On the route from literature to video games, few seem as poised for the transformation as Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s a classic tale from a classic writer, and all of it points to a classic setup for an interactive interpretation. With a wager setting a hard time limit and an impetus to experience new locations in that timeframe, what better than this for inkle studios to take and turn into 80 Days.
Of course, that bit of inciting action wherein Phileas Fogg takes up a wager to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days with nothing more than his servant Jean Passepartout and a presumably stout mustache in tow isn’t nearly as important as the execution. And 80 Days executes on the premise wonderfully. By putting you in the shoes of Passepartout and removing the inessential or irrelevant parts of the objective, the game opens itself up to a much more interesting system of storytelling mechanics.
For instance, the original challenge was brought about by the trans-Indian railroad, a technological innovation that allowed travel from Bombay to Calcutta in three days. (There’s also the bit about an Indian princess and Thuggee cultists.) Impressive, but it locks the pair into a much more insular experience. Inkle saw fit, instead, to throw in a massively spidering web of possibilities to get from place to place and focuses on a decidedly different and steampunky world seen through Passepartout’s eyes.
At its core, 80 Days is about resource management. With time, money, and health all working against you as you singlehandedly attempt to arrange this worldly trip (like, get off your ass, Fogg, and help me), you have to spin several plates at once while the game actively tries to topple them. And you never know when something you do is going to make your life better or worse.
That is the crux of what makes 80 Days so interesting. At the very opening of the game, you are faced with a decision to either lie or come clean. And that’s where you are shown the fourth resource: your relationship with Fogg. Your decisions on this trip will either enhance or degrade his opinion of you, showing you as an unreliable mess or an uninteresting fool or a wholly self-sufficient and wise companion.
It rouses a similar feeling to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, but with the temporal pressure spread out over an entire journey rather than moment-to-moment, which strangely enough makes every branch that much more anxiety-ridden. With zombies and the always immediate goal of survival, choices often felt like less like a choice and more like a necessity. But with Passepartout, picking how to respond to Fogg and the strangers you meet on your travels feels infinitely more consequential.
Instead of knowing your choice will result in someone living or dying, it’s more akin to real life. When you go about the daily world, you never know what decision will come back and bite you in the ass or simply pass off as another flowing, uninterrupted part of your contiguous life. The same goes with this game where the things you choose to say and do may or may not result in anything of note. You decision to hop a turnstile could just get you to your train on time or it may halt you for several days and land you on Fogg’s bad side.
This setup of obfuscated dominos could have easily been ominous or tedious, but 80 Days is rarely either, at least not in a bad way. If anything, the lazy dread that follows your solitary and potentially monumental decisions are exciting. Every situation could land you in a dozen other new places that you hadn’t planned on or could have even foreseen, but it’s never an inescapable fate. It only serves to broaden your adventure across the globe.
Part of it is that the responsibility is placed entirely in your hands. While some notes come up in your inventory and on timetables of where you can be to get somewhere today or how much a candle is worth in Africa, so much of the earned context of your journey is only retained in your head. With the people you encounter, you realize that taking note of names has the potential to payoff later. Or getting your hands on gear in Russia can help with your trek across the Pacific.
The laissez-faire approach to information retention in 80 Days makes each journey feel that much more personal, especially as with each replay, you find or are forced into new routes and unknown territories. Or at least that’s one possibility. A huge part of what makes the game work is the writing. It’s consistently impressive and fits entirely well within the milieu of what the art and the characters establish, but it also allows you to dictate Passepartout’s character.
Choices allow you to make him as well-traveled as you’d like, opening up the potential of him to skip intel gathering in the market and instead pursue more meaningful threads like airship procurement and automata security. As your choices actively meld right back into the written words of the story, it feels as much like you writing the story as it does you reading one that already exists. Simultaneous creation and discovery.
Without a doubt, 80 Days is a game you should definitely play. For all the aliens you’ve shot as a space marine or the cities you’ve saved jumping a car off the top of a skyscraper, this tale of two men finagling their way across the world feels more like an adventure than most of those other grandiose stories combined. Genuine fear, anxiety, excitement, eagerness, and desire, and that’s before you even board the train.