80 Days starts off with a fast-paced dialog between two unlikely people – a white-haired, British aristocrat and his muscular, irreverent nephew. The nephew, Oliver Lavisheart, has just returned from the “So Strict Secondary School” in America, where he thinks he has learned all about freedom.

The uncle, Matthew, has two problems – he has placed a wager that someone can travel around the world in 80 days just as Phileas Fogg did twenty-seven years before. If this feat goes unfulfilled, Uncle Matthew will lose his entire fortune. He also is about to lose his title as Pulsative Engineer unless he can prove that he is the author of four amazing inventions, now scattered around the world. He has 80 days to prove that he is the true inventor. Oliver’s problem – well, let’s just say that it’s family-related and that he has a motive for the next 80 days to be anywhere in the world but in the arms of his family.

Thus begins Oliver Lavisheart’s adventure around the world. I’ve played the beginning of 80 Days – I’m a few hours into the game, and I’m still discovering the breadth of what the game has to offer.

It’s Fogg’s World Now

The first thing that becomes clear as you take on the role of Oliver in this third-person adventure, is that the World of 80 Days takes place in a colorful, funny, deeply anachronistic alternate universe. It’s as though Phileas Fogg’s original 80-day journey (in Oliver’s universe, an important historical event, not a fictional work by Jules Verne) has overstimulated technological and cultural advances. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are real, and are acquainted with the concepts of calculators and rock and roll. Modern American pop culture and slang has begun sweeping the world in 1899. The results are comic, outrageous, and sometimes strange and disorienting.

Oliver’s adventure begins in Egypt, where he arrives at an island outside the Cairo harbor. Everyone is stuck here for 24 hours while the authorities search for tomb robbers. Oliver explores, shops, chats with sailors, politicians and local women. A musical loop that sounds suspiciously like “Walk Like an Egyptian” plays in the background.

The game world in 80 Days is fully 3D. It is magnificent and vast. In the first few hours of gameplay, Oliver makes his way through the harbor, the streets of Cairo, the marketplace, a fantastic luxury hotel, underground catacombs and the ruins of an ancient temple complex.

Almost immediately, our hero has access to some traditional and nontraditional forms of transportation. There are “car rental” spots, in which you can rent the following vehicles: a flying carpet, a camel, a motorized three-wheeler, and a Giant Tire (my term). Trying out these various vehicles is a hoot – one of the funniest parts of the game. They go at different speeds – with the camel the slowest and the Giant Tire speediest.

The Giant Tire can push other vehicles down the street (I discovered this by accident) and can roll partway up the sides of things, like fountains, trees and even people (no people are hurt, however). The Giant Tire is also difficult to control, as it has a tendency to roll on its own – I suspect that merely breathing on it would start a roll. There are more efficient ways to get through the streets of Cairo, but frankly the Giant Tire and Oliver seem a match made in heaven, so it is hard to deny him his little bit of fun.

Mouse and More

Now for the game’s interface. Unless you are accustomed to moving through 3D worlds, there will be a learning curve with the interface of 80 Days. It is a good idea to read the 80 Days manual before you get very far into the game – the information there is vital.

You can use the mouse as a directional pointer, and then press the “W” or “up arrow” key to move Oliver through the game world. Left-clicking on the mouse performs actions, like picking things up, using things, or talking to people. Right-clicking with the mouse brings up the inventory, and the mouse wheel/scroll button allows you to scroll through the inventory. (The controls are remappable if you don’t like this setup.) This part of the interface was easy to use – the only difficulty is that you have to place Oliver in exactly the right spot before a left-click will perform the necessary action. Often, for instance, I would be too close to people and would have to back up before I could get them to converse. There are also a couple of keyboard commands you’ll need to learn so that you can jump, climb and crouch.

When you are driving a vehicle, the interface operates differently. During vehicle sequences, the mouse functions solely as a means to control camera angles. Driving vehicles depends on the keyboard controls – I found the arrow keys easiest to use for this. Vehicles cannot turn unless they are also going forward or backward at the same time. As an inexperienced virtual driver, I found this to be both fun and frustrating.

