Time to call it a night.
Night Call is a dialogue driven game where you play as a taxi driver in Paris who’s been tasked with helping a local police detective crack a case. The average gameplay loop involves choosing a passenger from a map of the city and then hearing what they have to say as you drive them to their destination. Periodically you’ll receive a dialogue prompt to say something back to them and further the conversation, which could deepen your bond with them, uncover clues for the mystery you’re investigating, or maybe just irritate them a bit.
That’s pretty much the full extent of what you actually do in Night Call, but the stories you get from the passengers you shuttle around the city are the real draw to the game. There are 70 different characters you can pick up with vastly different circumstances and personalities. Potential clients include a woman struggling with whether she’s worthy of her much younger boyfriend’s love, a Japanese businessman who does his best to communicate with you despite the language barrier, and a group of drunk cosplayers who can’t seem to find their missing friend, just to name a few.
Passengers don’t just show up once and then disappear forever though. Many of them have ongoing stories that take several encounters to see play out in full. My favorite was a masked vigilante who acted as a wannabe superhero, escaping the scene of his not-strictly-legal deeds via taxi once he’d dealt with whatever villain he was fighting. Over several meetings I learned that he was struggling with notoriety, and also that he was balancing his heroism with a full curriculum at a business college. There wasn’t a single passenger I picked up whose story wasn’t interesting in some way, and these brief vignettes of the lives of the people of Paris carried my interest in the game for a good while.
Sadly the actual mystery you’re solving is far less interesting. The case is presented with an old-school noir aesthetic; you’ll be pinning clues and evidence to a board in your apartment to find connections, meeting with informants in dark alleys, and picking up wayward hints from passengers as you drive around the city. The downside of this is that you really aren’t doing anything to solve the case yourself. Most of those detective moments where you gather evidence are pretty generic and largely not written as well as the typical passengers are. You’re handed envelopes with key case details and don’t even get to read them yourself. The act of reading them consists of holding a button long enough for a progress bar to fill, and then the evidence is automatically added to your board and linked to the relevant suspects. When the time finally comes to choose someone to accuse, it’s just a matter of deciding who has the most strings attached to their photo.
There are a couple of different cases in the game, but so little of the game’s runtime is taken up by the main story details that the real meat of the story is still going to be the passengers you pick up along the way. This could’ve been a fine way to justify going back and seeing all of their individual stories through to the end, but unfortunately you won’t get the opportunity for that either; every passenger’s story resets on a new playthrough, and you’ll be starting from square one for anyone whose arc you didn’t see through to the end. This strips the game of a lot of its replay value, and leaves you with something that’s really best played once and only once.
Night Call ultimately feels like it’s missing something crucial to tie it all together. I think the game would’ve been better if it really was just about driving around Paris getting to know these people who are living out their everyday lives. The mystery-solving is half baked, and the fact that you can’t carry the stories of your passengers forward into future cases just makes me wish the mystery wasn’t there at all. I really did love the conversations I had with the game’s diverse cast, but in the end I was just left frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to see them through to their end without slogging through a lot of stuff I’d already seen.