Neo Cab is a story about having conversations and staying in touch with our emotional state. It’s too bad the art direction does not do justice to its diverse characters.
It’s important to stay in touch with our emotions. In a week (and sometimes a day), we experience a complete spectrum of them, from red-hot anger to blue sadness; and sometimes, we can’t even. Indie game Neo Cab puts these emotions in the spotlight, as it takes you on a ride through its cyberpunk streets.
Rage Against the Machine
Neo Cab tells us of Lina, a young woman moving from the small town of her childhood to the big city of Los Ojos to live with her best friend Savy. Lina works at Neo Cab, which is basically the Uber of the future. Unfortunately for her, it’s also a future dominated by an autonomous vehicle megacorporation known as Capra.
The game presents us with two major conflicts. The first is that of the human-driven taxi service against the autonomous one. Neo Cab doesn’t pull any punches and shows us just how easily a megacorporation such as Capra can bully the little guy. In one of my favorite scenes in the game, I got pulled over for picking up a passenger at a Capra-designated area. In addition to being fined, I was also forced to make a donation to the police. It was infuriating and served as a perfect example of what happens when one company has too much power.
The second conflict in Neo Cab is with the radical no-driving organization dubbed Radix. Even in a world with autonomous vehicles, accidents happen, and people get hurt. Radix wishes to eliminate this by removing cars from the streets altogether. As a cab driver, Lina also becomes a target for those protestors. What’s worse is that her best friend Savy turns out to be heavily affiliated with the organization, and then goes missing.
Catch a Ride
Neo Cab steers around these conflicts as we drive to reach our daily quota, maintain our rating, and search for clues about Savy’s whereabouts. We do that by keeping a daily routine of driving three passengers every night.
There’s always a variety of passengers we can drive, each with their unique personality and conversation. Most of them do not directly affect the story, but how we handle these conversations can affect our pay, emotional state, and sometimes even story leads.
You pick up interesting characters, such as an unlicensed doctor who uses online videos to help those in need for free, to foreign tourists who are convinced you are an android. You always have a few potential passengers to choose from, so there’s a reason to go back and play a second and even third time.
Meeting these diverse characters always brought a smile to my face. You just never know who you’re going to pick up, and the characters manage to remain original and surprising, even in a sea of other cyberpunk games and stories.
At the end of each ride, you use up some fuel, earn some cash, and receive a score from the passenger. At first, these don’t really feel like a limitation, but as you progress, you can find yourself compromising due to a tight budget and struggling to keep your ratings up. This is one of the ways Neo Cab pulls you into the atmosphere of its dark future.
Do You Want to Talk About It?
But the one thing that really pulls you into the story is the Feelgrid. It’s a futuristic mood ring we get from Savy at the very beginning of Neo Cab. It tells us what mood Lina is experiencing at any given time.
As we react to conversations with passengers, the Feelgrid indicates the mood changes Lina is going through. Our conversation choices and the way passengers react to us vary depending on Lina’s mood. If Lina is too angry to think straight, she won’t be able to respond calmly or reasonably to some provocations. On the other hand, when she is very calm or happy, she might be able to comfort or react in an unusually thoughtful manner to some situations.
We need to be in touch with Lina’s feelings and choose our dialogue options wisely. I suspect that players will experience the game very differently depending on how they prefer to handle situations, and it gives Neo Cab a very personal feel.
I got so accustomed to the Feelgrid and staying alert for anything that indicates a change in Lina’s mood, I became more in touch with my own feelings as a result.
Life in the Rearview Mirror
Neo Cab has a unique visual style, with hand-drawn characters and neon-drenched streets. But the denizens of Los Ojos have something unappealing to them. It might be their slightly exaggerated facial features, like overly defined noses, large ears, and the bold groove on their upper lip. Something about the characters in Neo Cab makes them a little unsettling to look at.
Your drive through the futuristic streets of Neo Cab is accompanied by soothing, electronic tunes. They aren’t something you’ll be humming later when you’re not playing the game, but they do the trick of setting the mood.
Neo Cab is a lot like a Black Mirror episode. It introduces a dark and futuristic world and shows us all of the disturbing details it contains. Its diverse cast of characters makes things more and more intriguing with every encounter. It’s just a little too bad they don’t look the part.
Keeping track of Lina’s feelings using the Feelgrid accentuates every dialogue choice, and teaches you to stay in touch with your own feelings – both in-game and in real life too. It adds extra tension and relief to where they need to be.
Take a ride with Neo Cab; it can take you where you need to go.
Developer: Chance Agency
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2019
Our Neo Cab review copy was supplied by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.