will always be reading, but there are no great walls of text. It’s high-spirited, good humoured and and full of fast-made friends, as any adventure story should be, and it regularly dances between half a dozen tones and genres without ever feeling incongruous. It’s easy to complete the game once through in a single sitting should you wish, but you can play it multiple times without repeating an experience, and its episodic structure means you can visit a few locations before bed and find a natural resting point as you board a rickety machine towards the next continent. Whatever way you choose to consume it, your time will be rewarded.

80 Days is the most human game I’ve ever played. It is also, simply put, one of the best games I’ve ever played.

80 Days is out now on Steam, GOG and Humble.

41 Comments

  1. protorp says:

    This game is wonderful. I’ve always loved text adventures, choose-your-own-adventures and more recent hybrids like Fallen London and Sunless Sea, but honestly this game seems closer to an ideal of what the concept of interactive fiction should be than anything else I’ve ever played.

    • Matt_W says:

      Jon Ingold is the creative force behind inkle studios, which made 80 DAYS, as well as the Sorcery! trilogy and a few other games. He is a long stalwart of the interactive fiction scene, and spent several years trying out experimental ideas in parser-based IF before evolving toward choice-based fiction and starting inkle to test out his ideas. The design choices in 80 DAYS and the other games are all very deliberate and worked out over many years of making games. Looks like it’s been pretty successful. (It doesn’t hurt to have Meg Jaynath’s words demonstrating the strength of his platform either.)

  2. Sin Vega says:

    Absolutely one of the best games ever. The only game I’ve ever played that really felt like an adventure, and even on the runs where I failed, I had such a wonderful story to remember afterwards. Even on the runs where I never made it home, and was reduced to a lifetime of begging and sleeping on the streets of some backwater town in the arse end of South America, I still felt like I’d been part of an exciting, sad, strange, and witty story.

    And that one time I had a great run, becoming a pirate, rescuing a political prisoner, having a brief but unforgettable flind with a man dressed as Death, I finally came to the home stretch and in a moment of mad enthusiasm to beat my time, took a foolish risk that saw Fogg and I in a crippled airship, falling helplessly to a watery grave. And for a moment, we stood together, and the quintessential stoic, often flat out cold Fogg said six simple words of friendship. I’ve never enjoyed screwing up so much.

    It’s an absolutely beatiful game.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Oh, I should clarify that I’ve only played the mobile version, but it’s such a simple game to play that it would take nothing short of sabotage to port it to PC wrong.

      • anHorse says:

        Little slow to start up sometimes but other than that there’s absolutely no flaws with the game on PC

        • EhexT says:

          Other than the absurd price gouging you mean.

          • Elliot Lannigan says:

            $10, plus it will inevitably soon be lower in Steam sales. New novels cost $20-30 and this is essentially giving you MULTIPLE novels worth of written content in addition to the highly polished game framework. Where is the price gouging here?? The writing is clearly high quality and I believe writers deserve their high quality work to be valued just as highly as any other member of a game production team. I don’t think you’d be making this comment if this game were full of graphics, but getting AAA quality writing (LOL) for $10 is actually a pretty good deal.

            PS: it finally occurs to me that you are probably talking about it being $10 on PC vs $5 on mobile (sorry, I just woke up a few minutes ago). Well, that’s annoying to be sure but I’d consider it fair market price considering that mobile games always sell for less than PC games, similar to how paperbacks are always significantly cheaper than hardbacks even though the production cost different is, at this point, pretty minimal. It’s a prestige thing. I’d even go so far as to argue many people might be scared off the game on Steam if it were only $5 instead of $10, because that tends to indicate low quality. At least until you have enough good reviews built up that it doesn’t matter what it costs.

            Why did I write all this

          • DrollRemark says:

            THEY HAD TO PORT THE GAME TO PC AND THAT TOOK TIME AND MONEY. PLUS THEY ADDED CONTENT.

            *breathes*

      • yurusei says:

        This is perfect in mobile format – I play it while waiting for transportation or someone. I mean it beats scrolling through social media anyway.

