Now, this was pretty cool one, and not a “honk” in sight.
Chance Agency’s excellent “survival adventure” game Neo Cab (also on Switch and Apple Arcade) feels to me like what would happen if the classic cyberpunk FASA game series Shadowrun got a first-person expansion focusing not on weapons or magic, but a human taxi driver who just took mostly normal and a few tech-enhanced passengers where they needed to go, listening or responding to their mundane stories along the way. There’s also a smidgen of a more recent game Night Call, minus the murder investigation aspect to contend with (there’s a taxi accident mentioned a few times that occurs off-screen integral to the plot, but the Teen-rated game doesn’t feature any violence). The people you meet as pax (passengers) here are a pretty interesting (and well-written) sort where if you have time over the game’s six-day period, you’ll want to pick a few up multiple times in order to find out more of their stories.
There’s replay value here because the game’s main story only lasts about four or hours and intentionally limits pickups to three (or four in cases where you decide to take a chance on an extra run) a day. Granted, the plot threads all link up at some point, but it’s impressive to see how it all comes together even if the finale tends to be a bit of an anticlimax on one front when compared to the bulk of the game. It’s not a bad ending, mind you. It just forces a particular choice at you until you pick what seems to be closure for some characters. While there’s no voice acting here, most of the “acting” here is nicely mimed and/or conveyed through what’s seen on-screen.
The main plot has your character, Lina make the big move to Los Ojos, the very tech-centric (and somewhat cold and unfriendly) city that forced her out of work some years before as a cabbie with its automatic driver-less cabs. Her friend Savy has offered her the chance to live in her place after the breakup that separated them a few years back and Lina jumps at the opportunity to start anew, packing everything she can for the long trip. Savy vanishes after Lina picks her up and drops her off at an urgent meeting. Poor Lina is then stuck in her car while she tries to figure out what happened to her friend. The game is set up to keep Lina on the road except the parts where she needs to take a break and sleep – there are Pax who need picking up and a star rating to maintain, after all.
The neon noir setting (Lina only operates her cab at nights) works well for the most part. although you’ll have to use more of your imagination in some areas that don’t show enough of Los Ojos (but describe a few key locations well). Still, it’s the passengers who become slices of life more colorful than the environments here. The pair of foreign tourists who get the idea Lina’s an advanced robot. Liam, the photographer who’s integral to the main story, the mysterious Oona (who’s also important and a character I’d pay to see appear in her own adventures), a creepy guy with a worm fetish of sorts and more all add color to an already colorful and well-made game.
The “survival” element comes from managing Lina’s credit flow and to some extent, Feelgrid level and star rating as she deals with her passengers and a few things such as a policeman bribing her to “donate” for a “good cause” at a key point. That Feelgrid plays into a few things, but is used to monitor and to some extent, guide Lina’s responses through the game to her riders. Sometimes, responses are locked away by the Feelgrid and you can only choose one or two based on the emotions highlighted, so being in a proper frame of mind helps. Although some responses, even the angrier ones can be negated to some extent if your ride lasts long enough to have the mood change (or the pax doesn’t mind a rude response).
As noted earlier, you won’t get to experience all the characters on the first play. But, the game’s main plot focuses on a tech company called Capra and how it’s doing things that are taken for granted by most of the populace that are made complacent and coddled by all the tech that’s being produced. The funny thing here is despite its anti-big corporation and pro-gig economy themes, the Steam version has the option to view multiple people playing the game in real-time like one would watch a corporate-funded spectator sport. Well, I found it somewhat droll because that’s how I roll. The game looks great, has a nice sense of itself and does an excellent job at its forward thinking (how tech changes likes for better or worse is something we definitely can relate to these days). But to some, the weakest link (which is interesting as it starts out strong) is the Lina/Savy story because the finale maybe feels… too human in some respects.
Still, that’s because of the brilliant fun of the Oona segments and their bringing a bit of the fantastic to the plot more than a failing of the dev team to craft a better ending, I’d say. That ending narrows down some choices with the intention of making Lina have to figure out how to control her emotions, so it might to some, be less of an ending overall. Frankly, I didn’t mind it much other that to say out loud to a friend watching me play that its going to probably let down some folks who might have went in expecting something a bit more powerful or fantastical. Hey, it’s a good deal more human and normal yep, and that worked for me. This one’s a recommend and yes, thanks go out to Chance Agency and publisher Fellow Traveler for making something so unique and timely in this day and age.
Score: B+ (85%)
-Review code provided by the publisher