An interesting story revolving around an eerily prescient tech-filled future.
Neo Cab is the first title from developer Chance Agency and tells a compelling story about a cab driver moving to the big city to live with her somewhat estranged best friend. Protagonist Lina drives for Neo Cab, a company that seems to be part of a dying breed of non-automated service providers.At all times she is surrounded by competition and pressure from mega-corporation Capra, which has installed a widespread fleet of self-driving cars. It’s Capra domination of the social and technological landscape that serves as the driving force behind the narrative, and if you’re interested in games that put story above gameplay, it’s likely you’ll be hooked in by what Neo Cab has to offer.
Neo Cab seems to take place over a six-day span, which sees you picking up 2-3 passengers each day. Each person you pick up will engage Lina in conversation, and I found most of these to be quite interesting. You have the opportunity to make multiple choices in terms of how you respond, and you receive a rating out of five stars after you drop each passenger off at their destination. If the conversation goes well, you can expect 4-5 stars, but if it doesn’t then you’ll probably get a much lower rating, one that will lower your overall score. You’re also paid for your service, with longer routes naturally having a higher payoff. While Neo Cab has been referred to as a survival game, it seems like more a life simulator, and if you’re making good choices you likely won’t lose your job or run out of money.
However, it is the fear of losing your job or going broke that pushes you to act in certain ways. You might pick up a complete jerk of a passenger, and if you really need a 5-star rating from them, you might need to put a smile on as they extoll the virtues of Capra or lie about having puked in the back of your cab. You’ll encounter the police at various points, and you’ll be forced to decide whether to pay them off or stand up for yourself, and these decisions are likely to resurface later in the story. All this is to say that the characters you meet feel like they could be real people in a Los Angeles stand-in that doesn’t seem too far-fetched, especially given the rapid development of technology and the overgrowth of companies like Google and Amazon.
Early in the story, Lina is given a “FeelGrid” bracelet that tracks her emotions and how they change with every response she gives and hears from her passengers. They represent the way in which this (perhaps) dystopian future is constantly monitoring and recording absolutely everything we see, do, and now feel. At all times, there is a meter on screen that shows whether Lina is feeling angry, sad, calm, or happy, and then to what degree she is experiencing those emotions. In a unique twist, certain dialogue options that are presented to you become blocked based on your emotional state at the time, so it’s entirely possible that players will experience Neo Cab differently based on their own individual choices. Personally, there were a fair number of passengers I never even met as I decided to keep picking up the same ones to see how Lina’s relationship with them would develop over the course of my playthrough. I feel like I could go through the whole thing again and meet entirely new people, but overall the uncertainty of the emotion tracking and how it barricaded certain dialogue options was a little jarring.
Neo Cab has very little in the way of gameplay. You do have to make sure you don’t blow all your money, let your car run out of juice, or lose your job to do poor ratings, but maintaining these stats is very much secondary to the larger work accomplished by the narrative. The setting of Los Ojos feels alive, and its denizens are a delightful cocktail of awkward, savvy, charming, and repellent. While a playthrough can take around 3-4 hours, it’s worth returning to the world to meet different people and see how your decisions impact the overall narrative. What’s more, the dark and gritty aesthetic works well in a game that portends a potentially frightening future. At the end of a long shift, Neo Cab’s strong writing and effective story-telling make it well-worth hailing.