CALIFORNIA, The Future. Everything is vaguely neon and cyberpunk-esque.
You are Lina Romero, one of the very few human rideshare drivers in the city of Los Ojos, where a company that’s definitely not a metaphor for Google or Apple or Amazon has taken over control of most aspects of people’s daily lives – including the transport system.
Welcome to Neo Cab, developed by Chance Agency and published by Melbourne-based Fellow Traveller games for PC, Nintendo Switch and Apple Arcade.
The game is very similar to Night Call, in that the gameplay involves driving around the city, picking up passengers, and talking with them as they share their stories – and while you try to earn enough money to keep your taxi on the road (and, in this case) keep your star rating high enough to keep your job – as well as find out what’s happened to your best friend.
The graphics are much nicer than Night Call, however, with animated characters (no voice overs though), and a well done soundtrack that fit the setting nicely – the aesthetic being very much a neon-futuristic cyberpunk-esque style, with lots of blue, black and purple.
The story itself is quite interesting and does a good job of using the discussion around the potential ban on manually-driven cars in the city as a metaphor for some real-world issues.
There’s no manual driving involved – your interaction is via conversation and text messages, and selecting which passenger you want to pick up from a city map.
In theory you can choose your conversation choices and actions from a menu, but you’ll often find them frustratingly limited, depending on Lina’s mood – she is quite an empathetic person, which is an important aspect of Neo Cab’s gameplay.
Attached to your character’s wrist is a device called a FeelGrid, which changes colour to reflect Lina’s mood and emotional state. It’s a neat idea and a helpful gauge of how the conversation is going, and also the sort of technology that probably will end up on the market in a few years.
The problem is, you’ll often find dialogue choices unavailable because Lina isn’t in the right mood for it – for example, a passenger may be arguing a point you don’t agree with, and you’ll find yourself too angry to select the conversation option that would allow you to disengage.
I see why the developers have done this – it is supposed to make conversations feel more realistic and like they reflect your character – but I found it frustratingly limiting, forcing me to aggravate people further, denying me chances to find out more information, generally making me feel less in control of the game as a result.
The writing is well done with a branching narrative and multiple endings, while the supporting cast are a diverse and colourful bunch, including a freelance photographer, a disciple of The Pain Worm Metowopian, German tourists who think Lina is a robot, a one-armed bouncer, and my personal favourite, a Quantum Statistician named Oona whose dialogue I was found myself mentally reading in Jessica Walter’s voice.
Neo Cab does a good job of presenting its story and giving the player food for thought, and while it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, the more sedate, narrative-driven experience was quite appealing and I enjoyed my seven hours or so in the driver’s seat.