I went into Neo Cab with quite an open mind – I’d explored many other short, narrative titles recently (such as Edith Finch, Old Man’s Journey, and Brothers) but wasn’t sure what to expect from this ‘emotional survival game’. I was expecting intrigue, mystery and a compelling story, and after my brief – yet engaging – playthrough, I’d received just that.
This is Our Dystopia…
Neo Cab is shockingly familiar, and although the title is set some decades in the future, the player will recognise many elements of the environment and of the fictional world that play heavily into our society today. In many ways, Neo Cab is a blunt glimpse into our future, and it portrays it extremely well. The human race has been overtaken by technology, and automation is king, with a shady mega-corporation holding the monopoly on all-things techy.
Of course, this kind of advancement has created a dramatically varied assortment of citizens, and the player will stumble across characters that can be augmented, fully connected, or just… regular. There are ongoing debates regarding the automation of public transport, the collection of personal data for malicious purposes, or the presence of ‘advanced AI’ (robots) mingling with the human population. It’s pushing the generic sci-fi elements while maintaining an aura of ‘this-could-be-our-future’.
Your Emotions, Visualised.
At the core of Neo Cab’s gameplay is an emotional mechanic that determines how you explore the game, its characters, and the many conversational options. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a new idea, developer Chance Agency has put an interesting spin on the mechanic with the implementation of a physical device that actively tracks how your player is feeling, opening up or shutting down particular paths of conversation accordingly.
This enables the player to feel more engaged, as there is a dynamic aspect to conversation, and you’re ultimately out to please people, or face the consequences. The player will assume the role of Lina, a driver for the Uber-esque firm, Neo Cab (roll credits). The ultimate goal is, as you’d imagine, to ferry characters from point to point, all the while engaging them in conversation apropos their individual circumstances. If you don’t make the right choices, you’ll be scored negatively, lose funds, and potentially your job: Game Over.
In order to achieve the goal and withdraw the most information out of the wide variety of passengers that ride in your car, Lina will need to use emotional diplomacy and balance her actions and reactions accordingly. It goes without saying that the choices made, and emotions experienced will set the player down their path to whichever ending they ultimately arrive at.
Choice and Consequence
Expectedly, Neo Cab is fundamentally basic – it’s a narrative, after all. It’s the kind of game that is played entirely with the click of a mouse, making it perfect for the ports to Android and iOS. It’s very text-heavy, owing to the lack of voicing, but it’s never a chore. The writing is superb, and the story is delivered cleanly without too much effort. That being said, it’s not so streamlined that you’re left without any connection to the characters; on more than one occasion, I genuinely felt sorry for, or angry at certain characters that arrived in the backseat of my Neo Cab.
This game will all come down to a choice – the conversation options you pick, the inner-thoughts you select, or the approach you take with your current passenger. I’ve only played the title through once, and this means I’ve unfortunately missed out on an array of conversations with the passengers I didn’t pick up. Further, if you’re making the right choices, you’ll form relationships and a rapport with certain characters, meaning you’ll see them again and can develop their side of the story.
Mix One Part Dazzling and One Part Bleak
The beauty is in the simplicity – Neo Cab doesn’t opt for a state of the art engine to display its story, but a gracefully simple artistic style that is pleasing on the eye and is effective at being memorable. Neon is the order of the day in Los Ojos (our fictional setting), and almost every character has some kind of lighting incorporated into their appearance – it makes for evermore interesting character design.
In fact, lighting plays a huge part in this title, owing mostly to the fact that the city itself can be seen as bleak, and eerie. We don’t see a huge amount of it, but what we do see isn’t very welcoming. The lighting is used tactically to dynamically adapt a scene depending on its requirements – police lights, the glow of your “Feelgrid” emotional monitor, the glaring white lights of a recharge station… They all contribute to the ambience.
The characters themselves are wonderfully drawn, and each is completely unique from the next. There are no two characters that can be mistaken for another, and they’ve all got their own story to tell, and emotions to balance. These characters can be compared quite effectively to the world around them: some are enlightening, interesting and bright, while others are depressing, morbid or disparaging.
It’s Your Story
The level of choice presented in Neo Cab is admirable – it allows for the player to explore the story as they see fit. Although the system is quite repetitive, you always feel compelled to keep playing and discover the next scenario or character. The developers have done a great job at mixing humour and light-hearted themes, with aspects of the more strenuous, serious subjects, such as consumerism, depression and anxiety, or LGBTQ.
In the very short time you’ll have with this game (I logged around three hours), you’ll come to feel a connection with Lina, and will be invested in the approach you take throughout her experience. When progressing through Neo Cab, you’ll come to explore a story that makes a fair effort to remain mysterious but is ultimately predictable. Although Lina’s experience is intriguing enough, the ending can leave the player feeling unfulfilled, depending on their final result. It does all wrap up quite quickly, and my ending left me with the impression of: ‘”Oh… Is that it?”
I thoroughly enjoyed Neo Cab and think it would be a great experience for somebody that prefers a narrative-heavy gameplay style and doesn’t have much time on their hands. The visuals are superb, the characters are fantastic, and the game handles an array of sensitive subjects quite tastefully. I’d consider this the perfect ‘chill-out’ game, as the almost ethereal soundtrack works wonders at relaxing the player. It would be perfect if the game were a little longer, or if the ending (particularly the one I received) made a little more sense, but that doesn’t detract too harshly from the final product.
Neo Cab is available on PC, Switch, Android and iOS from the 3rd October