HitchHiker has an engaging mystery at the heart of its narrative, but it’s held back by limited VR design, technical hiccups and sluggish length. Read on for our HitchHiker review.
HitchHiker is one of those games I’m sure developer Mad About Pandas was asked to bring to VR a million times over. And it’s easy to see why; this is a slow-paced, conversational affair in which players hitch a ride with five different drivers as they hunt for their forgotten past. Every item is in arm’s reach, meaning all you need to do is sit back and immerse yourself in the story at the heart of the game.
But while there’s certainly a compelling and contemplative mystery rooted within HitchHiker and I’m sure it’s a great experience on a flatscreen, this VR port isn’t nearly as natural a fit as you might expect.
HitchHiker is essentially an atmospheric conversation simulator with some light puzzles sprinkled in. You’ll quickly come to think of the game as a mix of a road trip movie and something like Momento; your travel companions might first appear to be strangers before you slowly begin to realize you might have some history with them, and they’re very fond of dropping ambiguous hints about your past. There are a lot of curious moments along the road sprinkled in with insights about different stages of and views on life. Hallucinogenic raisins are paired with nods to Forest Gump and, just when you think you’ve got a grasp of where you are in time, people start talking about the proliferation of robots in the real world.
And the game can conjure an arresting ambiance as it assaults you with matters of the mind. Occasionally you’ll get moments to stop and listen to the soundtrack as you stare out the window, or the game will cut to outside views to let you drink in the journey. It’s just a shame that the Quest version of the title can’t capture the fidelity needed to really let you appreciate its environments. Levels hop between endless rows of reused assets and more ambitious areas in which the platform fights with gaze-based draw distances. This is definitely one to play on PC, if you have the chance.
But whether you’re on Rift or Quest, there is some joy to be had from experiencing the game in VR though. In its more interesting destinations, it’s easy to lose yourself looking out the window, and I loved to put the controllers down and sit back for the rid in its quieter moments.
Problematically, though, the VR implementation is only skin deep and actually ends up being more of a hindrance. Rather than reworking the items system so that you could pick up objects inside cars and inspect them naturally, the game essentially treats your controllers like a mouse pointer, meaning you just use a hand to aim at an object, pull the trigger, and then inspect it from an inventory menu. When every item in HitchHiker is no more than half a meter away from you, it’s oddly limiting not to be reaching out to pick up items (you could imitate this, of course, but it still feels sloppy). You’re more being told to stay in your lane than you are allowed to fully immerse yourself in the environment.
That theme of poor optimization runs throughout HitchHiker’s VR support. To reply to characters, you need to select one of two choices from a dialogue system, but they’re always locked into the front of the car, meaning you have to turn your head back and forth away from who you’re actually talking to every time you want to reply, disrupting the flow of conversation. The laser pointer stretching from your hand actually starts embedded halfway into your index finger, which looks like some sort of early development prototype. Audio lines are also prone to being cut short, which takes you out of the story.
Progress, meanwhile, is a little long in the tooth. Hitchhiker is split into five chapters, with each lasting about 40 minutes. That might seem like a short running time but it becomes a real slog given all you’re really doing is choosing limited lines of dialogue as you watch the same environments repeat over and over whilst you go around in circles. There are some moments where you’ll be out of the passenger seat, but they’re few and far between and, if you don’t find a certain character’s interpretive musings all that arresting then, bad luck, because it’s going to be a long time before they stop talking.
Again, I can see myself getting involved in the mystery on a flatscreen where I could also enjoy a drink or chat to someone else in the room, but when you’re forced to sit in this world with no alleviation, it starts to drain. That’s not how VR storytelling really works.
HitchHiker Review – Final Impressions
HitchHiker is a game that should work best in VR but ends up as likely the weakest version of an otherwise interesting experiment. The core mystery at the heart of the experience is intriguing, but it’s overly protracted by tiresome conversations, visually bland environments and limited VR design. VR storytelling can’t be as passive as its flatscreen counterparts; it needs, brevity, wit and interaction to hold a user’s attention, otherwise boredom sets in quickly. An abridged version of HitchHiker that allows players to fully immerse themselves in their journey without slogging through 40+ minute, technically imprecise chapters might be a much more compelling experience. As it stands, unless you’re really into mystery narratives, you should probably just keep walking.
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This review was conducted on the Meta Quest 2 version of the game. What did you make of our HitchHiker review? Let us know in the comments below!