The future is always uncertain and with technology moving at a rapid pace, it feels overwhelming. At some points, it makes people even feel helpless to a world that seems change completely in a mere couple of years. I myself as a relativity young person who tries to keep up with the news, feels a sense of whiplash when I comparing how things were in my school years to my current adult years. While some see great promise for a brighter future, others see a tragic end to other aspect of life, mainly the loss of human connection. Its something we are currently dealing with now, losing ourselves to ever-growing tech that has infiltrated every facet of human life. Some even claim the world of cyberpunk, which has also seemed fiction for many decades, may be in some ways our reality today, we are living it as we speak.
In most games centering in a cyberpunk or near-future universe, the story is more commonly about saving the world or fighting some great evil like a mega corporation or corrupt entity. However…what about the everyday average person of this strange world? How do they live? What are their struggles, fears, life lessons, and gripes with a world dominated by technology?
Neo Cab is not about saving the world per say, its about saving a dear friend and solving a mystery surrounding a city in turmoil.
What is Neo Cab and the Story?
Neo Cab is cyberpunk-themed, narrative driven, adventure game with some aspects of taxi management thrown in. You play as a woman named Lina who just moved to Los Ojos aka the “automation city” which is dominated by robotic and AI technology that is largely owned and run by a large corporation called CAPRA. Everywhere you go, you see driver-less cars run by AI. This makes Lina the only human driver in the city as she is an employee of Neo Cab, a fictional ride-sharing service akin to Uber.
Lina’s best friend, Savy, invites her to live with her in Los Ojos as roommates. She hopes to repair their friendship as they had been apart for years and they left things between them on a sour note last they spoke. While waiting for Savy to finish up some business, Lina finds her phone and realizes Savy has gone missing without a trace. With little money and no idea where her friend lives, Lina has to search the city and ask around to hopefully find her lost friend. She does this by talking to her passengers as she gives them rides to make money. As she gives rides to people, more of the city’s politics, struggles, and more about Savy is revealed over time. How this goes about entirely depends on your reactions and responses to the people around you.
What is the Gameplay?
The game I would say plays a lot like a visual novel where the main meat of the game is choosing your responses when talking with your customers. As you can imagine, different choices in what you choose to say do have an impact on both the story and also your rating when the job is complete.
Remember, you are performing a service for people so customer happiness is key so your must keep them happy by trying to get the best rating possible per ride. If you dip too low and can’t get a high rating back, you can lose the game. Also depending on your rating, you may be too low to accept certain passengers that some require a certain minimum rating. So this aspect does keep you second guessing on your choice of words when speaking to your customers.
The final piece to the conversations with your customers is your “Feelgrid”. In the beginning of the game, your given a glowing wristband by Savvy which will display your emotions which will effect some of the choices you make in terms of dialogue. So if your more in an angry/irritated mood, you’ll see an option that wasn’t there before based on what your feelgrid is showing. Its important to keep an eye on it otherwise you could end up turning a 5 star review into a 1 star. On the flip side it also can make certain dialogue options open to you that weren’t there before. So its worth experimenting with multiple play-throughs to see what happens in some of the conversations you have. Its worth noting that there are multiple endings to Neo Cab. about three total.
This also with a tiny bit of management. As with the story, your friend is missing and you had no idea where she lives, you basically have no where to go. So you have to make enough money to support not only your bill to keep you car running, you also have to pay for a place to rest your head after your shift ends. Each hotel and power station (gas station of the future especially) has various price points. Obviously the nicer hotels that will elevate your mood more will be more expensive. You also have the option to sleep in your car…which doesn’t help your mood to much.
More about the Developers
Chance Agency is a new independent studio based on California with Neo Cab being their first game as a team. There are fifteen employees all of which have had experience in various aspects of the video game industry. Duncan Fyfe was one that stood out to me as he was one of the writers for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine which was a heavily story-driven adventure game and a personal favorite of mine.
The publisher I thought was interesting as its Fellow Traveler which seems to be focusing on these types of games. In the case, on higher quality visual novels with hints of gameplay as they also published Orwell (another dsytopian futuristic game with a focus on surveillance). They really seem to be focusing on publishing games with unique story telling mechanics which I’m all for. Rarely do I talk about a publisher in this way but I felt that they deserve a mention as their lineup is starting to pop up on my personal favorites list. I’m liking more of their titles then hating them which is a good sign for me as publishers can be a bit of a mish-mash of titles. There is consistency with Fellow Traveler which is interesting me personally.
Would I Recommend it?
How many times can I say yes before you go and get this game? I’m a big fan of story-driven games like this with interesting characters, good music, and just a really good set up like they made with Neo Cab. This game has fantastic characters, backstory, and even bizarre moments to keep you engaged. Each character drip feeds you their story and you find yourself becoming semi-invested in your customers. You also learn hints and bits about the city itself and the conflicting opinions of the people who live there. Truly the developers have mastered the world-building in this game which is something that should be applauded. Keeping a player interested in the world feels like a huge feat as I have played many games where you just don’t care about the world around you. No, not with Neo Cab.
