Glitchhikers: The Spaces Between is a game about the player traveling through a digital space and talking to other hikers. The vibrant neon environments and lo-fi tracks act as a blanket over heavy topics and social commentary. Glitchhikers’ themes would fit comfortably within any cyberpunk setting, despite its “walking sim” structure. Silverstring Media handles most of these topics very delicately. There are conversation options that allow the player to steer the conversation towards a positive end, even when the other hiker isn’t receptive. Players can also back out of conversations whenever they become too uncomfortable. This doesn’t stop them from completing the game.
Since the game takes place within a digital space, some hikers don’t fit into a humanoid shape. There are hikers who are floating polygonal shapes, an alien, or a deer being overtaken by fungi. All hikers’ appearances match the conversations they’ll have. It makes them easy to recognize or avoid if they bring up a topic you don’t want to engage with. However, these visual details add another layer of depth to a game that dives into issues of identity crises, dying, and more. There are also constant visual glitches which really drives home that what is seen isn’t real. Though these glitches can be turned off before the game starts.
The story unfolds during a train ride, a drive, a walk through a park, and wandering through an airport when the flights have been delayed. The drive and walk sections were the most interesting because of the “endless” aspect. While driving on the highway, players can choose the “infinite drive” car and there will only be a relaxing ride while listening to the radio. If players do choose to pick up hikers, there will be a young girl that is arguably the most cynical of all the hikers. During the park section, players can wander every path just listen to their glitchpod or pause their music to speak to the hikers. It’s here players will encounter the deer that has accepted the necessity of its situation.
In the park and airport sections players can move freely, but the controls do feel a little stiff. The character doesn’t turn in a smooth motion and can still only move forward. In the airport there are “jump” items players can run through. This often leads to the character speeding into an obstacle. Or in one instance, hitting an obstacle and getting launched into the air. There is a white dotted circle that clearly shows where to head next for the first playthrough. Even with this, navigating the airport drained some of the fun.
Since Glitchhikers is philosophical in nature that means a lot of issues are brought up with little in the way of potential solutions. That could be a huge con for some players. The purpose is to consider these issues in a non-judgemental environment. There are also no goals or specific order the journeys have to be completed in. This lack of direction can make it difficult to tell if the game is entirely over. Each journey has an end credit scene and once players have gone to each area, a classic mode unlocks that allows players to experience the original version of the “Highway”. This mode has slightly different visuals and one different passenger, seen on the top of a bridge, instead of a pregnant alien who discusses gender and having to fit in.
Glitchhikers is hard to describe or fully recommend. Its narrative is told through conversations that don’t have an ending as much as hikers just stop talking. Players can choose their response, but the hikers never change their perspective. It feels more like hikers are talking at the player instead of with them. However, there are interesting set pieces. Walking through the infinite train leads to two cars that are wide open spaces. The only hint that this is still the right place are the buskers nonchalantly playing their instruments. Glitchhikers has interesting visuals and a great soundtrack, but the conversations don’t leave much to return for.