        I know this may not be entirely possible because of licensing issues, but I’d dearly like to see a Lord of the Rings adaptation, where you play Frodo’s equally loyal and steadfast [servant? friend?] Sam Gamgee.

        • cptgone says:

          Airships, World Fair, traveling the world: I’d love to play an Against The Day mod…

  3. GWOP says:

    So someone has finally adapted this 2004 Jackie Chan movie into a game, eh?

  4. Michael Fogg says:

    Recently with the rampant popularity of open-world games I feel that the theme of travel has paradoxically taken a backseat. Sandboxes, however huge, are ultimately just playgrounds and you can breeze around then in a matter of minutes, leaving enemies in the dust. Be it Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption, there is just no sense of a journey that requires cost, risks, uncertainty and inevitably a bit of ennui. Games that offer ‘finger-on-the-map’ travel are much closer to capturing that feeling.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Oh my God, yes. You’ve put this so well I have no more to add. Your great great grandfather would be proud.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        There is also the wistfulness of leaving things behind, of only ever being able to get a glimpse of a place before leaving forever. And the lurking worry of being stranded somewhere and having to fend for oneself. All of these complex and universal emotions that the sanitized and standardized world of modern games fail to tap into. Lost… like tears in the rain! Ahem… ;)

    • Elliot Lannigan says:

      There’s more of that feeling in Miasmata, a game that takes place on a tiny island, than in the largest open world games ever produced. Solely because you are completely at the mercy of the “sick guy stumbling around” walking mechanics and lack of any kind of map whatsoever (beyond that which you triangulate yourself based on landmarks). It’s absolutely riveting. I have never felt a stronger sense of place in my entire gaming life.

  5. Zetetic says:

    Aside from money and time, your third resource is, most significantly, your relationship with Fogg. A small meter between 0 and 100 sits in the bottom right of the screen at all times and, as you travel in uncomfortable or perilous conditions, gradually ticks down.

    I believe that meter is Fogg’s condition – it reaches zero when he’s dead. (The game also tracks your relationship with him – along with various aspects of your character’s personality – separately.)

    • Foglet says:

      Not quite, perhaps. As far as I noticed, in ordinary conditions Mr. Fogg does not die, merely requiring lengthy rest and/or doctor’s attention to recuperate from falling to zero condition. The master-servant relation, while having no explicit numeric value displayed on-screen, nevertheless has certain impact upon the ending.

      There’s, however, a completely and totally different set of circumstances in force while attempting to traverse the Arctic wastes. May those blissfully unaware take heed. And that’s pretty much all I would like to say on the matter.

  6. povu says:

    I’m playing this on my Android phone right now, I’m really enjoying it.

    • Phinor says:

      Still waiting for them to patch the Android version up-to-date. The one from Humble, to be exact. Seems like simultaneous patching across one platform still isn’t a thing because they patched the Play/google version almost two weeks ago.

      I wonder if it’s Humble stalling, or the devs.

      • IainMerrick says:

        Android dev here—really sorry for the delay! I’ve just now updated 80 Days to version 1.2.1 on the Humble Store. It was my mistake, not Humble’s; in between updating the Google Play and Amazon versions, and getting both the big update and a quick bugfix out, I simply forgot to keep Humble in the loop.

  7. DevilishEggs says:

    Nonlinearity vs. linearity is a big issue for choice-based IF games and this one has SPADES of the former.

  8. darkshadow42 says:

    It is a very good theme for a story based game. The fact you are racing around the world and stop nowhere for very long means the game designer doesn’t have to create a million different diverging stories. the option of choosing routes, items and actions add an element easy to code and give a large number of different outcomes without having to write a million page story sidestepping the whole nasty issue of actions which do not matter (Tell Tale Games) or an ending which does not care which route you took (Mass Effect and Deus Ex). In 80 days every action does matter and lack of diversity of endings doesn’t matter (you either do it in time or you don’t) but that’s not the important bit, it is the stories you generate on the journey which does. It gives non-linearity without forcing the text snippets to be non-linear (and hence take a lifetime to write), all very clever.

