Game review 🎮: Neo Cab

An indie narrative game where you play as Lina, the last human taxi driver in a future Earth, eking out enough cash from her fares so she can pay for a room to sleep tonight. It’s about the relationship between two friends, and meeting interesting people (your fares) who lead normal yet fascinating lives in the city of Los Ojos.

The setting is a near-future California: Los Ojos is basically Los Angeles or San Francisco projected 30-odd years into the future. While the scope of the “world-building” is quite narrow (as it would be for a small game), it is done thoughtfully: a realistic and interesting projection of what technology and society in the future might be. I can imagine Los Ojos and Lina’s life becoming a reality in a few decades.

Neo Cab is a narrative game with light resource management to give it a smidgin of challenge. There’s money, and fuel for your taxi, but the main star of the show is managing Lina’s emotions, which is done through a cute mechanic called the “Feelgrid”. As you pick dialogue choices with NPCs, Lina’s mood changes, which influences her downstream dialogue choices by opening up some options while closing others off. The gameplay mechanics are very light and easy, as the story is the main focus: the friendship between Lina and her childhood friend Savy — made even more complicated when Savy goes missing.

And here is where the story shows its depth: Lina and Savy’s friendship is not emotionally healthy. This is the main theme of Neo Cab‘s story which reaches an inevitable climax at the game’s conclusion. There are a few different resolutions to their relationship, and it’s clear which is the satisfying one. I’m touching lightly on this because part of gaming enjoyment is discovering the depths of story for yourself, but suffice to say, the game handles the themes deftly through both gameplay mechanics and story narrative. I thought Lina and Savy provided a tasteful and realistic insight into this sort of not-so-wholesome relationship and reflected the real-life experiences very well. I think it can even prompt some self-reflection about one’s friendships as one plays it.

The 2-D animated graphics are lovely. I liked the visual and colour aesthetic of the setting, and the character design. The developers have clearly put a lot of care and love into every animation; Lina in particular has a huge variety of facial animations that are so realistic, she resembles a real person when her expression changes. These 2-D characters have more life in them than some 3-D rendered characters I’ve met in other more high-profile games!

Like most indie narrative games, Neo Cab is fairly short: a single playthrough lasts about 2 hours. The fun comes from replaying the game, as it’s not possible to meet all cab fares or see all the story consequences in one playthrough. While the main story doesn’t have a lot of variation, it’s Lina’s cab fares that make up most of replay enjoyment: getting to know their stories (which adds world-building flavour to the Los Ojos setting), and developing relationships with them as they become repeat fares.

Neo Cab is a rumination on friendship in the shadow of technology, capitalism and activism, set in a near-future Earth that is entirely plausible. A debut game by the indie game studio Chance Agency, and they’ve created a fine entry into the narrative game genre.

Cross-posted at We The Players.

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