Adventure/Interactive Fiction Game of the Year 2014

By Sean Clancy 16 Dec 2014 0
The wind rises. The wind rises.

Our Adventure Game of the Year is the game you'll jump to--or, the one you ought to jump to--when trying to explain just what interactive fiction is.

You ever have to explain just what interactive fiction is to someone? “Well, it's kind of like one of those old choose-your-own-adventure books.” Or, “it's like a cable series where you pick what happens—they even have episodes.” You might even say “it's sort of like playing Dungeons & Dragons, but just with yourself.”

Never explained in 80 Days:  the secret of Passpartout's indestructible moustache. Never explained in 80 Days: the secret of Passpartout's indestructible moustache.

These are some boilerplate descriptions of popular interactive fiction as it's existed to-date. They're the shorthand we dance around when we talk about this gamebook or that Versu story, and, more importantly, they're the summaries we turn to when describing this funny IF thing to the uninitiated. “Trust us, it's really like reading a book/watching TV/playing an RPG,” we say, so desperate to make this cultural sale even if it means losing sight of what it is that differentiates interactive fiction from the storytelling we see in, well, books and television and other sorts of games. There's nothing wrong with shooting for that CYOA feel, or that cinematic feel, or that dungeon master feel—some of the best, most consistent producers of interactive storytelling tend to do just that. But dust off one of those bankable qualifiers enough times and it makes you wonder if the best thing an interactive story can hope to achieve is approachability.

Now, 80 Days is approachable, but not because it's borrowing beats from another medium. Rather, Meg Jayanath's and Inkle's reimagining of Around the World in Eighty Days is the slickest, most tablet-focused app out there, something so easy to jump into you'll glance the game's icon while making your way to Netflix and suddenly find yourself Auckland-bound via dirgible, a sickly English gentleman moaning for one of your trademark shaves in one ear and a discontented steampunk engineer whispering "revolution" in the other.

There's no "turn to page 5621" here, though 80 Days is a thoroughly literary experience. The best advice for those new to the game doesn't come as optimal routes to circumnavigate the globe, or shopping lists of the best items to buy (a machete in Vienna, to complete your master's jungle kit before the trek across Africa, or false teeth in Yokohama, to later resell in New Orleans), or even as an explanation of the risk-reward of caring for Phileas Fogg versus conversing with the fetching young ladies on the Trans-Siberian. Rather, if you're looking to min-max your playthrough, go for journey over destination. Linger a bit in Rome. Stir up some trouble in Istanbul. Sure, sure, you've got a schedule to keep and a gentleman's wager to win, but... have you ever seen Machu Pichu? From a hot-air balloon?

Where other gamebooks and interactive fictions might put a concrete challenge in your path, daring you to crest the narrative's apex, 80 Days does just the opposite. The main obstacle threatening to derail Passepartout's journey is his and the reader's desire to soak in the sights of a steam-powered late-1800s (and, maybe, the stoking of some once-dormant resentment towards the upper class). In telling a story where every decision matters, but one where the reader is never as preoccupied with deciding as they are with experiencing, 80 Days represents a new standard for digital interactive fiction. 80 Days is, simply, like 80 Days. No qualifiers required.

Runner-upOut There

Honourable Mention: The Wolf Among Us, TengamiBlood & Laurels, Down Among the Dead Men


To see all of the games recognised in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2014 Awards, visit the 2014 Awards Index page.
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