  9. frenz0rz says:

    I first played this whilst travelling by train from the South of England up to Newcastle. Dashing around the world as Passepartout whilst actual riding a bumpy branch line, sprinting around various stations and leaping onto trains was a cracking day, and one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

  10. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    So 7/10?

    Great write up. It truly is a wonderful game. It really makes me want to go travelling, can’t think of many other games that inspire me to do anything much.

  11. alms says:

    Sounds a lot like a game that takes pages out the recent output of Telltale’s and KRZ, i.e. I should be playing it.

  12. malkav11 says:

    80 Days was a game good enough to get me to play it on mobile. And I HATE playing games on mobile. I’m just glad I no longer have to!

  13. Pantalaimon says:

    Fantastic piece Graham, and thanks for the recommendation. I love games like this for showing us that the CYOA/int-fiction style of game design can still be relevant all these decades later, since they are at best incredibly evocative and personable.

    There are as you say only a few games that really nail the human interaction element. I think Kings of Dragon Pass in its own curious way is one of them. Sunless Sea comes close at times with it’s writing even if it’s quite gamey. The Curious Expedition is even more of a game first and foremost (and a really good one!) but in a similar way to 80 Days, the relationships you build or break on your travels will ultimately contribute to your success or failure (even if that relationship is with your pack donkey). I wonder if Firewatch will also be worthy of mention given the focus it puts on relationship at the heart of the game.

    For me the ultimate example of this kind of thing in digital form is still Galatea, an IF game by Emily Short. Few games if any have come closer to giving me the impression that I was having a proper interaction with a real entity. I want to say person, too, but I’m aware of how that might sound ridiculous in the cold light of day. But Galatea is an amazing experience, I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Hmm. Think I’ll be getting this.

    Inkle’s take on the Sorcery! series has been amazing so far, mainly because of how the third entry turns a gamebook into a near-open-world game.

    • malkav11 says:

      For what it’s worth, the Fabled Lands series of gamebooks are pretty much literally an open world in (linked) gamebook format, so if that’s something that appeals you might like those. inkle’s approach is probably more elegant, though.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        and to bring the discussion full circle, Fabled Lands has an (unofficial but permitted by the authors) <a href="link to flapp.sourceforge.net implementation. It’s not finished, and I don’t know if it’s still ongoing, but there you go.

  15. Soter says:

    An informed review of an amazing game.

    Also, hats off for remembering the ’80s cartoon!

  16. craddoke says:

    Just bought the mobile version based on this recommendation and wanted to thank the author for bringing this game to my attention. Easily the best mobile game I’ve played; tons of fun with truly excellent dialogue. We failed on our first attempt, but the mutinies, airship pirates, and train-board intrigues made me smile even in default. Mr. Fogg and I will be leaving again forthwith.

    • craddoke says:

      *defeat (although, given how often we were at the bank, default works just as well).

  17. ryth says:

    So is there any downside to playing this on mobile/android to playing it on PC? Or is it well optimized to mobile and I wont have any fidgety frustrations that often plague mobile games?

  18. caff says:

    For me, I wasn’t keen on the dialogue or “steam punkiness” of this game when I played on Android.

    I think the modern take on the classic story might have scratched the nostalgia tint on my rose-tinted spectacles.

    Still, a beautifully made game.

  19. cannedpeaches says:

    Hands down one of the best games I’ve ever played. I tend to get bored by explore-’em-ups. I tried Sunless Sea but found it a bit too opaque and… grindy? No, not grindy. Just that I never seemed to be able to accomplish anything useful.

    This was a romp – an incredibly well-written (I do nothing but read these days, and this is close to outpacing John Barth in prose and adventurousness) game that doesn’t sacrifice gameplay to story. It’s Sunless Sea’s love of imagination and story, but without feeling like you could suddenly die because of an opaque system you didn’t understand. Everything is intuitive and breezy and that in turn helps feed a story which is intuitive a breezy, but infinitely more full of surprises.

    An absolutely fantastic piece – props to RPS for focusing their reviews these days on games like this and Undertale!