What indie games often lack in production value, they can make up for in style. Night Call, is a perfect example of this. The dialogue is communicated only via text and the visuals are short repeating animations. However, the way everything is presented still works in an appealing way. Almost everything in Night Call is black and white, but there is some yellow on the screen to highlight areas of interest. That color choice makes sense considering your character is a taxi driver in Paris.
The noir style fits for a game about talking to passengers while trying to solve murder mysteries. Most of the scenes are inside the taxi, as if a camera was on the rear-view mirror. Half the screen is that view and half is a map tracking your GPS in Paris. You don’t have to know where you’re going, but you can see the route the driver is taking. The background changes as you drive and when you reach a turn on the map, the background turns as well. That is a cool extra visual feature, but it does fade out of your awareness after dozens of drives.
The hook is that you’ve been recruited to help the police track down a serial killer. You are given five suspects and your task is to gather information about them relevant to the case. You can get information from random passengers, from relevant locations marked on your map, or by picking up the suspects for rides and talking to them. As the player, you cycle through the text conversations and select from a few options every so often to steer conversations a certain way. It’s fairly standard as a dialogue tree in a branching narrative game.
The strength of Night Call is the random encounters in the taxi. You always drive late at night and weird stuff happens regularly. In this way, the game plays like a taxi driver sim. Sometimes it’s quite amusing. Sometimes it’s just plain old weird. There are even some surprises and quality Easter eggs among the dozens of different passengers.
Unfortunately, the weakness of Night Call is solving the murder mystery. The game makes money, time and information relevant resources that you have to balance to efficiently advance your investigation. You may need to bribe an informant, but you also need money to fill up your gas tank and cover your fees as a taxi driver. You also only have so much time before you have to go home for the night.
Going to a relevant location for your investigation can give you evidence and clues, but it takes time to do that and you won’t make any money. Driving a random passenger around can result in an entertaining conversation and will give you some money, but it rarely progresses your investigation. Once you master that trade off, the immersion fades and the game starts to lose some of its sheen.
Going through the suspects is made simple by your mostly automated investigation board. There’s no poring over an autopsy or examining a case file. Just hold a button for a few seconds and the relevant clues and evidence will be summarized into a sentence on your board.
There are three different cases, but much of the premise remains the same in each, and you will see some repeating scenes. It’s just a way to get you to play the game longer, which isn’t so bad because it gives you a reason to experience more of the random conversations. However, the mystery part doesn’t have the same appeal after the first or second run.
Thankfully, there is a free roaming mode, which strips away the murder mystery, time and money, so you can focus solely on the conversations in the taxi. If you find yourself getting tired of the investigations, this mode is worth it to explore and see what strange characters you’ll run into.
Night Call came out on PC last year, but released on Xbox One and Steam on June 24. It’s on Xbox GamePass and it’s worth a try if you have the subscription service. Depending on how much you like the murder mystery part though, it may or may not justify a $19.99 price. Each mystery takes about three or four hours to finish and the replay value falls off quickly.
It’s the first console release for developer Monkey Moon. There are definitely some good things here in terms of style and dialogue so hopefully their next game can retain the quality in those areas while improving the general gameplay hook.
Night Call is available on PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
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