Sometimes stories don’t have the same impact without the ability to choose what happens next. As much as you might connect with a character in film, for instance, you can’t decide what their next action is. That’s where video games step in. They’re able to invite you into the experience and involve you in the decision-making process. This decision-making also serves as an interesting way to explore the different paths a character might take, and to watch those decisions have an impact on the rest of the narrative.
Neo Cab’s story takes place in the near future. In fact, it’s a future so near, it sometimes felt uncomfortably close. You play as Lina, a rideshare driver for a the titular Neo Cab. In fact, you’re one of the last human drivers left, as progress gives way to automation. This sci-fi near-future is home to lots of neat ideas—like protective mech suits for kids, or cars being viewed as potentially lethal weapons that should therefore be outlawed.
Lina is just moving to Los Ojos, which she does so at the behest of her friend Savy. Savy and Lina had a falling out about a year prior, but Lina hopes that moving in with her will be a way to renew their friendship. That is, until Savy ditches her, and leaves her without a place to stay the very first night Lina arrives. Savy’s disappearance quickly becomes even more suspicious when Savy sends Lina a distress call—only to completely disappear, leaving Lina to fend for herself in Los Ojos.
Los Ojos is referred to as the “automated city,” and that’s because corporate behemoth Capra has their technological hands in everything—from facial recognition technology used by the police, to bracelets on your wrist designed to show off your mood. These mood bracelets monitor the hormone levels in a person’s blood to determine their true emotions, with obvious nefarious implications. The feelgrid also helps Lina understand her own mood—and will help you understand it as you talk to passengers, and try to maintain an acceptable Neo Cab rating.
Lina’s feelgrid mood bracelet is one of the few gameplay elements in Neo Cab. It barely skirts the line of visual novel, while maintaining many of the hallmarks of that genre. Debate about whether visual novels are games aside, Neo Cab isn’t just conversations in cars. You have to help Lina make decisions about not only what fares to accept, but how to spend her money: where to buy fuel, how much money to spend on a place to sleep, etc.
Most of your time in Neo Cab will be spent in conversation. That’s what Neo Cab is all about. And sometimes talking is difficult—especially when you’re trying to keep your rating as high as it can be. Checking your rating, choosing destinations, reading notes, and reading/sending texts are all done through Lina’s holographic phone.
Lina’s holographic phone is just one aspect of Neo Cab’s top-notch presentation. A lot of conversations in Neo Cab take place from in the driver’s seat, and it’s extremely immersive. One of the things that first drew me to Neo Cab was its art style. It’s extremely stylish, and one of the best blends of 3D and hand drawn art styles I’ve encountered. Los Ojos is beautiful at night, and is a realistic combination of older style and newer technologies that is almost cyberpunk.
Neo Cab is extremely story heavy. And that story touches on all sorts of subjects that are relevant today. As a driver for Neo Cab, Lina runs into all sorts of interesting passengers, or pax, as the game refers to them. And there’s quite a variety of characters to run into, all with their own problems and interesting stories. As you go through each night, you can pick them up as repeat customers, and see how each of their individuals stories are playing out—and how you (sometimes) have an effect on them.
There are some heavy discussions in Neo Cab, with subjects ranging from death to friendship. I felt a personal connection to Lina. We’re both extremely emotional people, sometimes to our own detriment. Lina’s relationship with her friend Savy is also eerily familiar. And I found myself rooting for, and sometimes crying for, some of the characters that Lina encounters. Neo Cab is full of moments of profundity and poignancy, with an underlying narrative that will entice you to keep going. And then, once you do it once, you’ll want to go back take the paths you didn’t the first time around.
Neo Cab had an emotional impact on me. It’s beautiful, moving, and has important things to say. A simple conversation can have long lasting impacts, and even a cab driver can change the world.
Neo Cab will be out tomorrow for Windows and Nintendo Switch.
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