Publisher: Tri Synergy/dtp
Release Date: December 12, 2005
Jules Verne seems to be a very popular source of inspiration in the adventure genre these days. Recently we have seen the release of several titles based on his works, including Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and most recently, 80 Days by Frogwares. The game is loosely based on Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, but instead of playing Fogg, the player is cast in the part of Oliver Lavisheart, an adventurous youth intent on helping his Uncle, Matthew, retain his good name and fortune, and just as intent on avoiding his impending arranged marriage.
At first glance, the game offers a unique take on the adventure genre (a 3D engine instead of the standard "slideshow"), gorgeous environments with amazing detail, and a lighthearted, campy sense of humor. Unfortunately, what 80 Days gains in terms of creativity and imagination, it loses from the technical side, as the game suffers from poor design and some nearly-crippling bugs. Before even attempting to play the game, it is "highly recommended" that you patch to version 1.01 (actually, it's critical – the game locked on me consistently every 10 to 15 minutes until I updated it).
First, the great: 80 Days is beautiful, plain and simple. The textures are amazing, with bright, vibrant colors that jump off the screen and help convey a bit of the sense of wonder one would have when adventuring through the exotic locales. Frogwares has devoted a great amount of attention to the visual details of the game, and it shows. Character models are very well done (though the rather limited set of NPC models are used quite extensively throughout), and animations are, for the most part, solid.
Sadly, that's about it for the positive side of things; from there, the game starts to decline, finally ending in a steep nosedive from which it could never recover.
In the realm of "still good, but I'm getting worried," there is the audio and the game's story. Environmental sounds are solid, and the soundtrack to the game is actually quite fitting, and even fun ... for the first hour. After that hour, the music is just repetitive and annoying; it reminded me of being stuck in an elevator for hours on end, forced to listen to canned versions of hits from the '70s and '80s. I thought the Musak version of "Walk Like an Egyptian" was quite clever as I ran through the streets of Cairo, but after 30 minutes of the same loop, I got a little tired, and then to hear it in Bombay? At that point, I reached for the volume control.
The storyline for 80 Days is also fairly good but is marred by some significant flaws. I enjoyed the references to Verne's works, and even to other classics of literature. However, the execution of that story leaves something to be desired. Frogwares has tried to inject a sense of humor into the game, and does a fair job in most parts; I found myself chuckling along in several places. At some point (again, about an hour into the story), the writers just took a bad turn, and the title veered off into one too many obscure pop culture references and "inside jokes." I'm sure some of the references are downright hilarious around the Frogwares offices, but in my bedroom, they have absolutely no humor whatsoever. Another review put it best when it said, "the game simply isn't as funny as it thinks it is."
Finally, there is the "just plain bad." First and foremost is the lack of a save function. Instead of allowing the player to save their progress as they complete objectives, 80 Days uses the "checkpoint" system for saving progress. I thought we had moved beyond this fatally bad design years ago. Considering the game's instability, no manual save forces players to repeat the same segments over and over again, which in turn frustrates players and encourages them to move on to another title. Bad design.
Second, the controls are clunky, and in many places, unresponsive. I felt I spent too much time trying to get from place to place, struggling to navigate, and not enough time actually playing a game. I can appreciate the decision to create large city environments in which the players can wander and explore. But given the time constraints on your adventures (you have to complete the game in less than 80 days), moving directly from objective to objective is an imperative. Travel is a real chore, which is sad, when travel is, more or less, the point of the game. The engine may be able to render amazing environments, and even nice animations, but the physics need a lot of work. The platform puzzles were awkward due to difficulty in jumping accurately. Collision detection was poor, leading to difficult handling of vehicles and a lot of faceplants into walls as I tried to move around obstacles. I'm all in favor of using a 3D engine for adventure games, but if a developer is going to go this route, they must do a better job of it.
80 Days is not a game I can recommend, in good conscience, to most players. Die-hard fans of Jules Verne, adventure game fans, and anyone who feels they can work through the issues detailed above will probably find something worthwhile in this title. The truly unfortunate thing about 80 Days is that is had real potential; it starts off strong. Somewhere along the line, someone just started making bad decisions, and then the game shipped before it could be polished. The game has some worthwhile points; many of the puzzles are challenging, well designed, and fun. However, one must dig for these nuggets of gaming goodness; most likely, only the dedicated adventure gamer will have the perseverance and the patience to find these moments and really appreciate them. That damages 80 Days' chances for success, even in a genre that is recognized for its sparse offerings.
Overall, 80 Days is another sad tale of a game that had real potential for success, but falls short due to significant technical issues. It's the same story we've all heard and experienced so often before, and the outcome is no different. The gorgeous visuals and often-fun puzzles of 80 Days drown underneath the crushing weight of bad design; the poor controls, questionable physics, and repetitive (ad nauseam) elements all hinder what could have been a great gaming experience.
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