80 Days: A Most Wise Purchase, Monsieur

SEVERAL hours had passed. The sunlight that once illuminated the cabin had shrunk to a mere shimmering speck above our heads, casting only the faintest of rays down through the glass canopy. The air had grown close in the confines of the submerged cabin, and each breath had become necessarily deep and prolonged, slowly rattling inside my parched throat.

                The mood within the cabin was pensive. Each person present sat in silence, only occasionally flitting their gaze from the floor to inspect the diminishing figures around them, or else glance with dwindling expectation up at the fading light above. I myself could seldom avoid joining them in this fruitless venture, although I had perhaps resigned myself to the mercy of likely passing out long before our fates became truly sealed.

                “Passepartout?”

                “Oui, Monsieur Fogg?” I replied, my reverie broken by the sound of my master’s voice.

                “I rather doubt, at this rate, we’ll make it back to London.”

                I could hardly argue with that assessment, but felt the compulsion to do so nonetheless. “There is always hope, Monsieur.”

                “Quite right,” replied Monsieur Fogg, though I rather suspected he noted the quiescent tone in my voice. We sat in silence for a moment, broken only by the wistful, laboured breathing of our fellow passengers.

                “Passepartout,” he continued abruptly, “I would like to apologise.”

                “Monsieur?”

                “I feel responsible for the predicament in which we find ourselves. The venture was ambitious, perhaps too much so.”

                “Nonsense, Monsieur. You couldn’t possibly have known how it might transpire. One cannot account for bad luck.”

                “True enough.” Monsieur Fogg, quite uncharacteristically, hesitated upon his next choice of words. “I would also like to thank you, Passepartout. Your service on this journey has been remarkable; I have wanted for little that you could not procure. A better valet I doubt could be found were we to circumnavigate the globe ten times over.”

                “It has been my pleasure, Monsieur Fogg,” I replied, touched by a rare display of humanity from one who had up to yet displayed little more emotion than an automaton.

                “Perhaps, under the circumstances, you might address me as Phileas?”

                “Of course… Phileas.”

                For a moment, I half-expected him to lean over and embrace me. Ever the gentleman, however, he merely nodded, the subtlest of smiles teasing his lips. For Monsieur Fogg, this was as warm an embrace as one could expect, and I was grateful for it. Once more, we fell into silence.

 

This is 80 Days. You play the role of Passepartout, a Frenchman hired as valet to the famous English gentleman, Phileas Fogg. Rather than perform the tasks one would usually associate with a gentleman’s valet, however, Monsieur Fogg instructs you to pack his travelling cloak into a case, for you are to depart immediately. Might you ask where, Monsieur? Why, around the world, my good sir, and in eighty days, no less! For what purpose? Perchance, on the whim of a madman? Or else, an inadvisable wager? Alas, time waits for no man, and away you must go… onwards, across the channel, to France!

As you may have inferred from the title, 80 Days is inspired by the Jules Verne novel from which it takes its name, Around the World in 80 Days. Set in the 1800s, 80 Days reimagines Verne’s historical setting in a steampunk universe with sci-fi elements; coal-fired trains transform into submersible craft, zeppelins and gyrocopters litter the sky overhead, just two examples of an intelligent contemporary fusion of history and impractical technology.

80 Days’ gameplay takes the form of an interactive novel, with segments of the text-based branching narrative broken up by fast-paced sections of route planning and inventory management. Text-based gameplay makes up the majority of the action, with events narrated from Passepartout’s keen perspective. Players are given an impressive multitude of options as the game progresses: choosing to investigate objects or locations that most take your fancy; making unexpected choices with little or no information; negotiating tough conversations to extract the most fruitful information. Passepartout’s narration is excellent throughout; the prose is sparse, but littered throughout with keen observations, historical and geopolitical significances, and dry wit.

As for the gameplay; you are presented with a 3D map of Earth, upon which are a broad collection of isolated real-world locations and cities; to traverse the globe, you must explore your immediate surroundings, chatting to anyone who may have information to help you proceed. Uncovering potential routes is much simpler (and much less dangerous) if one is able to find the various locale timetables scattered throughout the markets of the world, although finding one that will be immediately useful isn’t guaranteed, meaning you often have to lug it halfway around the world, or else discard it before you get close.

Inventory management is surprisingly tough, comprising of four distinct considerations: items, finances, suitcases, and Phileas Fogg himself. Keeping your travel fund well stocked is perhaps the most important of these; running out of what precious little money you have often means lending from banks, costing you substantial amounts of time depending on how much you require. Money can be earned by picking up items of ill-worth in one city and bringing it to a city whose market will pay handsomely for it; as you may expect, the procedural nature of market item generation often means clashes between secure funding and efficient route-planning.

Aside from trading items, there are items that serve to aid you in your journey. The aforementioned timetables will reveal routes otherwise undiscovered. Miscellaneous items can be used to schmooze officials for favours and information. Certain items trigger fresh narrative threads. All of these are stored in suitcases, each taking up various amounts of space. Like a click-and-drag version of Tetris, the game here is to fit as many items in to as compact a space as possible, for extra suitcases can burden you with exorbitant excess travel storage fees, or close-off routes altogether if you are unable to dispense of the necessary items before the clock ticks briskly past the hour of departure.

To cap all of these concerns is Monsieur Fogg, the most useless video game companion since Magikarp. Fogg doesn’t even evolve into a Gyarados. Fogg is represented – rather over-simplistically – by a health monitor in the corner of the screen. His health (and his mood) will decrease through various afflictions and maladies inflicted upon him; cholera, actual bodily harm… cold weather… having to travel by car… Managing his health is easy enough, but the game often pits progress against gentlemanly behaviour, lowering Fogg’s estimation of your worth as a valet. Through sarcastic asides, Fogg will berate you, whilst never failing to inadequately praise you for your assistance. My current record of completion is at Day 49, after which the game’s final summary listed Fogg’s appreciation of my excellent and efficient valeting as… adequate.

I won’t let that sully my appreciation for the game. For a mobile game that costs about £4 in total, there is huge replayability, and multiple playthroughs will award you with significantly more variety and playtime than your average fare. The branching narrative deals sensitively with issues of race, sexuality, and colonialism, and can be equal parts humorous and emotional. 80 Days is easily one of the better games available in your app store, and one of the better interactive novels I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.