This is a thoroughly charming game, and it’s just $10… if you haven’t picked it up yet, why not?
It’s based of course on Jules Verne’s Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, first published in 1873. It’s not technically sf, but it’s in the ballpark– it’s like a 19C Wired, besotted with the transformative power of technology. Phileas Fogg is able to make his tour thanks to three recent events: the opening of the Suez Canal and the completion of railroad routes across India and America. (I just re-read the first few chapters of Le Tour, which are amusing in an arch 19C way. Passepartout signs up with Fogg because he is the most dependable, boring rentier in London… and only a few hours later Fogg returns with the news that they are departing that very night for Dover.)
Anyway, the game! I’ve been marveling at the cleverness of its gameplay. It’s literally an open world– you can get to every part of the globe– but most of the cities and routes start out hidden. Knowledge becomes the hidden treasure of the game: as you explore and talk and buy and sell, you discover new routes, as well as new reasons to go to the places mentioned.
I’ve played the game through twice– each playthrough taking about 2.5 hours– and each was entirely different, as I took different routes. Which is another enormously clever bit! I’ll play a really good game several times, but usually it’s almost exactly the same experience. Here, nothing at all need be the same, and it makes sense… of course a trip through Europe and Russia will be different from one through Africa and Oceania. There are 169 cities total, and it’s hard to visit more than about 30 in one trip, so the game is highly replayable.
At heart, the game is a text adventure. Wait, come back! This is actually a good thing. It allows far more imagination and variety than could be done in 3-d models or even drawings. In form, you get short descriptions (rarely more than a screenful), and choose the continuation. You can choose to be adventurous or fearful, friendly or disdainful; often you can stay out of trouble if you wish, sometimes you can’t. (You are Passepartout, not Fogg; Fogg will offer clues but he’s generally barely functional as a companion.) I should also add that the game makes good use of the map and illustrations of your inventory, conveyances, cities, and traveling companions, so there is plenty of visual interest.
You get £4000 to start with, but fares and hotels cost money, and you’ll need more. There’s a nice mechanism for this: you can buy items in various cities, and sell them for a profit later on, usually in a specific city. Items may also be acquired to make the journey easier, to make negotiations on departure time easier, or to reveal routes.
Fogg is delicate and suffers through travel, so another mechanic is keeping him healthy.
My first playthrough went swimmingly: I got back to London in 66 days, and made enough money to afford a £5000 steamship ride back home. Highlights of the trip included getting engaged and delivering a baby (not to the same woman). My second playthrough was a much closer shave: 76 days, and I almost ran out of money in Portugal, tantalizingly close to the final destination. The trading had not worked out well on my route; I had to sell everything I had and do some extra work in the hotels, and we made it back with £31 in pocket. (It’s possible to get emergency funds from banks, but this takes extra days. I also learned afterwards that you don’t have to sleep in a hotel.)
The writer, Meg Jayanth, deserves a lot of credit for making every route interesting. You are of course not restricted to the route from the book. You’re also not restricted, well, to our reality. Realizing that the frazzled citizens of 2015 are not as enthused as those of 1872 by steamships and railroads, the developers have gone full steampunk… plus it’s a revisionist steampunk where Zulus, Haitians, and Maoris are as likely as Europeans to be building massive steam contraptions, walking cities, automata, and so on. And why not? If you’re going to upgrade the technology, you’d might as well downgrade the colonialism.
There’s reams of adventure created for the game, but there are also nods to Verne’s other novels… on my second playthrough, where I tried to keep to the southern hemisphere, I ended up being abducted by Captain Nemo.
I can’t even think of anything to complain about. There are times I didn’t end up where I expected to go, but that’s fine– it wouldn’t be true to Verne if the unexpected never happened. The game is just challenging enough (as my almost-failed 2nd playthrough showed), but it’s also not very punishing, so you can take chances and explore.