80 Days is, as you may have guessed, a game about going around the world in 80 days. Of course these days, that's a pretty easy feat to accomplish, providing you don't get caught up in some hostage situation. So naturally, the game isn't based in the present, it's based in 1899 - an era dominated by stylish top hats, funky facial hair, racist locals and, as it would seem, futuristic traveling devices that conquer city transport brilliantly, but apparently don't translate into super-speed global travel. Oh well, 80 days it is then. Sync futuristic mechanical steam wrist watches.....nnnnnow!
As the gamer, you control Oliver, a young adventure savvy lad who just wants to get back to San Francisco to meet up with his, er, buddies. However, his Uncle Mathew, an aged English man who is in a spot of trouble, has other plans. Good ol' Uncle Mat has made a bet, involving most of his fortune, that a man can travel around the world in 80 days, and in the process, Uncle Mat has tasked you with finding proof of four of his inventions, conveniently located in four fairly distant cities around the world. Along the way, much of the storyline and its origins are revealed, but whether or not 80 Days lasts more than 80 minutes on your hard drive is another matter.
In a way, 80 Days is a bit like a combination of "Tomb Raider" and "The Broken Sword". Most of the game is based around puzzle solving and adventure, kinda like The Broken Sword (And a bit of Tomb Raider for that matter), but rather than your traditional adventure title, 80 Days is played out in a 3D engine in a third person perspective, and it offers you full control over movement in the 3D world, similar to Tomb Raider. The only significant difference is this is not an action game - you aren't shooting or stabbing anyone - it is purely an adventure and puzzle game. Although, you will be tasked with keeping Oliver well rested, so there is a small aspect of micromanagement here too.
A lot of the game's storyline is played out in dialog between characters, which are voice acted. While the voice acting is neither bad nor terrific, the delivery of the audio recordings is incredibly buggy. We often found it hard to understand what was going on without reading the subtitles, as the audio would skip, start half way between a sentence and even sometimes remain silent. For a game based so heavily on storyline and character interaction, how this made it past Q&A is simply astounding. It offers a terrible first impression to the game, since this issue first comes up in the very first introduction sequence when you are talking to your uncle - obviously because such sequences are performed in the game's engine, and are not pre-rendered.
The storyline itself is also pretty drab at best, so it isn't like you're missing out on much if you can't hear what's being said anyway. While events and locations are interesting enough, you get the feeling throughout the game that you're really not part of any story, you're just running around, performing meaningless missions for people you just met for no reason in particular. The whole premise of the game - going around the world in 80 Days - is set up in the following manner - "Sure, Uncle, I'll travel the world in a set period of time because of some stupid bet you made, why the hell not, I've got nothing else better to do". What the hell is that? I'm sorry, but that's boring. Where's the villain that says "I'll give you 160 days to bring me back 12 items from around the world or your family gets it!...Oh and Oliver, make that 80 days... muahah... muhahahah.... muhahahahahah!"? I bet that 19th century mustache having evil villain bastard would also send henchmen after you, to try and thwart your efforts. The bastard. Where ever he is, it's not in 80 Days. He's probably in the land of cliche-storylines-that-are-still-better-than-boring-empty-storylines.
With the reasonably weak storyline aside, it is time to get to action with your long journey. Controlling Oliver can be a bit of a bother at times - you often get caught up with people and objects that you shouldn't be even close to touching. This can be credited to the game's rather shoddy 3D model clipping. What's worse is the game actually requires you to jump up on objects at times, and this is quite simply a nightmare. You could be trying to jump up on a ledge for minutes on end as you battle the game's tendency to bounce you off invisible objects, and slide down horizontal planes. Another clipping issue can be found when trying to crawl up stairs - crawling is a part of the game's stealth missions, and at most times we found you simply can't crawl up stairs - Oliver can't stop his knee's from colliding with the stairs, preventing forward movement up such complex structures it seems.
Once you get use to the game's feel - best described as "dodgy" if you didn't catch the theme of the past paragraph - you're basically tasked with following the checkpoints on your mini map to trigger missions, which range in substance such as races, stealth missions, but often are puzzle based. As mentioned earlier, you are required to keep Oliver rested. You can rent hotel rooms and such throughout the game, which will fully restore his energy, but if you keep running around and deplete your energy, you will fall to sleep anywhere and wake up half energized, so at times it seems hardly worth the travel back to a hotel room just for full energy.
As stated, the majority of the game is puzzle solving, and 80 Days does a pretty good job making its puzzles a worthy challenge. While I think the purpose relating to the storyline for a lot of them is questionable, if it's random puzzles you want, 80 Days will provide. However, due to the clipping issues, at times it can be hard to tell what it is you have to do to finish a puzzle. There are hints you can look for, such as pointing statues, signs in the architecture etc, but sometimes you can easily over analyze a puzzle, and it ends up all you had to do was jump up on a ledge and flip a switch. The reason this is an issue is because you probably tried jumping on the ledge multiple times before, but failed. You didn't fail because it wasn't the right thing to do; you failed because the game didn't trigger the "climb up on ledge" animation despite your repeated attempts. So while the puzzles are usually challenging, sometimes it is an artificial challenge due to the shortcoming of the game, not because of ingenious design. It is really important to get the interaction aspects of an engine perfect for a 3D puzzle/adventure game to work, and unfortunately 80 Days falls well short in this area.
If there is one plus side to the gameplay in 80 Days, it is its unique appeal. For the people out there who live and breathe adventure games, you might find some enjoyment in 80 Days. Outside of the already established storyline and control woes, the game features some pretty quirky action - you can ride around in Cairo on a magic carpet, you can navigate fantasy vehicles which combine old time mechanical engineering with futuristic ideology, you travel to diverse regions of the world, and you can use some pretty weird and wonderful objects. While it doesn't likely save the game from inevitable uninstallation from your hard drive, it might offer some gamers starved for puzzle/adventure gameplay a smidgen of relief. After all, it is hardly a genre well supplemented these days, particularly in 3D.
On top of this, the game does try to keep a humor theme flowing. While I doubt many people will be in stitches over the comedy in 80 Days, you will find the occasional gem. For instance, pretty early in the game you will encounter a classic Seinfield "Not that there's anything wrong with that" moment, not to mention quite a few references to Oliver "batting for the other team", as long as some other cultural references along the way. As stated though, I wouldn't be ringing up the writers of 80 Days for a Comedy Central special just yet, it's just a small aspect of the game that is actually bearable.
Visually, there really isn't anything impressive about 80 Days. The models are ok, and the environments are pleasant enough, but nothing really jumps out. On top of this, the frame rate often varies wildly at times creating pauses in action for lengthy periods (this is on a 4000+/1GB/X1900XL PC mind you), and there is a pretty severe case of "pop up" with items in the distance coming into view. Also, don't be surprised to see the occasional quirk in the models, such as disjointed animations, artifacts popping up on the screen for a millisecond then disappearing, and unrealistic object clipping as already detailed. Unfortunately, the disappointment doesn't end at the gameplay as the overall impression of the visuals and 3D engine is that of a pretty basic experience.
80 Days is a reasonably unique title in the sense it targets a genre you probably haven't dealt with in a while, but it fails to offer anything other than a quick fling as the technical issues and the storyline are a let down. Going off the technical issues alone, which range from the engine, to the sound and graphics, it is pretty clear this game wasn't ready for release. Patches could help, but that's still no excuse, because as it stands, out of the box it is not a very enjoyable game due to these issues, and even if they were all fixed, you're still left with a game that feels hollow in its storyline. If you see 80 Days in a bargain bin somewhere for cheap it might offer some value, otherwise though I'd give it a miss.