One of the most interesting aspect to me is about the dialogue and how naturally the conversation shifts as you talk with your customer. It doesn’t feel forced at all which really surprised me.
I had a conversation with one of my customers (not saying names to avoid spoilers) who I met before and we talked about how he was working for a major company for a long time under the impression they were doing so much good as the technology they were creating going to change lives for the better. He said at one point he felt creative and energetic when working there. Overtime however, he noticed how things became more about the money and he started to doubt what he was doing.
Some Spoilers ahead be warned!
Part of this conversation got really interesting was when we talked about the wristband I was wearing which I got from my roommate, it makes people around aware of the emotion of the person who is wearing the device. Since he was trying to become a photographer, he commented on how he it felt weird or wrong that he can see the emotions right on the and as apposed to letting the photo speak for itself. He also saw people who, according to the bands, were happy or calm at the vigil he shot a picture of, where someone was run over by a human driver. He also commented on how he saw a bunch of people from CAPRA, who basically runs all the automation (especially the robot cars) in the city gave wristbands out to crowds before the vigil took place. We both commented on how it was manipulative but just good advertising for their products we supposed as their motive, which is something that my customer was debating the ethics behind has he was someone who worked for such a company. Was it a good idea or all about business?
So from this you can get an idea of some of these conversations, on top of finding information about your friend, your also seeing the complex issues surrounding the city and the people they inhabit.
I have to also mention the soundtrack because it is exquisite. A perfect blend of synth-wave and ambient techno that fits the tone of the game quite well. As you drive through the city, the music washes over you as you interact with the characters. The music fits the tone for a city in the evening where its it feels calm but also alive.
The music was created by Obfusc (aka Joseph X. Burke) who has produced music for other video games such as Monument Valley. By far my favorite tracks are “Halogen Mosaic”, “Neon Moon”, “Quartz Vapor”, and “Night Mist”. You can also buy the soundtrack on Steam if you wish. Truly an amazon collection of songs and may be Burke’s best work to date.
I do have some criticisms and things to note for my readers.
If you’re the kind of person who hates politics or confrontational discussion in a visual novel style, this will not be the game for you as it goes head deep into this kind of stuff. Its not constantly, but its there and some people would rather avoid those kinds of games at all cost, which is understandable.
Also there is NO voice acting whatsoever, its all text. So if you’re not into reading all the time as this game is extremely text heavy, that is also something to keep in mind. I think it would have been nice to have the option personally to have some level of voice acting. Also in some respects the game is kind of repetitive in terms of gameplay and even then the gameplay itself is light if your not the kind of person to count a visual novel as a game (which in truth there are those that don’t). At its core its basally a story with your interactions shaping what happens. These kind of games tend to have a level of gameplay to keep players engaged. for example HuniePop is a visual novel in some respects but at its core its a puzzle game similar to bejeweled but with its own twist on the concept. Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead is very much a visual novel but it manages to get away from that label with quick time events and light puzzles. Neo Cab on the other hand, its mainly just the interactions and the management is really not there. Yes you have to make enough to survive but the game will present you with options you can at the end of the shift afford. If you have to sleep in your care so be it and the only penalty is a shift to a more irritated mood. I found it was worth it, why not just sleep in your car and let the interactions from my customers bring my mood up? So for some, this can be a deal breaker understandable.
Its a story at its core, not an adventure (not purely one) and not a traditional game but so was Orwell and games like it. Its more about sending the player on a journey through a story and series of events which is something I’m 100% on board with…but its still a niche aspect of the gaming community that not everyone is on board with. I do ask for people to have an open mind but again this is my own opinion on the discussion of these visual novel-isk games that have become more popular over the years. This is just my thought for those considering buying the game, please be advised you are buying a story especially.
In terms of how long the game is, its easily around 6-7 hours or maybe more depending on if you try and speed run to find Savy which is a pretty good value for what they are charging and again there are multiple endings which means there is an incentive to play the game a few more times.
Chance Agency truly made something very special for the sub-genre, a glimpse into a very plausible future to our own children and grandchildren in the years to come. A world dominated by technology but with those of us questioning on how far is too far and what are the real answers we need to find in this strange new world. They started a conversation with this game, that is very clear to me.
Yet, behind all the questions and discussion points this game creates, at the every core of Neo Cab is an interesting mystery surrounding the disappearance of a dear friend who may have been more tied to these issues then she realized. In fact I saw one review call this a noir story that takes place in the future, and they couldn’t be more correct. Its modern-day noir where the gumshoe detective is a cyberpunk uber driver.
You can purchase Neo Cab on PC, IOS in the Apple Arcade Shop, and on the Nintendo Switch for the retail price of $14.99 with the soundtrack also costing an additional $9.99 if you so desire to get that as well.