80 Days Review
I haven’t exactly made my hatred of Inkle’s Sorcery a secret—from my review of it to random conversations where it’s come up, I’ve always made a point to explain why it’s a terrible ripoff of a game. However, I’m hardly one to give up on developers for the inadequacy of a single series, so I couldn’t help but pick up the Jules Verne novel-inspired 80 Days when I caught it on sale; not only did it promise to be a complete game, but it also infused the original story with a steampunk twist that sounded too intriguing to pass up. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint in either case, and my lusts for story-rich games and the steampunk aesthetic both wound up being sated.
Is this a game? An interactive novel? Something else?
Before I get too far into the game’s pros and cons, I feel the need to bring up the game-ness of 80 Days. It always seems to be the case that choose-your-own-adventure/interactive novels are accused of being “not games,” and that label would be fairly accurate here to those who make a point to avoid such titles: though each successive playthrough has a different seed (from 1 to 8), the seed doesn’t seem to have any actual impact on events, so you’ll experience the exact same occurrences every time you travel between two areas. For example, traveling from Moscow to Irkutsk will always see you caught up in events involving a young lady named Roza and provide you the opportunity to meet Goland in the library car and spice up your travels with a little bit of romance. Things can play out in different ways depending on your choices, of course, and some rare events (such as the Goland one) can carry over and impact later events, but most are self-contained.
This, then, means that you can conceivably have nearly identical playthroughs and results should you make the exact same decisions twice. There are two things mitigating this that make it more of a game than an interactive story. First, different playthroughs see you outfitted with different starting items and put different items up for sale around the world. Since sitting around waiting on the bank is rarely a viable strategy, the most prudent route to take is almost always toward a location one of your items is absurdly valuable in. Second, there’s the element of time; minutes pass by in seconds and you’re often having to decide which route to take within an hour or so of several departures, so there’s an element of randomness in the sense that you’ll sometimes wait too long and miss your planned transportation.
A story-rich, novel-based steampunk dream
Have you ever read Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days? To be perfectly honest, I haven’t—I’m not exactly a reading enthusiast, and I have enough books lying around unread without inundating myself in even more. That said, I decided to approach this like a panicking college student and Google it to try and understand the story in broad strokes. It’s difficult to say how well this actually worked, but it was at least enough to appreciate how much original content went into 80 Days.
The two stories begin similarly, with Phileas Fogg’s new valet Passepartout (you) getting drawn into his master’s crazy bet that he can make it around the world before 80 days have elapsed. The stories soon diverge, however, because not only are there a multitude of different routes to take (according to the game, there are 148 locations to visit), but the story has been infused with a distinct steampunk flavor in the form of mechanical automatons that are in their infancy but already shifting the balance of power for many. In this sense, the world’s state brings to mind that of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (though minus the magic, obviously), and it allows for Fogg and Passepartout to find their way into some truly wonderful and bizarre moments. An example of this would be one particular automaton that seems to have developed not only a consciousness of its own, but an understanding of good and evil and the will to punish the latter. The decisions may be static and fixed, but it’s nevertheless worthwhile to decide whether to oblige such a creature when it makes a request/demand of you or simply ignore it and hope that it never manages to track you down to pay you back for your refusal.
And another thing: where Sorcery was sorely lacking in content, I’m still finding new things in 80 Days; I’ve played the game obsessively for a week, trying to uncover everything that one can say/do, but I still haven’t managed to visit every location, much less say/do everything possible in those locations. In fairness, part of that comes down to the game’s automatic saving system that forces you to play through the game in ironman mode without any opportunity to load a save and do things differently. This means that seeing the end result of three different decisions requires three separate playthroughs, which can be overwhelmingly tedious, but I discovered that backing out of the app on an Android device instead of hitting home to close it causes the game to restart at the beginning of an event. This lessened the hassle somewhat, though seeing whether an event has an effect on the story’s conclusion still required playing through the entire game multiple times and got a bit too tedious for me to continue.
It’s simple to play, but takes a little getting used to
The goal is simple: to travel around the world within 80 days without completely ruining Fogg’s finances in the process. Doing so is possible, too, since you can borrow from the bank as much as you want, though borrowing larger amounts forces you to wait between 3 days to a week for the funds to actually arrive, making it a less practical means of obtaining money than buying items and selling them where they’re valuable. Each city has its own unique hub screen and a number of cities connected to it, and you can travel to those locations once you’ve learned of the route. Learning new routes can be done in a variety of ways, from buying maps in cities to asking fellow passengers about potential routes. You can even learn some routes from events and sitting around reading the newspaper. Should you reach a location unaware of any routes out of it, however, you’ll have the option to explore (at the cost of 4 in-game hours) to find transportation to nearby cities.
