You spend all your time in Neo Cab sitting behind the wheel of a taxi, but as a player, you should never send him. Instead of selecting routes and getting to the destinations quickly, decide which passengers to pick up and how to talk to them. It’s the near future, and the game’s main character, Lina, has just moved to the ‘automated city’ of Los Ojos, California, a shimmering, impersonal metropolis surrounded by desert. This is our Neo Cab Review.
Neo Cab Review: About
- Platform: Linux, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Mac OS
- Developer: Chance Agency
- Publisher: Fellow Traveller
- Genres: Adventure, Role-playing game
- Release Date: September 19, 2019
Neo Cab Review: Official Trailer Review
Neo Cab Review: Gameplay
Lina, who plans to move in with her best friend Savy, is one of the few drivers in a city now mainly driving self-driving cars owned and operated by Capra, a monolithic tech giant that has fundamentally changed American life. These are the best features of Neo Cab – exploring what it means to live in cities and the value of the human connections that Lina manages to forge makes for an immersive experience.
Neo Cab has a mystery, and the first hook is to solve the case of your best friend’s sudden disappearance. But in the end, the search for Savy takes a backseat, well, the people in your backseat. This is a game about the vulnerability of people working within a gig economy, what happens when a company gets too much power, and how humanity can adapt to the changes that seem to be on the horizon. It’s a smart examination of the world we live in today and the world we could find in ten years. Neo Cab is well written and fun, and despite some presentation issues, it always remains exciting.
For every night, Lina works, you get a few choices that determine how the story unfolds. You can choose which passengers to pick up from your card, and once they are in your car, you can make choices during your conversations with them. Those decisions will affect how the conversations go, what mood Lina will be in next, and – crucially – what appreciation your customers will give you when the ride ends. A few passengers are “Prime” members who will ride with you only if you have a five-star average, and the average is seemingly calculated based on the last few trips rather than your lifetime performance. So a single unfortunate customer can fill it up and hinder your search for Savy.
Lina’s mood determines the conversation options you can choose from. Early on, Lina was given a “Feelgrid” wristband, which glows in different colors depending on how she feels. The Feelgrid can indicate whether specific options are opened or closed; if Lina is in a good mood, the glowing green light on her wrist will prevent her from choosing aggressive or angry reactions, or if she has a blue light to indicate that she is sad you may be able to select a lesser dialogue.
It’s not the most in-depth system, but it’s an exciting approach that gives you a clear idea of how Lina responds at any given moment. The in-game discussions of the consequences of openly sharing your feelings at all times are also impressive. You might expect a game that is mostly car-based to end up being tedious or the same, but the stream of characters stepping into the Neo Cab keeps the game interesting.
The way passengers are animated tells you something about their life; some will not laugh, while others immerse themselves in screens as soon as they get into the car, while a few more bizarre figures are used to build the increasingly stranger world of Neo Cab. There is the young girl who has locked her life in horrifying armor for her own “protection,”; the golden-hearted ex-convict with a secret; the German buddies who are convinced that Lina is a robot.
The passengers not only help to elaborate on the politics of the game world but often offer discussions that will compel you to face many philosophies of life. Some characters worship technology, while others even condemn cars altogether; Many enjoy human interaction, while others prefer to be machine-driven. The most consistent feel is isolation, and Neo Cab does an excellent job of exploring the simple benefits of just talking to others without mentioning too much.
Like the passengers in the back of Lina’s car, each player will have their thoughts and feelings about automation, capitalism, and the way technology can and will change our lives. As such, the game offers multiple perspectives and also suggests that we should be wary of any company looking to build a monopoly, and it allows players to explore the gray areas in their conversation options whenever possible.
There are a few additional technical issues in Neo Cab that can take the experience away. Animations don’t always match text; during a conversation, the dialogue told me that a character had fallen asleep, but their avatar was visibly awake, eyes wide open. The driving animation has also been canned, which means that Lina could point to the left during the conversation, but you won’t see her turn off. Neo Cab often requires you to fill in the blanks, but these stumbling blocks often make the game world and characters, which are so well worked out in the text, feel more artificial.
Neo Cab’s interactions still manage to be exciting and feel important despite these issues. While I didn’t think that the decisions I made had a significant impact on how the game ended, the experiences I had during the six in-game days that led to the conclusion were personally tailored to how I played. Certain name-checked characters never appeared in my game, or started plot lines were never finished, but I always had an idea of what else I could have done to go through these things.
The overarching mystery plot isn’t all that great, and once the credits rolled, it felt like certain things I had done, and the strict budgeting of my limited income, was far less important than the game had made me think they were. But Neo Cab’s most significant appeal lies in the side stories your passengers present, and the relationships that develop between them and Lina. Most passengers can be collected multiple times, and stories will take place on different journeys.
Neo Cab review may suffer from inconsistencies and presentation issues in some places but as a representation of a near-future society affected by tech fetishes. An exploration of how people adapt to automation and the emergence of the gig economy has enough to offer to say how important it is that we all pay attention to each other. This is a progressive game, but the issues it examines are incredibly relevant in 2019, making for an engaging, stimulating storytelling experience, even if the central mystery of your friend’s disappearance isn’t particularly intriguing.