I feel a bit weird about this one considering one of the creators recently tweeted about an interactive fiction I wrote! But I committed to this challenge and I will not let social awkwardness stop me.
Publisher/Creator: Inkle Studios, Cape Guy Ltd.
Format: Interactive fiction with mechanical crunch (plus a vein of strategy game)
Available for: PC, Android, iOS
Platform(s) Played: Android, PC
What is it?
An intriguing game adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days, in which Phileas Fogg and his manservant Jean Passepartout try to traverse the globe in 80 days to win a bet. Filled with fantastical worldbuilding, wonderful characters and a definite frisson between Fogg and Passepartout, it’s a mechanically simple game easily played on a mobile device, but has immense narrative depth and plenty of variations for replay value.
How much have I played so far?
I played this a lot on mobile devices when it first came out, but on PC I have only played a little over an hour.
What did I think?
Verne’s original novel was both a thrilling adventure and characteristic of colonial attitudes (though also does not contain a balloon ride, despite the collective mythology). This is what I have learned through cultural osmosis, as I have not read it and honestly, I feel it might be a disappointment after playing 80 Days. 80 Days respects and transcends its source material by bringing the feel of a thrilling adventure through marvellous places in the company of the irascible Fogg, while remaining aware of the colonial legacy that Verne’s novel represented. The worldbuilding is excellent, and part of the joy of it is discovering what the alternative versions of real-world countries are like. There is a strong vein of steampunk/gaslight fantasy style to the setting, as well as a good dose of pulp adventure.
I originally played this on a tablet and phone, often spending my 10 minute break moving the story on a little. I would highly recommend this as a break game on a mobile device, but I did find that I had a tendency to start speedrunning my journeys rather than taking my time, partly because I couldn’t see where I’d already been, so when I reached a story that I’d played through before, I would skim it. With writing this good, it’s worth enjoying it properly.
I was initially resistant to playing 80 Days on the PC considering how much I had played it through other media, but I decided that I should do this properly. I’m really glad I did, because it gave me a new appreciation for the visual and sound design of the game. The look of the game is really clean and immediately presents you with a spinning globe that promises exploration, accompanied by adventurous music and a dramatic opening line.
The storytelling really shows off the capabilities of the ink engine*, with dizzying possibilities for how your story can go. The narrative is rooted in the experiences of Passepartout, his excitement or apprehension at the world he explores and his loyalty to Fogg (this game definitely ships the two of them and I am here for it). There is an element of strategy to this game as well, since Fogg has a health meter and can die if he experiences extreme temperatures, injury or sickness, and you have to manage your funds by buying and selling as you go. You have both limited space in your suitcase and (when you get further suitcases) may not be able to take all your luggage with you on some journeys. You can pick up items that are sold for a profit in certain cities, but they take up space and you have to gamble that you’ll be able to navigate to the city. While this does give a level of guidance in what sort of route you should plot, it can be tricky and time-consuming to go out of your way to sell on an item for the best price, so choose wisely!
In cities, you have to work out your route and potentially stay overnight at a hotel to catch the right transport, or you can sometimes set off in a different direction more immediately and hope to reach your destination by other means. Staying in a city longer also gives you the opportunity to engage with story events, which vary between fairly short and not terribly significant to huge changes like revolutions and relationships with NPCs. En route, you can talk to other passengers to get information about other routes (I found this to be my only gripe, that it was hard to use this feature to get much useful information, so the conversations sometimes felt a little pointless) and to Fogg so you can build your relationship with him or maintain his health/morale.
Something that I hadn’t expected was how much more satisfying the game is with the Steam achievements. When I first got the game, I initially complained that you couldn’t preserve your past journeys and accrue a complete picture of the routes across the world. Obviously, this was a misunderstanding of the nature of the game, but I did find myself feeling that my over all arc across my saves didn’t necessarily feel like progress: I understood the game mechanics better, yes, and I could remember the different options for certain events, but the amount of randomness that provides the game with such replay value also left me feeling that each journey would disappear as soon as I had finished it. Even the routes you have previously discovered cannot be relied upon, as their accessibility is dependent on in-game events (which is a clever way of pushing players to explore different methods of exploring the world, but can be frustrating if you know how to get to Prague but find that you absolutely cannot). The Steam achievements give you enticing previews of what you could experience if you play the game enough and showcase quite how much content there is in 80 Days. Despite the time I sunk into the mobile version of the game, I never got near the centre of the Earth or the bottom of the sea!
More than anything else, this game provokes a sense of wonder – I shall not spoil the surprise, but there is a moment during the first train journey that always gets me, and that when I decided I loved this game. Passepartout is a charming character through which to experience it all: while he can be played differently, I always found myself taken by the version of him that examined everything with great curiosity, seized adventure at every opportunity and dreamed of clockwork automatons.
Will I play more?
I’m actually a little torn on this, mostly because it’s a lot more convenient to play on my mobile, but I also liked the Steam achievements as a way of giving my play more of an overall sense of progress. I suspect that it will stay on my PC as a fallback game for when I’ve had a rubbish day or my brain hates me and I just need something beautiful and satisfying to escape into.
The answer is almost certainly yes, but probably not in a concerted effort, and not entirely on the PC.
Who would I recommend it to?
Anyone who likes…
- …event-driven stories with immense replayability and sweet character moments.
- …steampunk/gaslight fantasy narratives filled with wonder.
- …classic literature through a post-colonialist lens.
- …gentle, immersive escapism that stays with you even after you’ve stopped playing.
Next up on GG: It’s not quite 20,000 leagues under the sea, but come explore an undersea kingdom with me in ABZÛ!
* If you’re into interactive fiction coding languages, you can take a look behind the scenes at how the ink script works with this handy tutorial, which includes examples from 80 Days.