Platforms: Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS
Genre: Interactive fiction
High tech, high art
By Jonathan Goodison-Orr.
Since the days of Pong, the artistic community’s upper eschelon has debate whether video games can be considered art. Could these pixels ever rival a great painting or orchestral composition? Could a video game ever make you feel something, like Beethoven’s 5th or A Midsummer Nights Dream? Today, we need not wonder anymore.
In fact, we live in a world where powerful and beautiful games don’t just exist, but are commonplace. Since games from The Last of Us to Heavy Rain have shown us the great thematic lengths that video games can reach, saying “the sky is the limit” can no longer quite do the medium justice. Seemingly every day, there is some game out there published by a small, dedicated group of folks just for the purpose of pushing the envelope and exploring a new and exciting world. Not just another FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or Madden, but a real, story driven examination of complex themes and powerful characters. Today, let’s look at just that: a game of small budget but massive scope and possibility: 80 Days.
80 Days is without question a story-driven game. Beyond that, it is almost entirely based around branching storytelling, allowing the player to make choices that impact the plot. The plot structure is loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days, where you, Jean Passepartout, are the valet to Phileas Fogg, a wealthy Londoner who has just made a wager at the Reform Club for £20,000 (equivalent to $2.3 million in 2016), betting that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. During your journey, you will have to manage your finances, Fogg’s health, and trade in different markets around the globe in addition to which route you would like to take from point A to point B.
Each city you visit is unique, and it is estimated that in one full journey around the world, the player will only have seen about 3% of the game’s 750,000 words of textual content. Each choice you make (Brave a dangerous journey across the Arctic and potentially cut your trip time in half, or race across Europe aboard the Orient Express to Istanbul, etc.) will affect how the journey proceeds. Not to mention, there are no shortages of twists and surprises throughout which keep the game exciting and re-playable. The game’s style contains a great deal of steampunk-themed modes of transport such as giant airships, hovercraft, rockets, automated carriages, rudimentary airplanes, and plenty more in addition to the traditional trains, steamships, and hot air balloons of the day.
Every play-through gives you a chance to make your own adventure. Perhaps you want to try your chances on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, or see if you can find a shortcut by traversing the spine of Africa. Maybe this time you want to trust that mysterious rocketeer in Switzerland, or cross the Arabian Desert on camelback to discover a long lost treasure. The possibilities feel endless. You make the adventure that you want and, by the end, you will feel as though you have just written your own rendition of Verne’s classic work, and one even he would be impressed by. The writing is sharp and witty, and there are real-time updates from other in-game players so you can compete for the shortest completion time.
On top of just being a superb adventure, 80 Days, set in 1872, offers an excellent modern commentary on colonialism, and an insight into the mindset of the colonizers and the colonized alike. For instance, if you travel to Pangsau Pass in Burma, there is an Indian nationalist about to be executed for destroying a British munitions store. You are given the option to try to rescue him from prison, but if you are caught you will be arrested by the military and lose a nearly insurmountable amount of time on your trip. If you do not choose to help, however, you and Fogg will witness the execution the next day and be haunted by it for the rest of your journey.
There is never a moment where you don’t feel in charge of the game’s progression, and as such, you the player are held accountable for nearly every decision you make throughout the plot. Around every corner is something that threatens to slow you down, so you need to be smart in who you chose to help and who you chose to trust. Above all of this is the game’s sweeping score, which perfectly sets the tone for your journey and is one you are not likely to soon forget.
80 Days is a rare example of a purely enjoyable game. Whether you appreciate deep narratives or just want a new and exciting adventure every time you play, there is something for almost everyone here. So if you are in the market or a Time Game of the Year, 4x BAFTA-nominated, 3x-IGF nominated experience billed by PocketGamer as “rich with ideas, brilliantly written, and creates a world that you’ll want to visit over and over again”, then I would wholeheartedly recommend 80 Days. Happy Travels!