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The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 12th: 80 Days

2015's best written game.

What is the best writing in a 2015 game? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today's door is...

80 Days!

Alec: Confession: I’ve never quite completed 80 Days. I’ve started it and played it for several hours five times. Twice on iPad, twice on my Android phone, once on PC. Life has gotten in the way each time, but whenever I went back I felt it would be a grave disservice to start part-way through with only faint memories of the decisions I’d made so far, the import of the items in our cases, the sense of the relationship I’d built with Fogg.

So I restarted, and my journey felt no less urgent or no less uncertain for the occasional familiar scene. It takes only the faintest shift to end up in a completely fresh situation, even within a place I’ve visited before. The spider’s web of options and outcomes which underpins this thing is monstrous to imagine; it is actually doing what a Bioware RPG claims to, spinning out, adapting, letting you choose your own path rather than follow its. And all the time, that insistent hand on your back, pushing you onwards, trying to meet a deadline, trying to hop that train or boat, creating that innate tension between exploration and efficiency.

Urgency is what other open world games – and I am happy to squeeze 80 Days into that category, as in the purest sense it is about exploring the world and choosing destinations for yourself – lack. They’re ball pits to frolic in, but there’s no meaningful sense of journey because there’s no deadline, no race. Did anyone playing Fallout 4, for recent example, really see the quest to find their missing child through to the end before doing anything else? 80 Days, though: that time limit is so effective. It’s long enough to take chances, but too short to indulge yourself. You must move on. You must. Or honour will be lost. Or worse. I know that even though I haven’t ever quite finished it.

An impeccable creation, it really is. Time to restart for a sixth time. This time I’ll see it through.

Graham: 80 Days' main resource is time, since it's about you trying to outrun the limit in its title, and its secondary resource is probably money, since it's the pennies in your pocket that let you fly, drive and sail across continents. But the one I value most is the third resource: a health pool. Because unlike in almost every other game, the health pool isn't yours or that of some lesser, Sims-like minion. It's of your employer, travel companion and potential friend, Phileas Fogg. That makes 80 Days into a game about kindness and looking after another person. If you choose to play that way, at least - and I always do.

Fogg's dwindling comfort and his shifting respect for you add extra weight to every choice you make, as regardless of whether you decide to comb his moustache for the umpteenth time or go to flirt with strangers on whatever mode of transport you're travelling upon, the decision feels like roleplay. My Passepertout is committed to his role as Fogg's valet, though has a saucy and adventurous streak. Your Passepertout might be quite different, but your choices will be similarly reflected back at you via your travel companion.

The rest of the game is, wonderfully, just as concerned with human matters. It's an adventure story in which you'll visit exotic locations all over the world, leading mutinies and triggering revolutions and becoming embroiled in murder investigations, but like all good stories - and holidays - it's ultimately about the people you meet along the way. Stolen moments with beautiful strangers you'll never see again. Wonderful.

Pip: I played 80 Days while in my Christmas nest in 2014. For those of you who don't know, a Christmas nest is the thing you make by padding out a person-sized nook in a less well populated part of your house using duvets and pillows. You then add a supply of whisky you think your parents won't miss, cake and the chocolate selection box that was left unattended. The Christmas nest is an ideal hiding place and impromptu nap zone as well as an excellent larder and pub.

Generally it is a place for books but last year I added 80 Days and The Banner Saga. Both were fantastic nest candidates but 80 Days was the one I really latched onto, playing through story after story, exploring the world and tweaking Passepartout's relationship with Fogg. It was uplifting, exhilarating, devastating and wonderful (and by that I mean full of wonder). But regardless of where I was on the emotional spectrum, it was always smart. Quite simply, it's one of the best short story collections I've ever read which just happens to be a brilliantly accessible game.

Adam: 80 Days was one of my favourite films of 2014. At that point, I was playing it on a tablet and was always pleased when I had the chance to play it while travelling around the world. Sitting on a train or plane, I'd slip the iPad out of my bag and tap away at the screen, sending Fogg and Passepartout from city to city. I've never bought a system for a single game but 80 Days almost was a system-seller for me.

I'd been planning to buy a tablet for ages, for reading and mobile internet purposes rather than playing games, and 80 Days was the straw that broke a hole in my feeble savings. What I hadn't realised was how much of a dent the game would make in my actual reading, as in the reading of books. For a few weeks, if I had the iPad in hand, I was almost certainly playing 80 Days rather than picking through my Kindle library. As Pip says above, it's a brilliant short story collection, a sort of remix album of not only Jules Verne's story but the very idea of the travelogue. There is something of Theroux and Wharton in the writing, as well as a reimagining and critique of colonialism and imperialism that reminded me of Mary Louis Pratt's excellent 'Imperial Eyes'.

There is so much to learn from 80 Days but it isn't strictly an educational game. I have vague (and most likely imaginary) memories of a nineties edutainment game based on the 80 Days conceit and it's easy to picture such a thing. 80 Days' lessons are humanist rather than geographic and historical, and it's world is a about progress in every sense of the word. "Onward", the terms of the bet dictate, and sure enough, the world shifts forward in sync with the two travellers, as they learn more of its people and its ways.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

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