Traveling costs not only money, but also expends hearts from Fogg’s heart meter (which I suppose is some kind of fatigue indicator). This sits at the bottom-right of the screen and is raised by attending to him and staying in hotels. On the other hand, it’s decreased by arduous, uncomfortable modes of travel, as well as sickness and misfortune caused by some cities’ events. Gameplay largely consists of juggling your money with Fogg’s heart meter and finding the fastest routes out of wherever you’re staying, because should you not have enough money for a departure (or if the strain it would cause would reduce Fogg’s heart meter to zero or below), you won’t be able to take that route. Something I have to point out is that the game has been superbly balanced to where the only thing you ever really have to worry about is time; even if you run out of money and hearts and have no access to a bank, an option for begging opens up to avoid you being stuck in the game. This requires a great deal of time, naturally, but it allows you to continue in even the worst of circumstances, and it’s obvious that a lot of work went into balancing so that you can keep your journey alive and never truly be trapped.
I had many theories about what happens when Fogg’s heart meter reaches zero, but it turns out that it simply makes traveling impossible until you increase the value. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. However, I was undeterred: Phileas Fogg had annoyed me by contracting cholera in our first journey around the world, leading to an unimpressive 91-day journey that saw us losing the bet. That was when I realized that I needed to kill this man. I tried everything from giving him cholera again when his heart value was already low to getting involved with a dangerous group of pirates who were attempting the risky rescue of a fellow pirate. Alas, I only found a single way of killing him off, and that turned out to be through neglect during a particularly strenuous northward journey. It was totally worth it, though, and knowing that he can be killed, even if it turns out that there’s only a single way to do it, makes the game that much sweeter of an experience.
Some problems and issues
The first and most notable problem 80 Days suffers from is one I didn’t even run into: crashes. A lot of people have reported that the game simply doesn’t work with their device, so that’s something to be careful of before you purchase the game, especially given its 5-dollar price tag. It’s always a good idea to look up reviews by people who are using the same device as you to ensure that it works properly with the game in question, especially when they’re this pricey.
Another problem revolves around the inventory. To put it simply, the inventory system is a huge hassle, and moving items around in your inventory is a slow and frustrating process thanks to the touchscreen controls not always doing what you’d expect. For example, if you tap one item and try to move it to another suitcase, it won’t actually go into the second suitcase until you move the item to the side of the screen so that the suitcase you’re moving it to scrolls to the center of the screen. This scrolling has a tendency to move so fast that you can overshoot and have to go back the other way, though, and time is passing while you’re messing around with your inventory. Reorganizing your inventory is often required, too, because some modes of transportation only allow a certain amount of luggage, either requiring you to pay more for the extra room or drop some of your items altogether. Fumbling with the clunky inventory can cause you to miss a critical departure, and there’s really no excuse for including such an awkward system.
Then you have the inability to return to locations you’ve already visited. This can be a problem when a turn of fate sends you to a destination other than the one you intended to reach and you don’t know a route from your location to where you were trying to go. This is one of the smaller problems, but it’s one I found myself annoyed with once or twice while playing. Another small problem is with the responses during conversations with passengers; sometimes you’ll ask someone a question and they’ll answer with a non sequitur as the game vomits up a random factoid instead of responding with anything relevant to your question. For example, I asked someone if there’s a route from X city to Y city, and they responded, “No banks exist in Y city! Now tell me, do you like rain or snow?” That’s an actual example, by the way.
Lastly, the save system. I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating that this game autosaves all the time, forcing you to replay the game from the beginning if you want to make different decisions and see where they lead. This makes exploring the different possible decisions in the game an incredibly tedious process, and while I suppose this allows the content to remain fresher for longer, manual saves would have nevertheless been greatly appreciated.
The music is okay, but the graphics are really interesting
There’s really nothing to say about the music other than “it’s a bunch of strings playing a theme whimsical enough to kind of work.” It’s not a distraction or anything particularly bad, but I didn’t find anything noteworthy about it, either (though the song that plays during the opening credits is admittedly quite catchy). The graphics, on the other hand, ooze personality, from the black and white vectors of your transports to the cartoonish heads that show up whenever you engage another passenger in dialogue. There’s not a great deal of movement, and I can’t recall any animation save for a red line that shows your progress from one city to the next, but this somehow never managed to bother me. The only downside to the graphics would be on the world map. Since both land and sea are solid colors, it’s easy to confuse the one for the other and suddenly wonder if Tehran glitched out to be in the middle of the sea. Maybe that’s just me.