Developer: Chance Agency
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Digital Download
Release Date: October 3, 2019 (EU & NA)
Neo Cab was developed by Chance Agency and funded by Treasure Hunters Fanclub. Their approach in their video game is a fascinating one since it can be translated so easily into our future as well. The adventure game can be also played on PC and iOs, but this review is purely based on the Nintendo Switch version.
The world in Neo Cab slowly turns into something we might face as well: Automation is dominating daily life and citizens debate if human drivers or automatic drivers are the way to go in the future. Protagonist Lina isn’t too passionate about automatic cars; her job as a taxi driver makes her choice not unbiased at all.
You accompany her while she moves to Los Ojos, California. The reason for her move and turning her life around 180 degrees? Her old friend Savy. She is the one that called her old friend despite they both had a horrible fight in the past which even caused the friendship between the two ladies to be on hold for a good while.
Honestly… This start occurred to me as a bit odd since I’d never do such a thing that could backfire easily, but that is just the old good me. Always needing security and all. It felt a bit too forced to me and that that was probably the most logical story development they had back then. Long story short, my approach would have been different.
Anyways, Neo Cab plays in the near future where humans slowly lose themselves to technology. Replacing clerks in supermarkets, capsule hotels with a self-check-in function and even Capra cars (driverless cars) being a threat to the old profession of a taxi driver, technology is everywhere to be found. The futuristic-looking environment is complementing the whole idea since you see glowing and stylish lights on almost every screen while enjoying Neo Cab.
And maybe that is why Lina also is desperately clinging on the contact to Savy, another human, as well as defending her position and job against a big corporation named Capra since their vision is to replace all human drivers in Los Ojos. Fast.
The player gets to be part of that journey of Lina and her trying to make a living in the bigger city. On her first day, she reconnects with her old bestie Savy who she also wants to move in with. After them getting reunited and Lina even getting a gift, they split up pretty early again.
Debating what to do next while she waits for Savy to sort things out, Lina decides that some extra cash isn’t the worst thing to have when moving to another city, so she starts to pick up some customers. Sadly, Los Ojos keeps offering a rough start for the heroine since Savy disappears – and you don’t know why she did, too.
The storyline has a thrilling way of unfolding itself which, I won’t mention any further as to avoid spoilers. Let’s move over to gameplay and let me tell you: Even though this is a game that’s about driving, thankfully even though Lina’s human, it’s fully automatic. All the things you must do in Neo Cab is read and decide where to go next, what to say and who you like to pick up.
The main point of Neo Cab is for Lina to get in contact with various customers. They prefer contact to humans while getting driven from one spot to another and will always be communicating with you. And believe me, there’s always something else to discover with them while following the main storyline: getting settled in Los Ojos and also reconnecting with Savy.
Chance Agency was generous with the story writing of each character you encounter and what kind of personalities you connect with. That is the main point of the game, but with each time the door of your car opens and a passenger swoops into the backseat, another storyline branches out.
The player can decide through Lina, which customer to pick up. Sometimes you cannot get anyone to drive with you since there are also prime members that require you as a driver to have no less than the perfect score, five stars. The star rating works like everywhere else. Basically, just the old eBay rating system.
You will get a warning when your average rating score drops under a certain threshold, but it isn’t too difficult to fall under that. I have to admit, I didn’t test it out though but it is also very easy to prevent from happening.
During the night, you can normally drive up to three people. An exception is the last night of the game, where you can finish all the storylines that pop up for you. The player of Neo Cab can also decide to end the shift early after driving twice, but I always pushed through. The characters are way too interesting and entertaining. Sometimes they make you think, some make you mad (and you didn’t realize they would beforehand) and some are just plain entertaining or weird.
You aren’t the only one hit by emotions while playing, it also plays a major role while playing Lina. Remember the gift I mentioned before that she receives from Savy? The moment you saw each other again, she snaps a bracelet onto your wrist. That bracelet isn’t just glowing up in a cool way, it also indicates your mood.
The feeling I had the moment Savy did that to Lina, my whole chest tightened and hoped for an option to get rid of it in the game. That bracelet will not come off, of course, and with some answers you give, Lina’s mood will change and the thing around her wrist will expose her right away. It’s an unsettling kind of feeling at first, but due to your playtime in Neo Cab, you’ll get used to it. You just have to. When I was little, I had something called a mood ring. It reacts to the body temperature of its owner, but this bracelet called Feelgrid in Neo Cab seems to work in a similar way.
The thought of that being reality made my stomach turn, but that doesn’t mean if the time comes, I have to get something like that. Neo Cab plays with that unsettlement a little bit during my playthrough and it has an influence… Unfortunately, one that I wish would be improved in the game.
Many other developers have also gone with a similar approach of creating an interactive visual novel where your choice matters. It is a big chunk of work to do so and writing even more timelines when you play in a certain order adds to the layer of work. The Zero Escape-Games pull that off as a prime example, even though the complex storyline and different endings can easily overwhelm you.
In Neo Cab, however, you get the impression that your choices matter. Some of them do, but this is mostly restricted to where to charge your electric car (if the station is within your battery range), which person to pick up and where to crash at night. I must admit, even though I completed Neo Cab twice, I didn’t play around too much with the choices where to stay overnight, but it did not feel it to make much difference in Lina’s mood at all. If her basic mood isn’t too good at all, some options will come unavailable to pick or you are more likely to be annoyed by a customer.
