19th century storyteller Jules Verne was a master of his craft. Along with HG Wells, he became one of the grandfathers of science fiction and helped forge many of the conventions of the genre we take for granted today. Verne wrote 54 novels, collectively known as Les Voyages Extraordinaire, dealing with the common theme of a group of individuals on a fantastic journey, from expeditions to the moon to forays to the centre of the earth.
Inkle Studios’ 80 Days is a lovingly crafted tribute to one of his most beloved works, Around The World In 80 Days. Designed as an interactive storybook, 80 Days tells the tale of a wealthy Englishman and his French valet attempting to cross the globe in under eighty days to settle a bet.
From the moment the game starts, there is a grand sense of adventure and style to it. Credits roll over a spinning globe, a newspaper flashes up detailing the outlandish nature of the attempt and you are thrust into a world of mystery, intrigue and the promise of high adventure.
The game itself is gorgeous. Each screen looks like a theatre poster come to life. Vector art buildings merge with fluffy clouds, the sun moves across the sky as the day passes and your journey across the world is tracked with lines and markers in a faithfully recreated world map. Characters interact with each other through seamlessly animated conversations and dialogue trees. Almost everything about the game is intuitive and interactive.
Playing as the ever patient and attentive valet Passetpartout (quite literally ‘goes everywhere’), you must plan and manage your journey from city to city. Serving your enigmatic and sometimes downright arrogant master Phileas Fogg, you negotiate your way through markets, banks, hotels and ports trying to find the fastest way to the next location. Routes unfold through conversations with everyone from surly train guards to curious locals.
How you play the game is reflected in Passetpartout’s character. Boasting to a group of strangers of your adventures may reveal you as prideful, choosing to steal the prized flute from a musician might mark you as dishonourable. These choices then allow certain doors to open as the game progresses. A charming rogue may garner useful information from easily flattered travelling companions, and a courageous hero might stop a pickpocketing and save you from financial ruin.
You must constantly see to the welfare of Fogg – a man whose mood varies wildly from wildly enthusiastic to ungrateful and unpleasant. He chastens you when you spend money on little luxuries to make your journey more pleasant, and complains bitterly when he feels you aren’t doing enough to traverse the vast distances you must cover. Thanks to skilful writing, the relationship between valet and master is a fascinating one that keeps the game from feeling like a lonely affair.
In 80 Days, the passing of time is an ever constant threat looming over your head. In my game, I was making fine progress across Russia when I found myself imprisoned for four days in Vladivostok. As a result, I missed a connecting boat to Yokohama and found myself delayed further. Eighty days seem like a long time, but when you’re staring out the window at the endless prairies of North America while your master berates you at every turn, I can tell you it’s nowhere near enough time.
Every city in the game has an interesting event or tale to it. You might find yourself accosted on the Trans Continental railway by outlaw Jesse James, or deep in conversation with a samurai’s daughter on a steamship through the Pacific Ocean. In Verne’s alternative world airships roam the skies and mechanical automatons serve as soldiers on the battlefield – and each and every wonderful sight has been lovingly transcribed and adapted into the game. The writing in particular, by the very talented Meg Jaynath shines through. Each encounter feels unique and interesting. Characters are woven through the story in such a way that a chance encounter early in the game may pay dividends later.
I finished the game in a rather tidy 62 days thanks to some good fortune and savvy trading. A katana bought in Yokohama and sold in San Francisco allowed me to travel first class across America to New York. My palms sweated in Honolulu as a carefully negotiated passage on an airship fell through on account of overspending on hotels. Fogg fell into despair as we languished in Venice while I marvelled at the mechanical delights of the city.
This was in short, a thrilling adventure. Verne tells a ripping yarn and Inkle Studios have made it their own. Every journey will prove different – part of the joy of the game is telling your friends of your fortunes (and misfortunes). It is intelligent and insightful. It is light years removed from the Candy Crushes and Flappy Birds that blight the app stores.
This is interactive storytelling at its very best. It is no surprise that the game was named as one Time Magazine’s ‘Top Ten Games of 2014’ – it is quite literally a page turner.