At one point in my playthrough of 80 Days
, a scarab automaton explodes in the bottom of a silver tureen of salmon broth. It's a message from the artificer guild, a statement of violent intent.
And it's also a statement from developer inkle that it's putting its own stamp on the well-known story of Phileas Fogg's adventures around the world.
The game is set in an alternative timeline where the Austro-Hungarian army is made up of music-controlling robots, trains transform into boats, and weapons of mass destruction can wipe the people from a city in one fell swoop.
It's a world built with words, presented in snatches of conversation and internal monologue. And it's all the more effective for it.
The bulk of the game involves travel. You play as Fogg's valet, Passepartout, and need to find the quickest way around the world, using whatever means are available to you.
The route is entirely up to you, and you reveal possible new connections by talking to the characters you meet.
Maybe, you'll take a car from one city to the next. If you do, though, the rattling roads will tire you out and take away some of your health. A train will move you on, too, but will there be room for all your luggage?
You need to balance the price of your travel with the comfort, and make sure you're heading in the right direction.
On top of that, you're managing your relationship with Fogg, finding out more about the world from the varied cast of characters, and purchasing items you might need from the markets you visit around the world.
The writing here is excellent, painting pictures that the most expensive graphics engine simply wouldn't be able to.
Passepartout's internal monologue gives us glimpses into cities ravaged by conflict; wondrous inventions of steel and song; and bumbling, desperate, and intriguing characters who let slip snippets of important information.
Calling it a gamebook feels a little disingenuous. This is something more than a Choose Your Own Adventure, with each avenue you take changing the narrative in some subtle way.
Whether it's picking up an extra suitcase and having to pay a little more, or making a remark with which Fogg disagrees, nothing has a straightforward outcome. The game feels all the more organic for
The build I played is just about in beta, so there's still some rough edges here and there. Saying that, it already feels like the dev's pinned down a unique look and feel that'll set 80 Days
apart from other examples of the genre.
It's certainly a wordy experience, and there were times when it felt like the game had hit a bit of a lull. Hopefully, though, inkle will iron out problems like that before the game hits the App Store.80 Days
is a fresh concept, and it shows that gamebooks are still growing and developing in their new digital form.
It'll be exciting to see what shape this game can take when it surfaces later in the year.