Screen Essentials

The screen displays a wealth of information as you progress through the game’s various missions. At the top left of the screen is a mini-map, a helpful guide to your tasks in the game. You will need to pay attention to the mini-map because the game world is vast, and the mini-map indicates the direction of the items (or people) that you need to locate.

At the top right of the screen is a time indicator. It also compares your travel time with that of Phileas Fogg’s world record in 1872. If you are behind his time, a red light indicates that you are “late” and had better do some quick work in order to catch up.

At the bottom of the screen is a tiredness meter. In order to keep from collapsing and sleeping on the city streets, you either need to return to your hotel from time to time or eat lots of the local delicacies (my favorite in Cairo was Hot Rat). Hotel stays and food cost money – you monitor your financial holdings by looking at the money bag on the bottom right of the screen.

The Intentional Tourist

80 Days is a very challenging game, so it’s a good thing that you can choose three different difficulty levels. The Adventurer Level is the most difficult – time is short, and you must manage sleep and money very carefully. The Globetrotter Level is more forgiving – you still have to manage time, sleep and money, but less strictly. The lowest difficulty level is for gamers who find the idea of keeping track of time, tiredness, and money less than thrilling (I number myself among these gamers). On this “easy” level, you can choose to play the game as a Tourist.

The Tourist mode shuts down your ability to be late – you can explore every corner and byway of every town, watch the sun set and the moon rise from atop the temple complex, test-drive all the vehicles, chat up the locals, sleep on the street when it suits you, eat every delicacy, and still make it to the next location on the map in exactly the same number of days as Phileas Fogg. Tourist mode also gives you lots of cash (and with your careful exploration of every nook and cranny, you’ll find even more cash) so you can pay for all that food, extend your stay at the hotels, and afford extra vehicle rentals. You can also bribe your way out of certain awkward situations with ease.

Tourist mode does not remove all challenge from the game, though. You must still accomplish all the missions. You will need to find and use inventory items, navigate through new and complicated environments, figure out how to use odd technologies, gain information from reluctant people, disguise yourself, deal with villains, avoid the police (or go and find the police, depending on the situation), jump over gaps in different structures, climb up ladders and other surfaces, and persuade people who may not have pleasant memories of Uncle Matthew that your cause is just.

Do You Have What It Takes?

The huge, beautiful game world in 80 Days -- in which there is so much to see and do -- comes at a real price in terms of computing power. My computer just barely meets the system requirements. The game crashed once during installation, and then twice during the initial load screen, so I turned all the graphical details down to their lowest setting, which eliminated the technical problems except for an occasional volume glitch during dialogs. The game world is still attractive at the lowest graphical settings, but it is frustrating, knowing that I could be seeing so much more detail if my computer was up to snuff. I’ve been gradually fiddling with the graphic settings, nudging them up one by one. This has made the load times very long, but I haven’t experienced more crashes. And the improvement at higher settings is well worth seeing.

One last technical point about the game – 80 Days does not allow you to save your game wherever you like. The game has an autosave feature. If you quit the game, be aware that you will lose any progress you’ve made after the most recent autosave point.

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One thought springs to mind after a few hours in 80 Days – breaking tradition. Although there is plenty in the game that is reminiscent of “traditional” adventure games, there is much that is new, previously untested (at least in adventure games) and potentially controversial. There is almost an entertaining mischievousness about the game, from the character of its hero, including his avoidance of traditional entanglements and responsibilities -- to the game’s unexpected anachronisms, its half-tribute, half-satire of pop culture, and the developers’ willingness to experiment with new kinds of gameplay and new ways to see the world. From my First Look at 80 Days, I’d say the journey is well worth taking.

I played 80 Days on the following system:

WinXP, Pentium 4 1.8GHz
GeForce 3 Ti 200 with 64MB video RAM
DirectX 9.0c
SB Live! sound card

The minimum system requirements for 80 Days, as posted at GameBoomers by one of the developers:

AMD or Pentium 1000, 512MB RAM, and video card 64MB, BUT (there is a BUT) video card supporting pixel shader 1.1 at least, it means Geforce 3TI, Radeon 8500. Intel integrated graphic chipset might not work, Geforce 4Mx won't work, first Radeon series will not work. Sorry about this but it's the price for innovation.

Would you like to learn more about 80 Days? Read the full reviews by gremlin and Looney4labs.