By Makeda Byfield
You don’t know why and you don’t know how. But what you do know is that at the opening of Hitchhiker, Versus Evil’s new narrative mystery game, you’ve ended up in a stranger’s car. The driver, Vern, is a talkative raisin farmer. His stories are nice and all but … you just wanna know why you’re there! After speaking with Vern for a little bit, two things become clear: 1) you need help figuring out who you are and 2) somebody else needs your help. Thus begins a mysterious journey to the present that simultaneously occurs while you’re relearning your past.
Now, maybe it was my own skepticism about Vern peaking through, but my first instinct was to trust myself. After all, my memory is completely wiped and I don’t know who any of the drivers on this hitchhiking road trip. Vern, for example, keeps trying to offer me some of his raisins; I kept saying no. I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where these raisins came from, and I’m not very hungry. Thanks for the offer, though! The further I progressed, the trickier it gets to stay cautious. The five drivers I met during the game all have different quirks and questions that will leave you wondering about your identity, history, and destination. Their motives are unknown, but they are the keys to figuring out who you are. Versus Evil’s “Hitchhiker”, released through Apple Arcade in late March, plays into this dilemma that players face in the game. Who can you trust if you cannot trust yourself? This question is what initially pulled me into the game. But as I played on, I grew more disappointed.
For starters, there were too many questions being thrown out. I was easily overwhelmed by the number of things that I had to search for the answer to. The radio kept posing riddles through the speaker that I didn’t understand the purpose of, most of the items like souvenirs in the car had writing on them that I didn’t understand, and the driver’s questions didn’t help my confusion. I know an adventure game is full of clues and my hope was that I would understand everything by the end of the game; instead, the questions that mattered were left unanswered by the time I “reached” my destination. That ending itself was unfulfilling, too! I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending fell very flat after all the buildup.
Additionally, I found the story to be boring because of the lengthy oration as we literally drive in circles. To make matters worse, it seems like the drivers are speaking in circles, too. What could’ve been said in a couple of sentences was dragged out to the point that it took me three days to get through the first drive. Part of that was on me for taking long breaks. I pushed through in hopes that the storyline would become more compelling. To my dismay, the ending was disappointing and not worth the time I spent playing up until that point.
At first, I thought that I just chose the answers that led me to the worst ending. The game was marketed as a “mind-bending interactive narrative,” after all. But after hearing what other players had to say, it doesn’t seem like the choices we make in the game impact the story very much! One user left a review of the game on the Apple App Store, writing that “…my daughter and I played side-by-side and, regardless of what you choose, it’s the same basic storyline with just a few lines of dialogue added here and there. What is the point of my “interaction”, then?: To add to the issue, the drivers control their story and their writing was just so long-winded. That actually might be my main issue with the game – I love good writing, but everything was just unnecessarily dragged out.
The game was not a total flop in my eyes. Again, the concept was intriguing. I spoke about driving in circles; that drove me crazy a little, but it gave me time to see what new hidden puzzles would be added to the beautifully drawn backgrounds. The game also had some nice, semi-realistic graphics, too. The game used different artistic styles to represent what was in the past and what was actively happening. Retellings of the protagonist’s past were illustrated using sketchbook-style drawings…almost like we were reading a storybook! That was cool. I appreciated the contrast between that and the semi-realistic art style used throughout the rest of the game. Additionally, the driver’s repetitive route gave players the chance to observe changes in scenery that help them move forward in the game. These amazing qualities were just overshadowed by lengthy dialogue.
Overall, the premise of the game was promising. Imagine a short film about a character who needs to question where their trust lies when they can’t trust themselves! I’d watch that in a heartbeat! Hitchhiker could have been just as wonderful as a film. The downfalls come from writing that ended up confusing me because it tries too hard to be deep. For example, the game made too many jabs at people losing human connection and turning to electronics for interaction. That interpretation is definitely up for debate, but I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes every time the game made those sort of quips.
I’ll end by imparting some wisdom that my old drama teacher shared with the class when we had to write our own scenes: If you dare to break the silence of the universe, your story must be intentional and meaningful. Hitchhiker’s meaning got drowned in lengthy dialog and fake deep quotes that seem straight out of the r/im14andthisisdeep subreddit. The gamemakers could fix these problems by adding chapters that answer the questions they neglected; gamers would also enjoy an alternate ending that was more satisfying. With a couple of tweaks to the storyline, some serious tightening of the dialog, and some added chapters to the game, maybe Hitchhiker can make the impact it wanted to.
Makeda Byfield is a Bronx high school senior majoring in drama. She is our newest NYVGCC writing intern.