Jules Verne was one of the early greats of science fiction. In a time when most people had never even seen running water, Verne was spinning tales of traveling underwater, fighting giant squid, and traveling to the center of the earth, encountering creatures from the past.
One of his greatest stories (and most adapted by Hollywood) is Around the World in 80 Days. In the story, wealthy eccentric Phileas Phogg accepts a twenty thousand pound wager to travel around the world in eighty days by any means necessary (a feat accomplished two years before the publication of the book), which of course leads to all sorts of adventures along the way.
Verne's sense of wonderment about the future and fascinating narratives have been the basis of quite a few adventure games over the years, through literal adaptations, pseudo-sequels, and even takeoffs on the original tales. From Return to Mysterious Island to Journey to the Center of the Earth, developers continue to go back to the author's tales for inspiration.
Adventure developer Frogwares has taken the sequel/homage route with their new game, 80 Days. Rather than a literal interpretation of the original story, they've moved the timeline to a few years past the end of Verne's story and envisioned a new cast of characters following Phogg's journey in a campy takeoff of the original challenge.
You play as Oliver Lavisheart, a young adventurous lad who wants to travel to America to meet up with his friends and start a new life. There are a few problems, however. His parents are petitioning his Uncle Matthew to convince him to come home so he can wed his arranged bride. But Matthew decides to help Oliver off on one last adventure. He has made a bet based on Phogg's trip, and now has to prove that it is possible to make it around the world in eighty days. And to heap trouble on top of trouble, Matthew is about to lose his inventor's license if he can't prove that he is the inventor of four marvelous contraptions that just happen to be scattered along the way of Oliver's trip.
Most game adaptations of literature and their offshoots are pretty by-the-books affairs (no pun intended), but Frogwares has really proven with 80 Days that they have a way with storytelling. I was really impressed with their ability to use the time constraints of the trip to add an element of drama and suspense while still managing a lighthearted sense of adventure. And while some of the humor falls flat due to ill-fitting pop culture references and corny jokes (like a Scotsman named Mac Haroney) that produce a few groans, for the most part the humor is a welcome addition to what otherwise could have been an incredibly tense game.
Graphically, 80 Days blew me away. The game is in full 3D, allowing you to roam freely around the incredible environments from a third-person perspective. The cities in 80 Days are by no means small, and it would have been very easy to start recycling pieces in order to make things simpler from both a graphical and a memory standpoint. But instead, Frogwares managed to pull off what appears to be living, breathing cities, teeming with people, and with a nice sense of geography that easily keeps you from getting lost on the way to your next objective. Main characters are beautifully detailed from head to toe, and touches like Oliver's orange scarf seem placed in the game just to show how much attention was being paid to detail.
With that being said, this is a game that is not going to play on an older system, plain and simple. While you do have the option to dial down your graphical settings in order to get the game to run, there have been several publicized technical issues with lowered settings affecting certain puzzles, making them problematic and even impossible to solve. I'm not the biggest proponent of staying up to date with the latest hardware (especially being an adventure gamer), but even on a relatively high-end system, I was still encountering slowdowns on a fairly frequent basis. Add to that a series of graphical glitches, like a woman who walked across a body of water in order to talk to me while I was boating, and frequent instances where walls would disappear or Oliver would jump through geometry and lock up the game, and those beautiful graphics quickly become a source of frustration. A recently released patch promises to fix some of the more annoying glitches, though reportedly not all.
When I first booted up the game and was greeted by the sound of disco coming out of my speakers, I was initially concerned about music in the game. But once I got behind the deliberately campy nature of Frogwares' take on the story, I was hooked. The soundtrack for 80 Days not only fits all of the environments wonderfully, but also manages to mimic some hits that you'll definitely find familiar (for instance, Walk Like an Egyptian while Oliver is in the Cairo level). The sound effects and ambient noise are well integrated, blending nicely into the background exactly where they belong.
Voices, on the other hand, are a little on the up and down side. Some of the actors, like Uncle Matthew, are very well done, while others are of the cartoony, stereotyped variety that I keep hoping we'll at some point get past in the adventure genre. And of course the most important voice would be Oliver's, since you will be spending so much time with him. Unfortunately, the actor playing him sounds like he was attempting to speed read the script, and comes across sounding very rushed for a good portion of the game time.
But as most gamers know, any game is going to live and die by its gameplay, not by its graphics, music, and voice cast. And 80 Days definitely doesn't disappoint.Continued on the next page...