This idea of games that use randomness to create experiences that aren’t quite the same has been left largely to the roguelike subgenre over the last couple of years. But of course, gamebooks – and the recent resurgence of them in digital form – have been doing the same thing for decades now. But while 80 Days has gamebook roots, could Inkle have made a story-based adventure game that uses its digital nature to transcend what a pure gamebook could be?
That’s a bold undertaking. And 80 Days is a solid trip for those who want to play through a story that’s not always the same.
While those who have played Mi-Clos’ wonderful Out There will get 80 Days’ premise quite quickly, the best way to describe this is as an interactive story where the goal is to manage resources properly to keep progressing around the world at a steady pace.
Time is of the essence, as the goal is to make it around the world in 80 days. But it’s really a game of resource management: trying to manage money and items to afford trips, selling items that are cheap in one place and valuable in another, paying for faster rides when possible, and just trying to uncover valuable information when necessary to get a leg up.
This game is all about economy, conversation, and adjusting to changes when necessary.
It’s really quite fascinating to play. It requires multiple playthroughs to learn the ins and outs of the world, and what should and should not be done while venturing it. As you do so, the narrative of the world starts to slowly unfurl.
Not everything is as it seems. There are a million stories that you are just merely passing through, taking them in one at a time. The approach of being able to dictate the story not just through responses but by choosing what happens is an interesting one, because while it’s still impossible to know just what will happen based on the different ‘seeds’ of each adventure, the root of any game that relies on randomness is to vary the player experience.
80 Days has clear gamebook origins, if only thanks to its massive amounts of dialogue – the developers claim over five hundred thousand words went into the script – but it feels like Inkle used the format of a game to create an experience that would be difficult to replicate on paper. If there’s a system of dice rolls powering outcomes, it’s effectively hidden. Even just the systems of travel paths and departure times relative to how late in the 80 day timeframe you are is intuitive in digital format, versus trying to sort it out through a paper system.
There are definitely consistent elements, but some seem to change based on that world’s seed; a route that was available in one playthrough might not be in another, for example. It lies somewhere in the middle of a gamebook and a roguelike, even if only in terms of feel to someone like myself, whose knowledge of gamebooks is casual at best.
Despite how polished the game is, there are still some minor annoyances. The interface can be frustrating to deal with, as it’s not always the easiest process to explore the map and then go back to the current city, or to manage the inventory and other menus. It can get a bit convoluted. The game’s clock is pretty much always running, and looking at the map takes time. If a departure leaves at a certain point and you select the city just a bit too late, well…too bad, my friend. It looks like you’re stuck in your current city until the next departure comes.
At least the game takes place on a gorgeous globe that can be panned, zoomed, and glimpsed, with the many paths becoming clear as more information is uncovered. It’s hard to stay too mad when the game looks this good. The writing is generally solid, doing a great job at creating the many characters and crafting the world, but the conversations when probing for information feel like there’s often something missing between the topic I’ve chosen, the text displayed, and what is actually being said. It’s a horrifying reminder of my college physics courses. Ugh.
Overall, 80 Days is a wonderful game. I like the aforementioned Out There a little better if only because its simplicity is a little more inviting, but that may just come down to personal preference. 80 Days has a solid amount of depth to it, a great story, and is well worth checking out for the player who wants an adventure where they might not know what comes next. It’s a challenge – but an intelligent one.