Release Date: December 2005
Note: This review was originally published December 19, 2005
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Michael Strogoff, The Mysterious Island… Is there anyone not familiar with those titles? Jules Verne (1828-1905) is one of the most well-known writers in history, and is often referred to as the father of science fiction. On earth, in space, at sea, wherever his stories took place, they all had one thing in common: Adventure! And what better to incorporate his stories into, other than adventure games. During the past couple of years we have seen quite a few adventure games based on Verne’s stories: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Voyage, Return to Mysterious Island. Now Frogwares presents their new Verne-based adventure 80 Days.
80 Days could be seen as a sequel to Verne’s book Around the World in 80 Days. Oliver Lavisheart is summoned by his uncle to help him with a bet. His uncle’s inventions were questioned by his colleagues and he made a bet that he can retrieve four documents of proof of his major inventions that are scattered around the world in no more than 80 days. If he loses the bet, his engineer title will be revoked. So, in order to win the bet, Oliver will have to go around the world and retrieve those four documents and be back to London within the 80 days period. Now his quest could be easy and free of obstacles, couldn’t it? Well, maybe, if we weren’t talking about an adventure game! And maybe it’s not as straightforward as it sounds like either!
As you probably have already seen from screenshots and previews, 80 Days does not quite look like your regular adventure game. Actually, one could claim that it looks more like a Tomb Raider game, and from that one could come to the false assumption that 80 Days is an action oriented game. That is entirely untrue though, since Frogwares have managed to blend together 3D, keyboard controls and pure adventuring – something that many others have tried and failed in the past. “Was this blending successful though?” I hear someone asking from the back seats. Well, that question does not have an easy answer.
The first thing you’ll want to do after setting the options - graphics, sound and controls – is to select a difficulty level from between Tourist, Globetrotter and Adventurer. The difficulty level might again make someone think “action”, but it has nothing to do with that. What it changes is how relaxed you can be during the game time-wise and money-wise. On Tourist level time will be frozen and the days will only pass at certain points, so you have all the time in the world to explore and solve puzzles. On the other hand, on Adventurer level time will be passing quickly while you play. Regardless what level you play, Oliver will get tired during the game. There’s a stamina bar on the bottom left of the screen, and when it runs out, Oliver will pass out. To avoid that from happening, Oliver needs to be fed and rest. Regardless where he is though, even if he’s locked up in the deepest dungeons, if he passes out someone will find him and bring him to his hotel room! The game will resume from where you were before though, and time will have passed if you’re not playing at Tourist level. Also, money is a very important element, and Tourist level will give you a good amount, while Adventurer level will force you to tighten your belt.
There are four cities to explore: Cairo, where the game begins , Bombay, Yokohama and San Francisco. Of course, as teleportation has not yet been invented, Oliver will have to travel from one city to another by train, boat or blimp. Each method of transportation is also playable, and, as you can easily guess, Oliver will not be able to lay back and enjoy any of his trips! Numerous problems will arise to compromise his quest, and Oliver will be called to solve each and every one of them in order to reach his destination on time. And let me tell you, after what I’ve seen, if I ever see Oliver on an airplane, train or boat that I am on I would bail right away! The improbabilities he encounters are amazing, but what’s more amazing is the fact that he can easily roam around, messing with the engines and everything else, most of the times with the captain’s blessing! But that’s why we play adventure games, isn’t it?
Exploring the cities is the fun part of 80 Days and defines the word “adventure”. They are huge and contain numerous small, subtle, and at times humorous and surprising details. It’s also imperative to search everywhere, since there’s money lying around, and even if you are not in dire need of it, you still want to get it just to see Oliver’s little dance! Talking to all the characters on the streets is possible, but it will only lead to some small response from them – sometimes funny, sometimes not. All responses become repetitive after a while though, and unfortunately they are all the same in all cities. In the process you will hear the name Phileas Fogg several times and will eventually discover the connection between him and your uncle! All that of course takes time, and when you’re not playing on Tourist level, time is of major importance, so exploration can only be really enjoyed on that level.
To make matters worse, there is no proper save feature! The game can only be saved at certain checkpoints, which is done automatically. The action/adventure saving-points nightmare has finally struck the adventure genre and hopefully this will be an isolated incident. According to the developers, this was done as a safety device so that someone playing on Globetrotter or Adventurer level would not forget to save and end up in a dead-end situation after losing a lot of time. This is of course understandable but it doesn’t prevent implementing a proper save routine as well as the automatic checkpoint-saving.
