Developer: Chance Agency
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 3, 2019
It’s late at night and the holophone says another rider needs a pickup. Unlike the rest of your 'co-workers', you are tired, you are exhausted... but you also desperately need the money. You know what people lay bare in the dark to perfect strangers, especially in Neo cabs. Besides, what other use is an authentic human driver?
|The story of Neo Cab is broken up into nights, often as scenic as this.|
Neo Cab is a narratively-driven survival title where you fill the shoes of Lena, the last human driver in the cyberpunk city of Los Ochos, or LO. She arrives during a tumultuous time in the city; Capra, a massive corporation invading every part of people’s lives is pushing for its driverless cars to be the only legal mode of transportation. The classic dystopian tale of a corporation going mega isn’t what Neo cab focuses on however. Instead, the game centers around the old trope of people spilling their guts to cab drivers and interactions in an age where machine outnumbers man. It's the window dressing on a story that feels personal, and very relatable to many people out there today.
Wearing Your Heart On Your Sleeve
While Neo Cab plays like a visual novel, it has a few extra layers that add some much needed depth. As a futuristic uber driver with nowhere to stay, survival is the name of the game. Lena comes into Los Ochos with a perfect 5-star rating and (if I remember right) 70 coin. Both your rating and your wallet have to be maintained, and each represents their own set of issues. With nowhere to bed down for the night, you’ll be forced to rent rooms. You can go cushy and get a 20 something coin hotel room, or you can swing for a cheaper 18 coin motel. I know a 2 coin difference doesn’t seem like much, but when you’ve gotta charge up your car as well you’ll be tightening your belt before you know it.
|Am I the only one who would never wear a super accurate mood-ring?|
When it comes to keeping your rating up, there’s more life-or-death importance. Not literal death but job death. If your rating stays below a 4.0 for too long, you’re out of Neo cab, so kissing up to your riders, or Pax, is essential. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Like every uber driver has had to drive terrible people around, you’ll end up doing the same. Drivers only appear as little pins with a profile picture, so unless you’ve already driven someone there’s no way to tell who you’re going to get. It may be a lovely ex-con who says he’s taken up baking cookies, or a rebellious teen heiress who hates cops and brands herself as an anti-fascist. Or you could get a couple of complete jerks, like a pair of German tourists who don’t believe that you’re a human. Ugh, tourists.
Since Lina is her own character with her own thoughts and emotions, it’s pretty important to always stay keyed in to how she’s feeling: especially so you don’t snap on any Pax’s. Luckily you have a wearable piece of tech just for that. It displays Lina’s mood constantly using different colors; think a mood ring but much more expensive and it reads your blood. It’s especially useful since Lina’s emotions tend to fly all over the place. Conversations can fly from pleasant to mind numbingly aggravating in just a single response or vice versa. In terms of her character it makes sense: Lina is hypersensitive and feels things in magnitudes. But for gameplay it can put a damper on things. Some of the choices you can make in conversation depend on Lina’s mood, and if she’s not feeling a certain way, that option you wanted to pick is blocked off.
|You can keep track of the story through Lina's well-maintained journal.|
Oh, and forget about trying to roleplay Lina a certain way; it won’t work very well. You’re bound to run into a speech choice that you can’t make because of the emotion system. It’s one of the downsides of making a character so autonomous; there’s not much a player can do to decide anything for Lina since she decides for herself. The decisions players make are more gentle pushes, whereas Lina takes the grander strides.
Making Friends Along the Way
The story of Neo Cab is gripping but not constantly present. After moving to LO to move in with an old friend, Lina looks on the city with excitement and anxiety. After your friend mysteriously goes missing, every alleyway is full of possibility and anyone could lead towrds answers. And since Lina can’t exactly call a day off, she has to work with the clients she takes as a Neo cab. They’re not all useful - some of them are totally useless in your investigation - but they all provide memorable conversations and develop interestingly if you keep picking them as fares. Again, the cyberpunk setting is an amazing framing for a lot of great ideas.
The investment Neo cab makes in its characters is what carries it. They provoke thought outside of the main narrative that drives the game. Past the looming threat of an enormous company, the fear of the government banning your job and the endless worry that your friend may be dead somewhere, there are conversations with characters that left me astounded.
Like I said before, you meet a wide range of characters, each with their own backstory, agenda and lives. However, one stood out to me the most; a spindly pale man with a strange spiraling tattoo on his head named Agonon. He is a cultist. I won’t say what he worships, but it involves a lot of pain. He finds pain to be the only natural emotion in the universe, and tries to feel it mentally whenever he can. However Agonon is still human, and when one of the people he leads in this cult is dying, he calls a neo cab for a ride. He posits about death, the fear of the nothingness that waits for us when our light flickers out. You can almost get him to say that he resents the pain he is feeling over this. Almost. This thorough examination of a character, one that doesn’t play a huge role in the overall story, merits its own article (give me time). And it’s just one of the many memorable interactions I had with the wonderful characters of Neo cab.
Coming Back To Los Ochos, Again and Again
I only played through Neo cab once, but it won’t stay that way for long. Beyond its rather linear story there are boundless hours of content to explore. I don’t mean ruins in Skyrim full of the same draugr or multiplayer matches that take place on the same maps. I mean unique conversations with unique characters - something few games have to offer. For those that enjoy a good story, or just a nice chat, a replay of Neo Cab is in your future after you get it. One play through doesn't have to take long, but that's works to your favor, letting you dive back in to experience it again with different choices.
|I never thought I'd value a 5 star rating from an NPC... but here we are!|
If it's not already obviousl, you should get Neo Cab. This is a game that's meant to be enjoyed leisurely, at your own pace; this is an experience that is truly enjoyable without any grit, guns or action needed. Neo Cab is a fantastic experience that doesn’t just tell its own story but the stories of all its characters, and it does so beautifully. My one recommendation is that you pick this title up on the Switch. Some games are meant to be played laying back on the couch with a blanket on and this is one of them. Get comfy and take the long drive out to Los Ochos.