Branching story demands you play through more than once
Game makes the most of its sparse art deco graphics
Format feels more suited to phones than sitting at a PC
Inventory screen can feel a bit clumsy
80 Days is a modern take on the choose-your-own adventure novel, with a branching story that spans the entire globe. It’s a game that practically demands you play it more than once.
“I have entered into the service of a new gentleman. It would seem he is a gambling man.” And with these words, your adventure begins. It’s 1872 and your master, a Monsieur Fogg, has bet some of his colleagues in London that he can circumnavigate the globe in under eighty days—by ship, by train, and occasionally riding on the back of an elephant through dense jungle.
As his servant, it’s your job to accompany him. Haul his bags, handle the travel arrangements, fend off unwanted attention, and above all keep him safe.
Around the world
This is the wondersome world of 80 Days, which originally became a hit on Android and iOS and has now been ported to the PC. Like the classic Jules Verne novel, you’re charged with making it around the world in eighty days by any means possible.
80 Days is in many ways 2015’s version of the classic text adventure genre—and no surprise, considering developer Inkle was cofounded by Jon Ingold, a relatively big name in interactive fiction circles. You’ll find no text parser here, but the game does consist mostly of massive blocks of text which spool out into a massive branching narrative. It’s like a fancy choose-your-own-adventure.
Setting off from London, you must discover and decide between different methods of travel at each stop along your journey. For instance, upon arriving in Paris you can choose to depart by way of the Orient Express to Budapest, the Pyrennes Express to the south of France, or by private car to Amsterdam. Each takes a certain amount of time and money—and, for particularly rough modes of travel, a toll on your master’s health.
Upon arriving at your destination you choose another mode of travel, and then yet another and another until (hopefully) you arrive back in London before the eighty day time limit is up.
This “puzzle” aspect of the game is but a framework though—a delivery mechanism for a story that spans the globe. Each city and each stretch of your journey is accompanied by unique events, conversations, and encounters that make up the meat of 80 Days, all eloquently written in a pseudo-Victorian Era, Vernes-ian style.
During my first journey for instance I met robot soldiers, encountered (and charmed) bandits in the jungles around India, went diving amongst the zebra fish in Australia, traveled by gyrocopter in Peru, took over as lightweight boxing champion of North America, and arrived back in London by blimp after sixty-four days. Among other things.
There are a dizzying number of branches to the story. Even in Paris—your first stop on the journey—you can choose to go to the World’s Fair or skip it entirely, see a small section or try and take it all in. And from there, as I said, the story can head to three different cities immediately, each with its own unique events to discover.
And then there are the contingencies. Certain events only trigger if you’ve met earlier requirements in the story, which means even visiting the same city on two playthroughs may lead to different events, depending on which route you’ve taken.
It’s an astounding achievement in branching narratives. 80 Days is short—about two hours to run through, maybe—but there’s so much to discover it practically demands you play more than once to get the full effect. Where most games give you the illusion of meaningful choices (i.e. Telltale games) while basically funneling the player down a certain path, 80 Days provides for nearly-unlimited player freedom.
Unfortunately I think 80 Days worked a bit better as a mobile game—not because the PC port is in any way bad, but because thematically it plays better on-the-go. The sparse graphics, large blocks of text, and minimal interaction just seem more suited to the pick-up-and-play-for-five-minutes pattern of phones than sitting down at the computer and churning through an hour or two straight.
But that’s by no means a commentary on the game’s quality! It’s fantastic on either platform, it just…feels a bit like a mobile game ported to PC. Which it is. Spruced-up graphics and an easier time managing the game’s inventory don’t belie that fact.
80 Days is one of the most approachable pieces of interactive fiction ever produced, managing to largely retain the heavily branching stories the genre is known for within the much simpler choose-your-own-adventure format. While I can think of a handful of interactive fiction games/text adventures I like more, they all involve a text parser. 80 Days is a wonderful alternative.
And it’s a damn good game in general. While I think you’d be better off playing on a phone, that’s largely a personal preference based on how I like to consume text-heavy games—especially ones structured, like 80 Days, around short pick-up-and-play encounters. Whether on phones or on PC though, you should play this game if you have any interest in branching stories. At least twice.