To make exploration even more fun, Frogwares has introduced a great novelty, never seen before on adventure games: vehicles! There are many different vehicles Oliver can rent, from camels and elephants, to magic carpets, race cars and weird one-wheeled motorcycles! The vehicles are tons of fun, and several times I found myself driving around just for the sake of driving! They are also very helpful. Imagine playing Syberia with Kate being able to drive? Yes, they are that helpful! They can never crash, but a little more care should have been taken when it comes to interaction with pedestrians. When running into a pedestrian, the vehicle will just come to an abrupt stop, leaving the pedestrian unaffected! Ok, I realize this is not Grand Theft Auto, so I wasn’t expecting blood and guts to be spilled on the stone-paved roads of Cairo, but having the pedestrians run to get out of the way would have made things a bit more realistic. Still, the innovation of vehicles was more than welcome, and I wish we could see this feature in more adventure games.
When it comes to puzzles, 80 Days is very uneven. The entire game is played in missions, and during each mission, which can always be shown on screen using the Tab key, there will be obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve. The puzzles can be divided into 3 major categories: 1. Go find someone or fetch something; 2. Solve a logical or mechanical puzzle; 3. Action-like. Uh-oh, there’s that word! Yes, I did say that 80 Days is a pure adventure and it is, but it does have a few action-like sequences. There are two mini games, one where you need to steer the blimp using radar to avoid a flock of birds and the other a shooting gallery, and they are both really easy. Also, there are a couple of instances where Oliver needs to jump on platforms with precision. Nothing too hard, but certainly not as easy as the mini games and can become frustrating. The worst sequences though are those involving the stealth function. There are two stealth sequences in the game, one of which can be completed by using alternative methods. The other one though has to be played, and it was hands down the worst part of the game.
The first category of puzzles, as mentioned above, is the one most commonly encountered. With the use of the mini map that’s on the screen and points to where you need to go at all times, those puzzles are practically non-existent, since the only thing they involve is following the map until you get to where you were told to go. Of course if the map wasn’t there, it would be practically impossible to look around a whole city over and over again trying to find needles in haystacks. Vehicles come in very handy at this point, as the distances needed to be traveled are pretty long. On the train, the boat and the blimp though there are no vehicles, so this kind of puzzle soon becomes tedious.
The mechanical and logical puzzles vary in difficulty. There are puzzles that are pretty easy, while others are very clever and challenging. I will admit to looking at a walkthrough to solve one of the puzzles that had me stumped. The funny thing is, even after reading the explanation in the walkthrough, it still took me a lot of time to see the clue I couldn’t see, which was right under my nose, perfectly disguised. Sigh…I am getting old I guess. And while some puzzles are perfectly laid out, with all clues needed to work on them, others, while clever in their conception, suffer from complete lack of clues and/or poor feedback from Oliver. Sometimes, when trying to figure out how a contraption works, all Oliver will say is something like “I don’t wanna” (ok, not exactly those words) leaving you with no clue whatsoever on what’s going on. Other times you will have to run around trying to figure out what changed after you moved a lever – hmm, this rings some bad bells! All puzzles feature a point system, and points will be awarded every time you complete a mission. Points could have been distributed a bit better though, since at times you will get less points for working out a complex puzzle than for running on a straight line until you find someone!
The world of 80 Days is presented in full 3D. Options to set the resolution, anti-aliasing, real-time shadows etc are available, but the game is very hardware-hungry. If you want to enjoy it in all its glory you will need a monster-machine. For the record, I played it on an AMD Athlon64 at 2.2 Ghz, an ATI Radeon 9800 with 256 MB video RAM and 1 GB Memory and if I wanted full details I could only go up to 1024x768 for smooth gaming, and even then I experienced some slight stuttering every now and then. So, people with lower-end machines will miss out a big chunk of the game’s beauty and “beauty” is the word to describe 80 Days.
The outside areas are exquisite. Settings vary according to city. From tall apartments buildings in San Francisco to Buddha shrines in Yokohama, everything will make you feel that you are actually in those cities. Weather changes from sunny to rain to snow. Day gives way to night, when the city streets all light up and it all creates a fantastic atmosphere. Inside areas are gorgeous, especially in the boat, which is an eye-feast – and features a nice tribute to Jules Verne too! The characters are very detailed, especially Oliver, whose detail to attention extends down to his scarf which flails according to whether he walks or runs. The only problem is that there is not much variety among the NPCs. Seems like the gene pool isn’t too deep in the areas Oliver will visit, since he will meet a lot of identical twins everywhere!
