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Hitchhiker (XOne)

Hitchhiker (XOne) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 14 May 2021 / 2,745 Views

"Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real." - Iris Murdoch

Considering Mad About Pandas' eclectic career, from the odd trucking sim to puzzlers, there's something to be said about the developer flexing its more artistic side - both in gameplay and literary references.  This particular stab at an indie-flavored art game imagines the walking sim... without walking.  In Hitchhiker, all discoveries are made while riding shotgun with a stranger.  The concept of limiting movement for a whole game is intriguing enough on its own, but the end result made me wish I had ignored that bent thumb altogether.


Known only as "Copernicus," you play as a hitchhiker whose final destination and overarching goal is unknown.  This doesn't prevent Vern, an amicable raisin farmer, from picking you up and regaling you with impromptu existential questions... and raisin commentary.  Brief rummaging through his car reveals that Iris Murdoch quote, along with other personal belongings.  When things take a turn for the Lynchian, Copernicus remembers his goal: tracking down the mysterious disappearance of someone close to him.

Since story and intrigue are Hitchhiker's chief selling points, I'll maneuver through its narrative as carefully as possible.  One of its biggest strengths is what hooks you in.  The way casual conversation is paced out before the "a-ha!" moment is downright exceptional, punctuated further by a soundtrack that's typically more subdued.  When you're settled into this stranger reality, however, that initial pull gets weaker.  I predicted the ultimate revelation with pinpoint accuracy before anywhere near the finish line.  The beginning's evocative intrigue gives way to more predictable outcomes.

Another unfortunate dent against it is the pacing.  This is a 1.5-hour script put into a 2.5-hour game.  This might seem like a minor offense compared to some Ubisoft titles overstaying their welcome by 10 hours or more.  But it's important to remember this through the prism of a narrative-focused title.  The make-or-break consideration comes down to the quality of the script versus satisfying melee mechanics.  By the time the next driver took Vern's place I already felt the meandering dialogue settling in.  As much as I appreciate referencing less-popular writers & thinkers you'd hear about beyond 101 college courses, it often feels like a storyteller's cheat code to elevate an otherwise simple point; similar to poor research papers padded with sesquipedalian prose with an intention to confuse.


Script mismanagement doesn't erase the decent presentation though.  That isn't to say it's a technical marvel for an indie title; there are annoyances.  What maintains player attention are the little artistic details.  The dreamlike subtleties and strange scenarios to go from A to B are often creative.  Voice acting is – unfortunately – less consistently enthralling.  Erik Hansen’s deep & honeyed voice perfectly fits Vern's humble farmer archetype; conversely, the person Copernicus is looking for (voiced by Salber Williams) has an incredibly thick accent.  I'm not convinced English is her first language.  The cast and other presentation elements aren't up there with the best narrative-heavy titles, but they're still noteworthy compliments to Dan Mayer & co.'s writing.

Like its protagonist, Hitchhiker's issues stem back to having no clear destination.  It's trying to examine meaningful themes about love & finding meaning in life, yet only one of five chauffeurs feels truly interested in those questions; more often, you're listlessly making dialogue choices to response algorithms rather than authentic people.  The surrealist environs and some contemplative dialogue occasionally results in creative moments, but it's not enough to carry the whole narrative.  The terminus you hope to reach on this asphalt trail is a worthwhile Lynchian-esque narrative, but the game rolls down the window and levels with you: "well... I can get you part a' ways there before having to veer off onto I-10."

Given that this is a narrative adventure, or "sitting sim" if so inclined, don't come in expecting complex gameplay.  Like adventures of the TellTale variety, dialogue choices are a fundamental tenet here.  As in The Walking Dead or DONTNOD's Life Is Strange series, there's often a streamlined web of choices which net similar results.  But I think that misses the mark about their intentions: it's more about inhabiting the person you believe they are versus creating seismic Butterfly Effects over your selected ice cream flavor.  Hitchhiker's binary options don't even measure up to that standard though.  Your Copernicus is limited to being straight-faced or slightly sarcastic before arriving at similar lines.  These options act like speed bumps instead of a small window into the player-character's mind.


Outside this main component, there's an emphasis on exploring each driver's vehicle (within arm's reach) and solving some environmental puzzles.  I'm willing to say two of the puzzles hit the not-menial threshold for my tastes.  Most feel a bit too obtuse and arbitrary to feel engaging.  A radio puzzle in particular made me question if the game broke, since I had correctly tuned the dial knobs a few times previously before it properly registered.  It really says something when the most-consistent gameplay feature is the allotted breaks between conversations & puzzles; you're able to drink in the lush scenery while spacing out to the somber OST in these brief intermissions before plowing ahead.

As is often the case for indie titles like this one, the artistry behind and beyond the wheel is going to be a selling point.  Whether it's the detailed way clouds form and dissipate into the distance or the wide-open vistas of the desert, the scenery is often effectively used to draw you into the world.  Otherwise superfluous actions like putzing with a car's glovebox, visor, etc. are minor touches that reward a smidge of fun agency while conversing with each driver.  The color palette and soft-texture look reminds me of Virginia, although it's not as aesthetically pleasing nor stimulating.  Perhaps part of that has to do with the sub-par optimization, resulting in numerous instances of texture-loading on my Series X.  A shame for such a pleasant art style to be interrupted this way so often.

As previously mentioned, it's a rather protracted 2.5-hour road trip.  With a steeper retail price of $15, it relies heavily on your subjective value in this story.  Aside from potentially missing little bits of world-building within each car, or selecting other dialogue choices, this is a one-and-done affair.


Mad About Pandas had a unique dilemma to tackle: keeping players in the limelight while they're always in the passenger seat.  It's a neat concept that earns some of my respect.  But the closest example I kept falling back to was Virginia – another narrative adventure I can't recommend.  Both have this annoying commitment to deliberate opaqueness as a way to fool themselves into thinking they're deep.  And the half-hearted positives I can give to a couple of mechanics are dwarfed by otherwise menial interactions everywhere else.  Hitchhiker ultimately feels like an unengaging road trip you can steer clear of playing.

  


Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.


VGChartz Verdict


4.5
Poor

This review is based on a digital copy of Hitchhiker for the XOne, provided by the publisher.

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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9 Comments
mjk45 (on 15 May 2021)

Damn it I was looking forward to playing as Rutger Hauer.
Now I know the review was written with the goal of making a connection with your readers but the use of terms like sesquipedalian makes your review ironic since it comes across as a long winded tract aimed at showing your intellect and that detracts from the underlying good review because while we are long winded and may have seen that as a point of connection, we are long winded idiots not intellectuals and that shows bad research since reading any thread here would confirm that.

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mjk45 coolbeans (on 15 May 2021)

Most important part of wearing a monocle is eyebrow arching , so how do you rate your effort during the reply?
Now to answer the question, we wear two monocles taped together.it makes us look twice as smart.

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Jaicee (on 14 May 2021)

Speaking of Hitchhiker, I request a review of Deadeus (better known as that new Game Boy game) because it's excellent and being broadly ignored and could use the visibility of a VGC review!

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Jaicee coolbeans (on 14 May 2021)

The Game Boy cartridge version (mine!) was released in March. It's not easy to find though as yet since you were supposed to pre-order it by mid-February in order to get that version. You'd have to pay me VERY handsomely. (Yes, I'm kidding; I'm definitely not selling it.) Or you could just go with the easy-to-find downloadable version at the official site (jus Google).

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Jaicee coolbeans (on 15 May 2021)

Whatevs. It can be anyone to write it, I'm just aiming for it to get some more visibility.

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