Developed By: Chance Agency
Published By: Fellow Traveller
Category: Dialogue-Driven Taxi Management Sim
Release Date: 10.03.2019
Dystopian futures come in all shapes and sizes, and our medium has allowed us to experience all sorts of unfortunate futures. Hopefully experiencing some of these futures can allow people to see ways we don’t want our society to progress, however all negatives outcomes occur if you believe that alternate universes take us down all possible pathways. This paragraph is a shallow look into some of the content you must digest in Neo Cab, and you will also take a trip down the path of injustice, politics, race, sexuality, and more. Things are very serious in Los Ojos, and you are the newest resident in this cacophony of stories from the backseat of your Neo Cab.
You are Lina, a Neo Cab (future Uber) driver who is on her way to a brand new town for a new adventure. Your high school best friend, Savy, has invited you to move to Los Ojos and move in with her. You are reluctant because of your spotty past together but are willing to try it out as you have always felt an intense closeness to Savy. As you arrive things seem like they might turn out pretty good, until your new roommate has you dropping her off to go clubbing with her boyfriend on your first night in town. You run through some pax’s (Neo Cab clients) to kill some time until you get some distraught text messages from Savy. She tells you where she is and to get there ASAP, but when you arrive you discover her phone smashed on the sidewalk and Savy nowhere to be found. This is where your journey starts, as you have nowhere to go, know nobody, and must do everything you can to try to find out what happened to Savy. This is one of the more brilliant pieces of story in games I have found, and the multiple pathways and options you have feels like a choose-your-own adventure game. Discovering as much of the story as possible to try to figure out what is going on in this shady town is key, so make sure to choose the right people to pick up.
Savy got you a present as you got into town called a FeelGrid. This device is a smart bracelet of sorts that determines how you are feeling and displays that feeling in a colored grid. Red for anger and blue for sadness, as well as several shades in between make up a system in which you must keep yourself centered in order to open up as many dialogue options as possible. Lina is a passionate person, and so when she is upset (at the outer edges of the FeelGrid) she gets forced into saying things she might not have thought through entirely. For example, you might pick up a drunk pax who throws up in your backseat and blames it on the previous rider. You are well aware it was this pax, and depending on how you respond you might be able to convince them to tell the truth and clean it up, or you might shut down the conversation by being quick to anger and get a bad rating on your Neo Cab app. Being centered isn’t always good, as some situations need a more emotional take, but you have to balance these things to try to achieve the responses you are looking for. This is one of the deeper systems for dialogue choice I have ever seen, and it makes for some serious strategy when it comes to wordplay and planning out conversations, as well as is one of the more frustrating portions of the game. As you get into situations and you want to respond a certain way, but at times cannot because you are hindered by your emotional level. Managing your emotions and doing things like going to therapy or picking up certain clients you know will get you in a good mood is part of making sure you can say what you want when the time is right.
Beyond that the dialogue system is used to procure information that might open up clues or locales that could lead to more information about what Savy has gotten herself into. You also are working while picking up clients, so you have to also consider keeping your rating above 4 out of 5 stars in order to not get “fired” from your Neo Cab gig. Pressing pax’s for information might get you closer to finding Savy but could also get you a quick game over if your score drops too low at the end of the day. You are expected to pick up three clients per day, so you have some room to improve your score with easier rides, but this also allows yourself very little time to search for your lost friend.
After taking all of this into consideration from pickup to pickup you must then fit in enough time to search for Savy, while also not going over the scare funds available to you. You have to charge your car, so you don’t hit empty, and you also need a place to stay every night, so you have to make enough money during the day to maintain these must-haves. You also could have some story beats that require some cash, so keep that in mind as you manage your wallet. Money is pretty hard to come by in large quantities and can be eaten up quickly through being a good Samaritan or by being pulled over by the cops. Money never felt like a hindrance but is another mechanic that glazes over the story.
On the search for Savy you will start to catch her scent and will need to grab clients for multiple conversations or enter random locations that could lead to more information. Entering these locations and spending time looking for Savy takes away from the time needed to hit your pax quota, so this also must be managed in order to progress. The one thing that really bothered me through this whole process is the game lays out such amazing story beats for you to travel but requires you to take a lot of thought and put it into the taxicab management sim it becomes. I wish I was left to run around the city and make some serious progress a bit more, especially when you realize the story takes places over only a few days, but it never got to a point where I felt the leash taken off to experience the truly quality story underneath. I will say though, this is one dope taxicab management sim at the very least.
The 80’s punk neon aesthetic is felt throughout, in people’s attire choices to everything’s bright and glowing coloration. It hits all the beats of what you would expect in a steampunk future and feels like a game like RAGE or Borderlands if the apocalypse hadn’t happened yet. The anti-corporate culture, as well as mix of protesting groups and over-powered police make for a cultural setting makes a statement for sure. I loved every minute of trying to learn about how the culture and society of this title are compromised, and how the people in Los Ojos are feeling about the potential banning of cars, or the ever increasing technological advancements that continue to take the rights of the everyman away. It all oozes with style and I loved delving into it.
Neo Cab is one of those really interesting indie titles that comes along and wow’s because it does what no other game has done before. Mixing of genres is always exciting, but a dialogue-driven taxi simulator is something I never knew I wanted, and never want to lose after experiencing it. My biggest grudge with the game is it not letting me run around on the weekends without HAVING to grab pax’s to maintain my Neo Cab status. I wanted to explore and discover more beyond the conversations I was having with the handful of clients you can pick up. Don’t get me wrong, the conversations with these people are great, but I felt like the conclusion snuck up on me and left me unprepared and with a lot of loose ends I wanted to explore. Obviously, the game preaches multiple timelines and breaks the fourth wall with its suggestion to play the game again but returning to the taxi mechanics and having a lack of user-friendly options present in other titles to speed past certain things make for repeated plays being a bit cumbersome. It was worth it, in the end, but still was rough here and there. All in all, you have a game that breaks down boundaries and brings with it an experience I would suggest most try out, it just left me wishing I could have more easily navigated the world the developers have crafted.
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*The Switch Effect was provided a review code for this game*