October 30, 2016

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As a fan of interactive fiction story-games, I was excited to play 80 Days by Inkle Studios. I was not disappointed. This enchanting steampunk adventure around the world is both well-written and astoundingly entertaining.

In 80 Days the player is Passepartout, valet to Monsieur Fogg as he attempts to circumnavigate the world in under 80 days on a wager. This is of course the basic plot to a Jules Verne novel. Most of the game and story occurs through the regular passages of text that appear at points of interest: arriving in a city; exploring a city; travelling encounters; and more. A few sentences of text appears on the screen at a time followed a multi-choice decision point, which reveals more of the story until the end of that section. There is a lot of text and the player must be prepared to read. However, there is often a choice to avoid interactions and so short-circuit out of the text early

The story describes a Jules Verne’esque world (of course) with a steampunk atmosphere. Not quite like our own, this world is far more fantastical and open to adventure. There are mechanical cars, airships and even walking cities. Although there is still enough similarity to our own (late 19 th century) world that the player can make informed choices about possible routes. At the same time, a knowledge of history is not a great advantage, and the events will still be surprising. It all seems quite logical given the premise, so repeat plays can take advantage of knowledge about how the world works from earlier games.

Choices

Apart from the text and choices, there are other parts of the game. Passepartout has to discover routes between cities while travelling, by talking or exploring cities. Then deciding which path to take (if there is more than one). Monsieur Fogg doesn’t appear to appreciate travelling rough, so there is often a need to keep him happy and entertained, usually by combing his hair. There is also a small trading and management system in the game. The player can buy and sell goods at the local market in most cities in order to earn a little extra cash or collect items that may be useful. The money is used to pay for transport, items or other expenses.

Running out of money does not mean the end of the game. More can be obtained via banks at the expense of time. This is an “easy” game if the only goal is to make it around the world in the nominal 80 days or less. I have heard reports of players achieving the feat in less than 40 days, and in two attempts without being overly focussed I have made it in under 70. However, that is not really the point of the game. The 80 day objective is just to motivate the player to move forward through the narrative. The game is more about exploring and experiencing. On that basis the game will succeed or fail on the quality of the writing… and luckily it is excellent. The text is well-written; creating intriguing setting full of marvellous events. There is lots to see and do, with enough time to investigate multiple cities.

Buy low, sell high

There is some randomness in the available actions, items and events. Plus the choices made during the game appear to make a difference to events later in the game. Many times, the text reflects items being carried or previously met people, yet these could have easily been avoided. I am stunned at the amount of writing required. If there is a design trick here (like in The Walking Dead) it is concealed well enough for me not to see it. This, plus the number of cities (169 total, and a circumnavigation visits 15 to 30 of them) means there is huge replayability. I have played twice and nothing was repeated other than the start and finish in London.

There are many other great things about 80 Days. The way the text scrolls and fades, with a slight pause before options appear. The way the 2D graphics shake or move slightly in the background to give a sense of place. The excellent sound effects. The way viewing a city shows snippets from conversations Passepartout has previously had about it. The map shows the route of previous successful journeys, and the location of other players at roughly the same point in their journey. There has clearly been a great deal of attention paid to the small details.

Next stop, Copenhagen

In fact I struggle to find anything negative to say about this game. There is one thing I find slightly annoying (the way time passes), but can see why it may have been done, so can not bring myself to criticism. 80 Days is near perfect for what it is. The main determinant of whether a potential player will find the game an enjoyable experience is their acceptance of the large amount of text – which is implied by the interactive fiction category. Essentially, if this is the sort of game you like, then this is an exemplary specimen of the genre.

80 Days out on Steam for PC and Mac at US$9.99 (or local equivalent). It is also available on the Humble Store, and on mobile platforms. It has been bundled.


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