The music is another of the highlights. Different kind of music styles will be heard out of your speakers: funk, retro-pop, light guitar rock – all keeping with the light and fun feel of the game. Experienced ears will immediately pick out tunes inspired by popular bands of the 70s and the 80s. The speech on the other hand is not on the same levels. While some voices are nicely done, especially Oliver’s, there are several voices that sound like someone trying too hard to do impressions and accents. And although it seems like some of this is done on purpose to maintain a humoristic atmosphere, it doesn’t always work and at times is annoying, like in the case of the Italian bird-loving woman.
Although beautiful in its presentation, 80 Days comes with several technical problems, most of them being minor. Oliver’s shadow seemed to be occasionally “misplaced” when Oliver was going up or down a ladder. Some textures disappeared a couple of times – once creating a funny effect of Oliver gliding on the water! Also, some artifacts appeared at certain places when viewed under certain angles. These are all minor problems that don’t detract from enjoying the game, but what did spoil the fun were a few crashes to the desktop (combined with the fact that, due to the awful save system, I didn’t have any saves close by) and, especially, a major sound problem related to the speech. Most dialog lines would be spoken missing the first or last two or three words. If someone said “Hello my dear friend” I would only hear “dear friend”, while if it was just “Hello” I would hear nothing. For some reason, this didn’t happen in Bombay and San Francisco! There is a patch that is supposed to resolve sound problems but it didn’t do anything for me. Thankfully, subtitles were there to save the day.
Finally, a problem that does not belong in the technical area but does cause some frustration is the implementation of hotspots. Hotspots are shown by a green border whenever Oliver is at a place where one can be manipulated. The problem is that some hotspots do not appear unless Oliver is placed at the exact angle. So a hotspot might be right in front of you, but not appear because Oliver is looking slightly to the left. Also, when there are several hotspots next to each other, for example elevator buttons, placing Oliver correctly according to which button you want highlighted requires pixel-perfect movement and camera adjusting. I guess this hotspot problem is hard to work around in a keyboard controlled game. A good solution would be the ability to switch to a mouse cursor to search for hotspots on a screen and manipulate them.
- Update Jan 6, 2006: As it turns out, there are a couple of major problems with the game when playing with the graphics set to the lowest settings. There is one puzzle where you have to cover the blimp using a kilt-like cloth with the help of levers, but when the graphics settings are low, the cloth does not show over the blimp when you move the levers, leaving you of course with no idea of what you are doing. Another problem is during the second stealth sequence, the one that is mandatory to play. For some unknown reason, when the graphics are set to low you get caught every time, even when the guards are not watching! Both problems can be resolved if you can temporarily set the graphics to high, but if your PC cannot handle it only the blimp puzzle can be played with a walkthrough. The stealth sequence is impossible to pass, making the game unplayable. Those are the only problems of this sort discovered so far, but there may be more. If you are a low-end PC owner keep this in mind, since you may not be able to finish the game. Thanks to Charles Herold for pointing those two problems out.
- End of Update
And now it’s time for the big question: How do you grade a game like 80 Days? On one hand it is very innovative, manages to keep adventure gaming pure while being full 3D, is humorous (what do sailors read in their cabins?!) and light. It features some clever and challenging puzzles, and overall it feels like a real adventure. And let’s not forget the vehicles that add a lot to the overall enjoyment of the game. On the other hand, it suffers from some poorly designed puzzles, repetitive interaction with most of the NPCs, some technical and hotspot problems and a horrible save system. The fun I had while playing and the urge to play more makes me feel confident that it had the potential to be one of the best adventures of 2005. Unfortunately, its downsides lie on elements key to an adventure game and cannot be overlooked. Overall though, even though the style will not be everyone’s cup of tea, Frogwares has managed to prove that they can take the genre to new levels and build it around new technology without a need to hybridize it with other genres, and in my book that is highly commendable.
Final Grade: B-
*Supported Video Cards at Time of Release:
NVIDIA® GeForce™ 3TI; ATI® Radeon™ 8500/9000 families
(Laptop models of the listed cards are not fully supported.)
NOTE: This game contains technology intended to prevent copying
that may conflict with some CD-RW, DVD-RW and virtual drives.