And there’s the biggest let down of the game in general: If you want to snap at a customer because he or she deserves a piece of your mind, the game won’t let you. Lina’s bracelet is glowing deep red, meaning she is angry as the devil himself, but the game forces you to take the other, the more unnatural outcome of the conversation.
The worst impact that issue had has to be the ending of Neo Cab. You are stuck in a tricky conversation where you need a lot of intuition. Do not expect a good ending in the first run, I doubt that will happen. Maybe it was the intention of the developer, but the bad ending I ran straight into had me frustrated. Furious even. I was mad at Lina’s reaction, a character which I thought of being pretty cool the whole time.
The bitter aftertaste thankfully vanished when I was playing the good ending (you also can experience the neutral one, so you have three endings in general). The faith in Neo Cab was restored and made the whole experience worthwhile.
However, the slight gaps in logic story-wise can be unnatural. Especially how nonchalant Lina sometimes handles the disappearance of Savy made me tilt my head a bit in astonishment. Her best friend has a questionable character for sure, but since her whole existence in Los Ojos hangs on it, Lina brushes it off her shoulder rather cool.
The replay value is slightly above average; if the bad ending hit you as much as it did me, you’ll restart the game probably immediately to try again. To experience all stories, you also must replay (some parts, if you do not want to start over) again.
Speaking of some stories before wrapping this up… A handful of them increase your rating based on your reactions, but some bring it down without you able to even manoeuvre yourself out of the mess that the client creates. I tried to replay the story again and react in a different way to see if it makes a difference but I still couldn’t change the outcome. That storyline at the end still played out the same way regardless of the choices I made in the conversations.
I had the same issue because of the exact same reason with another storyline where you test an actress’ role with her. You were given the choice between two characters – when selecting one, Lina will not obey and suggest it to her client because she doesn’t feel like it. If you play Neo Cab and come to that point, you probably can empathize more than now while reading my review, but still… why write this into the story and give me a false sense of choice?
CONTENT & FEATURES:
The three endings and tons of lines of dialogues keeps you entertained for a good 10 hours, I’d say. It offers you nothing much besides the game itself. One thing that didsurprise me for an indie title was the number of languages available in the game. Besides different regional differences (English US, English AUS and English UK), you also have 12 possible languages to choose from.
Playing Neo Cab in English and German being the language I grew up with, seeing a few bits and pieces in German made me smile. I bet there isn’t anything like that in the translated version of the game, so it somehow warmed my heart in that playthrough even more.
The soundtrack for Neo Cab is done by obfusc. The soundtrack hits the whole atmosphere of the title and rounds up the whole heavy, text-based experience without getting on your nerves and also not being too less of a variety to get annoyed with.
You do not need a lot of sound effects when the whole game is taking place in a car, driving and if the situation required any, the game delivers. On the best way possible to make it feel real and authentic.
Given it is a possibility, Neo Cab has no voice acting ever. Which I am a little thankful for. Fully voiced games can be a refreshing experience, but not when it is that much text in my opinion. It should feel like a book, otherwise, I would watch a movie or a series. Or listen to an audiobook.
Voice acting can ruin a good dialogue if done wrong, so I prefer to have none than sloppy performed ones or just a few parts being acted. Like I said before, Lina has a German customer as well (the last bit of his story is so bizarre that I advise everyone to experience it) and hearing a German accent badly done would have made the game way less enjoyable for me.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Probably due to its visual novel nature, nothing much is going on ever. Changing locations or backgrounds filled with life won’t cross your road in Neo Cab. The most you’ll see is a view from the car dashboard angled towards Lina and the accompanying passenger. You do step out of the car on some occassions, but this will only make you see the protagonist talking about what happened. You’ll never interact with someone you’ll see at the hotel’s front desk or on the station where you get your car charged up.
Despite there could have been more potential regarding the whole design of Los Ojos, it did not bother me too much, since the main focus of the game are the characters and individuals you encounter, and learning about their backgrounds and stories.
The expressions of the humans in the game can look a bit clunky from time to time, but I interpreted it as the byproduct of a majority of interaction with technology from everyone instead of facing a human being. Maybe that is an interpretation in favour of the developers, but I think it’s fitting to the overall theme and did not bother me too much. The little reactions Lina sometimes gave a customer were pretty charming, like winking at some points.
Since there are plenty of customers in the game, I’d like to give some suggestions on which stories the most touching or entertaining were for me.
If you pick up the game at any time, I’d advise you to pick up Fiona Pak and play her full story. Klaus Berg is the guy I was talking about with the really funny ending to his story. He also happens to be German as well. Another memorable character’s storyline was Liam Biards. In the end, they are all interesting and unique in their own way and are worth giving a ride.
And, Agonon’s story is an absolute must-play!
Lina also keeps a journal app where she keeps interesting events as scribbles. Depending on the customers she has, the order may vary or another drawing pops up. I like to think of it as a pastime activity while our taxi driver waits for the next customer. Even though they are all available (even though you choose to drive another possible client earlier), it feels more likeable this way.
The game uses an autosave function which prevents you from “cheating”. So picking an answer and reload the file if this wasn’t to your liking is not possible. Some dialogues are so cleverly and well written, reloading and trying another option would have been fun sometimes, though.
Not to forget, I never had any bugs or hiccups while playing Neo Cab.
If you can forgive the little weaknesses in the plot and also don’t mind to be left with a feeling of having a choice at some points during the playthrough, I bet you will enjoy Neo Cab as much as I did.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A download key was provided by Fellow Traveller for the purposes of this review.
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