Picture the scene: it’s nighttime, the streets are illuminated by cool blue neon lighting from every lamppost and holographic billboard, and you’re behind the wheel of a taxi, patiently waiting for any stranger of the night to slide into the backseat. In the visual novel Neo Cab – created by Chance Agency and published by Fellow Traveller – you’re a humble taxi driver, taking part in surprisingly immersive conversations that can have a big effect on the events unfolding around you, all the while touching on philosophical topics like emotional manipulation, technological enhancements, and the flow of time in an engaging and enjoyable way.
You’re plopped into the shoes of a Neo Cab driver named Lina, doing her rounds through the futuristic land of Los Ojos. There are few human drivers around since most taxis are automated vehicles created by the global mega-corporation Capra, so you’ll need to stay afloat financially while maintaining a good customer rating to keep her job. Lina’s best friend Savy reappears after a huge argument years ago, and while things appear to be getting better between these two former-besties, soon enough she finds herself dabbling with some shady figures. Whether you want to snoop around further or not is up to you, though the events and dialogue exchanges that unfold are certainly more than enough to tickle one’s curiosity.
In between your rounds, you have access to a digital map. There’ll be a few clients you can pick up and whisk to their intended destination. The distance from your cab, and the length of the journey, will drain your car battery, which you’ll need to top up with your hard-earned dosh at the many stations available. After picking someone up, you’ll enter the visual novel aspect of the game, where you’ll be able to chat with the passenger. There are plenty of interesting sub-stories with a lot of memorable characters and dialogue that ranges from thought-provoking to downright shifty. It becomes apparent that the facial animations are a bit stiff. At least the artwork and visuals are well done, plus the chilled vaporwave soundtrack is a real mood-setter.
Ideally, you’ll want to get the best responses from your customers as they can leave feedback on a scale of one-to-five stars. Allowing your rating to dip below four-stars will result in strikes, and too many of them could leave you out of a job. It’s possible to get on people’s good side and make new friends, making them more likely to give you top marks to help a bid out, but there’s gonna be some tricky decisions to make along the way. For instance, will you help a grifter swindle a less-than-likeable customer? If you call him out, would you accept a bribe at the expense of a good rating? Moments like these can be a bit intense and a lot of fun. It could’ve done with a dialogue sheet so you can re-read previously-spoken dialogue, as it runs without you needing to click ahead.
Lina’s emotional state will affect the dialogue choices you can make. A ‘Feelgood’ device around her wrist essentially acts as a mood bracelet. In the bottom corner of the screen are a multitude of different colours that show whether she’s feeling happy, sad, angry, or excited (not to mention the intensity of said emotions). Certain dialogue choices can alter her mood, which can either give you more or less options to pick from. It’s a clever feature that’s integrated into the game very well, which can make things easier or trickier. There are multiple endings you can wind up with, and while a single playthrough may take a few hours, it’s quite satisfying to replay the game just to keep following the branching paths and see where it brings you.
Neo Cab is a wonderful visual novel with many great stories to share and thoughtful conversations to take part in. Balancing the wages and maintaining a good score may be tricky enough, but having emotions affect the dialogue choices is a neat twist that can offer some peculiar results. Admittedly, it’s not a lengthy title, yet it’s immersive enough to justify a purchase, and a second or third replay..
Game code supplied by publishers.