Now yes I’m aware this isn’t a book. However, I do think having different ways of reading stories can only be a good thing for the most part. This is not the first video game I have looked at, Grim Fandango being the last one. I wanted to write up about a traditional Visual Novel. If you don’t know what they are, they tend to be narrative driven games (hence why I wanted to do a post on them) often but not wholly with a Japanese anime theme to them with the majority of them on the PC. They can cover a number of topics and have a wide array of settings. Choices can be made in them which can affect what ending you get in the story. The one I am going to talk about is not entirely in the tradition of such visual novels but one I wanted to discuss none the less.
Neo Cab is a game available on the Nintendo Switch (of which I played it on) and on the PC (that might depend on the storefront you use) and as described by its publisher Fellow Traveller ( https://fellowtraveller.games/games/neo-cab/ ) is ‘an emotional survival game about gig labour, tech disruption and the experience of being a driver-for-hire.’
Our heroine is Lina a taxi driver (of the Uber variety) in a world where such drivers are slowly disappearing in a world of driverless cars and emerging new technologies. She travels to the city of Los Ojos a futuristic metropolitan city with neon lights to stay with an old friend Savy. We learn that despite their now apparent friendliness to each other they did not end on good terms previously. After just meeting her friend Savy for a brief moment, Savvy has things to do, she says she’ll meet up with Lina later but leaves her with a smart bracelet that can read your emotions displaying what it shows with a certain colour which is called a FeelGrid. Savvy later goes missing leaving with Lina with nowhere to stay while she is in the city only having a taxi and the money she has available to get her by.
Whilst trying to find out what happened to Savy, Lina picks up passengers each with their own stories which can also affect what happens in Lina’s story. We meet Liam a photographer who also is not a local to the city and becomes a friend, an overprotected child, a cult member, a statistician, tourists, a cult member among others. Each night, depending on which passenger we choose to take to their destination we learn more about about them, Lina and Lina’s story as well. With each story and decisions made will have an affect towards the end of the story when we finally find Savy.
Within the story we learn about a powerful big tech corporation known as Capra are trying to push a law banning human driven cars to push their own agenda which of course affects Lina’s livlihood. She has also had run ins with them in the past having been fired by Capra to replace her with a driverless car. Some of the topics of conversations with your passengers will relate to this.
When we finally find Savy towards the end of the story there are multiple endings which will change varying on your emotional state, what conversations you have had previously, what you have said previously and what you intend to do next. What I found good was that it really tested your friendship with Savy and how people are perceived by yourself and others. Is she worth it as a friend? Are you better off with or without her? You the player and reader are key in helping Lina in how she thinks.
I liked how the game made you look at things from different perspectives. We also learn how things are not all as they seem on a first impression. For example there is one passenger we find out is actually a con artist. It is not until we ask questions that Lina finds out why people are as they are. When discussing you relationship with Savy to some of the passengers (they’re called paxs in the NeoCab lingo) that they question the friendship. The game is as much about Lina’s friendship with Savy as it is with her relationship to Capra.
Although the game is story driven there some game related elements. The conversations you have can affect your star rating when each passenger reviews their trip. Not having a 5 star rating will exclude some passengers from wanting to use you for example and the company Lina works for is expected to have a minimum rating to do the job. Picking the right dialogue options therefore is important to get a good rating. You also have a choice of which hotel to stay at which can also affect how Lina is thinking. How we decide what Lina says can affect her emotions that are displayed are on the FeelGrid. Certain option on dialogues can only be selected depending on Lina’s emotions at the time. For examples if she is angry there are some dialogue options we cannot select for her because she is too riled up. There is a certain degree of budget control with getting electricity for your car and what type of hotel you can get but it is not wholly vital to the game.
I think the developers missed a trick in not having a free mode where you can pick up different passengers and control your budgets away from the story. The closest game I can remember similar to this was a side quest in Yakuza 5 where you also have conversations with passengers. The difference in that one was that you could also drive the taxi in an albeit simple road layout
NeoCab for me is a good game in that I was wanting more of it. I wanted to know more about Lina, Savy and the world they inhabit.