Tag Archives: Hitchhiker

2018 Game Review Haiku, #7 – Hitchhiker: First Ride

Riding with stranger
Results in questions, raisins
Where are you going?

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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Hitchhiker a roadtrip into the strange and aberrant

I never have and probably never will hitchhike. It seems like the scariest thing ever, and if ten seasons so far of Criminal Minds has taught me anything, it is not to get into a car with an unknown person, man or woman or child, no matter what time of day or state/county. Still, there is something fascinating about the concept, of having two people unfamiliar with each other putting all their trust out there, for a little help getting from point A to point B. I’m sure there are some kind souls out there that are genuine good Samaritans, and I’m sure there are plenty that are not. That’s kind of what Hitchhiker: First Ride is about, but there’s also some other weird things happening that I couldn’t grok. Plus, raisin jokes.

Hitchhiker: First Ride, a Humble Original from Mad About Pandas and current freebie over in the Humble Monthly Trove, begins innocently enough. You’re a hitchhiker, taking a ride somewhere else. Unfortunately, you are unable to remember who you are or where you’re headed, as if something in your recent past has stolen your memory. The car’s interior and highway offer some clues, like a hidden matchbook, a photo of a young couple in the glovebox, reality-breaking billboards, and chatty crows. The man driving the car is a mustache-sprouting farmer, specifically a raisin grower, and he seems bent on helping you discover your memories while also revealing more about his life. Naturally, not everything is as it seems.

In terms of gameplay, there’s a lot of sitting around and listening to your driving companion chat away the minutes and miles. You can also interact with different elements of the car, and sometimes these interactions lead to discoveries and sometimes they don’t, such as flicking the bobble-head on the dashboard. There are also dialogue choices to make at various times, like whether you will taste one of this farmer’s home-grown raisins or not. I know, that’s a big one. Harder than deciding Duck’s fate in season one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. For a good while, honestly, I looked out the window and watched the landscape zip by, curious to know what was over that hill or if anyone lived in that house or if that billboard really said what I thought it said (it did).

At one point, Hitchhiker: First Ride takes a turn. Reality breaks, and I had a hard time following where everything was going. I might need to play it again. The driver knows things about you that neither you, the in-game character, or you the person playing the game know, and it’s a bizarre feeling, being left out of your own story. You begin to feel trapped, longing for air, a sinister aura surrounding you, judging every future choice you make. This is, by all accounts, a well-done metaphysical mystery, but I’m not going to stand here and tell you I completely got down with it on every level, especially the cartoon play-like storytelling near the end. Also, grapes are totally better than raisins, which, when you think about it, are dead grapes.

I think I liked 2000:1: A Space Felony a wee bit more, as I felt more in control of the unfolding story, but this was still super neat and different, and I’m excited to see Hitchhiker: First Ride develop into something more.

In 2000:1: A Space Felony, no one can hear you detective

Until February 2, the Humble Monthly Trove is giving out a couple of free gems, some of which are Humble Originals, meaning they were created solely for the program. Neat-o. You can grab the following DRM-free named games, and I do suggest you jump on it before you forget or our country is vaporized in the forthcoming nuclear winter-war, as well as consider subscribing if you end up liking these types of smaller, hand-crafted experiences:

  • 2000:1: A Space Felony
  • Hitchhiker
  • Cat Girl Without Salad
  • Uurnog
  • THOR.N
  • Crescent Bay

That’s six free games, and all you have to do is click a button or two. Naturally, I grabbed all of them lickety fast, and I even played through and beat one already–2000:1: A Space Felony. Now, before I dig into details of the game, I need to do as I always do and come clean about a piece of pop culture that I have shockingly never seen. Yup, my blue eyes have still never gazed upon Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” that inspired it. Nor have I read the full novel written concurrently with Kubrick’s film. Or 2010: Odyssey Two. Or 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Phew. That said, because it’s hard to live life these days and not have these mega-popular behemoths seep into every single thing we see and consume, I somewhat get the main gist: an artificial intelligence goes rogue.

2000:1: A Space Felony takes place on the USS Endowment, an interplanetary spacecraft, which has unfortunately lost communication with Earth. Using your flashy camera skills and natural detective intuition, you must explore this damaged space, document your findings, and figure out what went down during the crew’s final hours alive. You basically do this by taking photos of key areas, people, and items, and then you confront MAL, the ship’s on-board AI system, about what happened, countering its talking points with confidence based on what you already know. Cross-examination in zero G should most definitely be the theme for the next season of Law & Order. Naturally, going into this, given what it is based off and just the fact that the melting pot-universe of books, movies, and videogames over the last several decades has been inundated with stories of corrupt AIs–hello, supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, AMEE from Red Planet, and GLaDOS from Portal, just to name a few–you know that MAL is up to no good. The fun is proving it wrong and then deactivating it.

2000:1: A Space Felony‘s look is *chef’s kiss* top-notch. The colors are bright, punchy, magically brought to life through surprisingly simple geometry. It’s not going to win any realism awards, but I lean more often towards games with a unique take on life as we know it. The USS Endowment is not a huge station to explore, a small fraction when compared to Prey, but the spaces are easy to recognize and do come across as lived in. Moving around in no gravity is not complicated, using the WASD keys to thrust in any direction, and there’s even one spinning section that you can land on the floor and walk around in a more traditional sense, which makes the detective work a bit easier. I will forever be intrigued by the design of spaceships, space stations, and so on, and even one as small as this is a joy to explore, both inside and out, eventually feeling homely. Also, MAL’s main room is gorgeous, like the inside of a trippy golf ball or an even more fantastical take on Spaceship Earth.

I found the game’s narration to be especially strong, with ground control more or less narrating every action you take and how you present your case. Represented by a dark silhouette with white glasses and a tie, ground control is extremely straightforward when it comes to this case, with only a smidgen of humor here and there. Often, the juxtaposition between ground control and what MAL says is where Lucy Green’s writing is the most funny and captivating. MAL, voiced by Max McLaughlin, rides the line carefully between innocent, unaware AI and ice-cold, systematic murderer. Nothing really new for the genre in terms of AIs gone bad, but a good performance still. If there was a soundtrack, I don’t remember much from it other than the big, swelling orchestra right at the game’s courtroom-esque conclusion, but you do make a super pleasing donk sound when banging into a wall, and that counts for a lot.

Unfortunately, the part where you compare pieces of evidence against each other is the weakest link in 2000:1: A Space Felony. For a while there, I was missing one piece and had to do another loop of the environment, snapping shots of everything, listening to repeated lines of dialogue while growing frustrated. I also had a hard time seeing what pieces I was connecting, and I’d have personally liked for some screens to have faded out after they were no longer relevant, but that’s just me. I finished this murder-mystery in the silence of space in about an hour and change, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I wonder which next freebie I’ll try (spoiler: it’s probably Hitchhiker).