Let’s lay a ground rule for 80 Days: what happens in Hong Kong stays in Hong Kong. We all make mistakes. In my 1872 adventures as the faithful Passepartout, valet to my arguably out-of-touch master Phileas Fogg, there were many encounters that I found myself in through questionable decisions and doing things in a way I wouldn’t normally do them. Therein lies one of the best ways to fully enjoy the wonders of 80 Days.
A steampunk adaptation of the Jules Verne novel, 80 Days has the player step into the patient valet’s shoes to help his master win a wager. Set out from London and circumnavigate the globe in fewer than 80 days to be rewarded with money and fame. You may use airships, steamboats, automatons, carriages, good old-fashioned trains, and any and all other means necessary to travel from city to city and make it back to your starting point. There are thousands of potential routes and outcomes thanks to a choose-your-own-adventure style of dialogue options with narrative choices that play a large role in what becomes of you and your master.
During the course of my first few playthroughs, I did things by-the-book. I was a loyal valet, sought out the best routes, and stayed out of trouble. I was easily able to beat the 80-day timeframe and bring glory to our house. However, there is far more to the story if you get to know people along the way. This is a world where almost every city is teetering on the edge of war or rebellion and robotic armies and airships are crafted by powerful artificers. It’s worth taking time to explore and see what kinds of trouble you can stir up, and there’s trouble a-plenty. If a man running from the police with a stab wound in his chest shoved a mysterious cube into your hands and begged you to bring it back to “her” and tell “her” of his fate, what would you do next?
In a game where the most compelling factor on each playthrough is the ever-changing story, the writing needs to be engaging and craft a distinct world. Meg Jayanth pulled this off spectacularly. The characters I encountered along the way gave me moral choices, opened new destinations, and inadvertently changed my route around more often than planned simply because I cared more about completing their storylines than I did getting back to London in the desired timeframe. The steampunk world is explained in such a convincing manner that I didn’t even question coming across an entirely mechanical city that walked around a la Howl’s Moving Castle.
Tensions from the modern world and our own histories also tie in well with those of the fiction. In my most recent and memorable journey, I became caught up in a coup against colonialism in Asia (okay, I may have helped with it) and saw the effects of religious conflict boil over into a mutiny on a steamship (I may have helped with that, too). The struggles of indigenous peoples and the worldwide drug trade are also highlighted in ways that meld with the story and can be explored as much or as little as the player desires.
The mechanics of the game are intuitive. Starting with four thousand pounds and endless possibilities, pack your suitcase and set out from London. You’ll have to choose what to pack carefully as not everything will fit in a single suitcase, and you won’t get the option of buying a second until a bit after departure. The items available to bring are somewhat randomized, giving you potentially a different start each time you begin a new game.
Money is spent on transportation, hotels, and items, among other things. If your wallet is running low, banks are available to lend you money. Alternatively, you can become something of an international trader. Most places have markets, and the items they sell are often labeled as being worth more in specific cities. If you plot your journey well, you can hop from city to city selling goods and never have to borrow money. It was this concept that set me off on a determined journey to sell a music box in Astrakhan. While there’s no penalty for selling items elsewhere, and dragging around extra suitcases can be an expensive burden, I wanted to explore a location I had never been to on any previous playthrough. So, off I went.
Upon arrival in Odesa, I could see on the handy 3D world map that Astrakhan was due East. (Side note: this game will improve your geography skills by approximately 1,000%. It’s just science.) The problem was I didn’t have a route available connecting the two cities. That’s part of the fun: you’ll have to explore, talk to people, and charm your way into discovering new transportation routes, which will update on your map. Sometimes the easiest way isn’t available right away, and that’s if it exists at all.
I happened upon a train station and had the option of asking which train would take me to Astrakhan. However, being a strong, independent valet who don’t need no assistance, I opted for the “choose at random” option instead. One not-so-brief detour in Moscow later, we returned south to the promised land. I may be unconventional, but I get the job done.
While carrying out duties as a valet, it is important to remember to tend to Master Fogg as well. His health can wane on such a tiresome journey and it is up to you to make sure he has weather-appropriate clothing and comforts of home to help him survive to the end. Resting in hotels will relieve some of his ailments, as will gestures of gentlemanly assistance such as giving him a shave or polishing his shoes. All in a day’s work for a humble valet. Should you neglect Fogg’s health, your relationship will deplete and he may be unable to complete the journey. That said, he is surprisingly hearty and can withstand more than he thinks, especially when you decide to get a bit rambunctious.
There are certain other gameplay elements to tinker around with as well, such as Passepartout’s assigned key personality trait. The trait changes depending on your dialogue answers, but also creates new dialogue options depending on which trait was active when a conversation opens. Collecting “sets” of items (Cold Weather set, Air Traveller set, etc.) will have different effects as well, such as bringing up unique events or getting discounts on flights. It’s worth trying out different sets on each playthrough to see what helps the journey along.
The art of the game fuels the steampunk imagination and is in itself worth a look. Depictions of the mechanical soldiers and powerful freight trains add charm and immersion to the story. You can also see your previous routes on your world map as well as a live feed of other players making their way across the world, should you decide to either reconfigure your travel plans or race against a competitor.
Due to the branching narrative, ever-shifting marketplace items, and an entire world with 170 cities to explore, 80 Days is massively replayable. Since the game isn’t lost by taking longer than the 80-day limit, the world is ripe for exploring without feeling constant pressure to win the original bet. You never know what sort of trouble you’ll get into…especially in Hong Kong.
80 Days boasts four BAFTA nominations and Time’s 2014 Game of the Year among its accolades. This is all well-earned praise. As far as interactive adventures go, it’s hard to do better than to travel with Master Fogg.
TechRaptor covered 80 Days on PC via Steam with a copy purchased by the reviewer.