Generally, the presence of a hitchhiker isn’t a happy one. In most interactions, the poor hitchhiker is generally murdered; left in a ditch somewhere along a highway. In the 1980’s film, The Hitcher, Rutger Hauer starred as a psychopath-murdering hitcher who left a trail of bodies throughout the horror-thriller, and then, to make things worse, there have been a host of cases of ghostly apparitions popping up on old English country roads, before swiftly disappearing when you stop to pick them up. In short, hitchhiking is weird. Yet now we have Hitchhiker – A Mystery Game on Xbox; a game that doesn’t stray away from the mystery and unusual element of sticking your thumb up on the edge of a road. But should you pick it up? Or drive straight on down the highway?
Hitchhiker is a game that’s all about story and narrative. It’s a game where if you hate both of those things then there won’t be anything for you to find useful in this experience. The gameplay, which we will get to, is most definitely not the main focus of the game dynamic.
The story isn’t as straightforward as you might expect either. You play the hitchhiker in question, initially appearing in a car driving down the highway in the deserts of America. The driver looks like a farmer, with a packet of raisins by his side, and you sit there in silence for a while. Soon the conversation starts between the two of you and then the quest to find out who you are and why you are on this journey tries to get answered.
There are five rides to be had in the entirety of Hitchhiker, playing out like five chapters. And with each ride you meet a different character, travel to a different location, and take in a different car journey. What’s great about these journeys is that the main character, like us the player, has to work out their backstory through the conversation; ultimately it is this which they are searching for. Yet when you work out – quite early on – that you are looking for a person with a close connection to yourself, things start to go very strange indeed.
The narrative is very good and extremely unexpected. Like the twisty roads that you are on it seems to go nowhere, before ducking, twisting, and telling other tales within tales, until you are left questioning what is real and what is make-believe. Influences and games that remind of this experience are most definitely those of Kentucky Route Zero and, more recently, Adios. In terms of TV and film, it definitely has shades of David Lynch and The Twilight Zone.
The dialogue and the characters are brilliant. In fact, the writing is of a very high standard throughout, happily delivering bold decisions and it is easily the strongest element of the game. However the ending doesn’t quite give the payoff it deserves, but play it again and you may well find yourself absorbing it more.
Gameplay-wise Hitchhiker will mostly focus on you looking around the car as you sit there, interacting with certain objects around the vehicle. You can pick up some things and interact with them, turning them as you look for clues, or attempt to use them with something else. There a few mini puzzles to take in along the way; taking photographs of hidden objects or guessing some riddles heard on the radio station. These bits of gameplay aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they are very different and a bit more innovative than the usual point and click elements that are found in a normal narrative adventure.
The visuals that Hitchhiker comes with are mixed, dependant on the five different rides themselves, all taking us to different locations and incidents. Not all the scenarios take place in the passenger seat of the car though – there is a scene in a cafe and one set in the trunk of the car. What the game does brilliantly add though are interludes; giving stories within the main story. Each one of these interludes is presented using a different artistic way of supporting the words; one is hand-drawn in pencil and animated, with another told through still images where you are looking through a View-Master. These are amazing pieces of work that are extremely creative and brilliantly realised.
Soundwise it all comes with an offbeat, peculiar soundtrack that’s hard to place and remember, but whilst it’s on and playing throughout the game it works completely. The main thrust of the audio though is found in the voice-over performances – they are nothing but spectacular, with a lovely sense of delivery from all the performers.
Hitchhiker – A Mystery Game on Xbox is hugely enjoyable, pretty much from start to finish. You can take in the whole thing in just a couple of hours, but I would suggest pacing yourself, taking in the experience like episodes of a TV series just to enjoy what has happened on each particular ride. Hitchhiker may not be a game that is able to give you all the answers you want, but it will take you on an incredible journal that focuses on relationships, love, life, and death. It’s a story about everything and nothing… and it’s brilliant.