While I always appreciate video games with a good story, I have to admit that I have never been a fan of the visual novel genre. The idea of looking at still images while reading a story and making occasional decisions just never really appealed to me. It didn’t help that most visual novels are dating simulators which are something that I have never been interested in. I decided to give Neo Cab a chance though because it had an interesting atmosphere and felt like more than your typical visual novel. Neo Cab features an interesting story in a immersive atmosphere with unique characters that unfortunately doesn’t always give you as much control as you would like.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Chance Agency and Fellow Traveller for the review copy of Neo Cab used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Neo Cab you play as Lina in the near future. Due to not being satisfied with her current life she decides to pack up her life and move to Los Ojos to live with her best friend (Savy) that she has lost touch with over the years. After briefly meeting up with Savy, she goes missing under mysterious circumstances. With no where to stay Lina only has her car and her job at Neo Cab (basically Uber/Lyft/etc.). Los Ojos is unlike anywhere Lina has ever seen as it is basically run by a large corporation that specializes in driver-less cars and other technology. Lina must use her job as a Neo Cab driver to pick up passengers to learn more about Los Ojos and hopefully figure out what happened with Savy.
At its core I would classify Neo Cab as a visual novel. There is literally no driving in the game despite the fact that you are a cab driver. The only gameplay involves choosing from a set of options. Basically the game is broken up into different nights. For your job at Neo Cab you are given a quota for how many passengers you need to transport and how much money you need to make. Each night you will choose which passengers from a list you would like to transport. Once you pick up a passenger instead of driving the car you will engage in a conversation with the passenger(s). These conversations are used for a couple different things. First you need to keep the passengers engaged and happy because they will rate their experience at the end of the ride. You need to keep the customers happy because if your rating drops too far you will be fired and lose your main source of information and money. Through these conversations you will also find out information that may help you find out what happened to Savy.
In order to keep your customers happy and learn more information you need to keep your own emotions and those of your passengers in check. The game includes a feature where all of the characters in the game are affected by their current mood. Moods can range from happy/excited, mad, sad, and chill/relaxed. The game represents these moods with different colors. Your current mood is represented on a bracelet you wear while other passengers sometimes wear jewelry or other accessories which show their moods. If a customer doesn’t have one of these devices you will have to read their face and their body expressions in order to see what their mood is. The moods are really important as they will have an impact on the conversations. Your emotional state can open up new dialog options or close off options. If you make a passenger’s mood reach one of the extremes they may shut down and refuse to give your more information as well as give you a low rating.
In addition to pleasing customers to gain information and money, Neo Cab has a few other mechanics. One of the reasons to take passengers is to make money which is used to refuel your car and pay for nightly lodging. These decisions don’t drastically change the overall gameplay. For the refueling mechanic you just need to avoid running out of fuel, and may in the process try to take advantage of cheaper stations. Where you choose to stay doesn’t seem to have a big impact on the game as it mostly just seems to put you in a better mood if you stay at one of the better locations. Through your conversations with passengers you also begin learning more about Los Ojos which opens up locations that you can visit to get more information about the disappearance of Savy. These locations don’t really change the gameplay except you are making decisions to try to get more information instead of trying to maintain a high rating. When these locations become available you need to choose between checking them out or continuing to deliver passengers to earn more money and stay in good standing with Neo Cab.
Having never been a big fan of the visual novel genre I didn’t really know what to expect from the gameplay in Neo Cab. While it looks like more than your typical visual novel, in action it is very similar to most games from the genre. Basically most of the gameplay in Neo Cab comes from choosing from a set of dialog options. The gameplay revolves around controlling your own emotions as well as manipulating your passengers to try and get information out of them. The gameplay is not going to be for everyone as it is far from an action packed game. If the idea of reading a bunch of text and making dialog choices doesn’t really appeal to you, Neo Cab is not going to be for you.
Despite the only gameplay basically revolving around choosing different dialog options, there are things that I liked about the gameplay. I haven’t played through the game multiple times to confirm this but your decisions in the game do seem to have a pretty big impact on the story. I could see where my decisions had a impact on the branching storyline. Controlling your own emotions as well as your passengers is really important and is a unique mechanic. You need to carefully choose when you are going to be assertive and when you are going to back off and flatter your passenger to keep them on their good side. You need to be wise when you push because if you push too hard you will make your passenger shut down which will limit how much information you receive and will likely lead to you getting a bad rating. You don’t want to be too passive either though or you won’t get the information you need to find out what happened to Savy. Overall I thought the emotion system was really interesting and showed a lot of potential.
Unfortunately the emotion mechanic has a few things that prevents it from being as good as it could have been. This comes from the fact that it tends to take choices away from players at times. Lina’s emotional state can drastically change from just one decision or from something that is totally out of your control. The game seems to have quite a few scripted events that have a huge impact on your mood. You could be doing well and then one of these moments immediately sends Lina’s mood towards being really angry. This will have an impact on what decision options you can use until you can balance out her mood again. This all culminates in situations where you are presented with options but due to your mood you are literally only able to choose one of the options. At times it kind of seems like these scenarios are scripted where you would never be able to choose one of the other options. This feels like the game is forcing you down certain story paths where you don’t have full control over your choices in the game. I honestly think the game would have been better off if it just didn’t show you the options that you couldn’t choose as it is frustrating to see options that you would like to use that you aren’t available to you.
For these type of visual novels to succeed they need to have a good story/atmosphere as that is the driving force behind the gameplay. In this regard I think Neo Cab does a great job. The game utilizes a near future cyberpunk atmosphere. While the main story is about figuring out what happened to your friend there is quite a bit more to the story. A lot of the story deals with the role of technological advancements and how tech corporations can gain a lot of control over our lives. Quite a bit of the story comes from the passengers themselves. Each character has their own story to tell about life in Los Ojos and their own problems that they are dealing with. Many of these stories are told through several trips which allow you to get to know these characters. I think the individual characters are where the story really shines as the game does a great job creating unique and interesting characters.
To go along with the story, I think the game’s graphical style really helps to support the overall atmosphere. The graphical style of Neo Cab is unlike your typical visual novel. Instead of still images the game features fully 3D animated characters. The graphical style kind of feels like a combination of a graphic novel and cell shading. I really liked the game’s style. The environments and characters look really nice. While the animations are reused quite a bit, these little touches make the game feel like more than just a text adventure like most visual novels. It brings character to the world and makes it something that you want to explore.
Other than the mood system being a little hit or miss, the biggest issue I had with Neo Cab is that the game doesn’t seem to be as optimized as it probably should have been. Reading comments from players makes it seem like the game has some game breaking bugs even though I haven’t encountered any of them. The problem that I had with the game has to deal with the game seemingly having no cap on the framerate. The computer I ran the game on is considerably above the recommended specs and I could notice. My computer should have no problem playing the game and yet it ran surprisingly hotter than it should have. It turns out that the game was regularly running at 200-500 frames per second. This put a much larger load on the computer than was necessary for no noticeable improvement as at those numbers additional frames per second had no impact on how the game ran/looked. For this reason the game really needs to allow players to put a cap on the framerate. If you have a powerful computer it probably isn’t a huge issue as your computer will just run hotter than it should. If you are using a computer closer to the minimum settings though you might encounter some more serious issues. Hopefully these issues are soon fixed with a patch.
As I haven’t completed the game I can’t give you a definitive length for Neo Cab, but it seems to be on the shorter side. The length of the game is going to depend heavily on the choices you make as you can be fired pretty quickly. The developers say that most playthroughs should take between three and eight hours. This seems a little short but the game does have some replay value. If you want to fully explore every nook and cranny you will have to play through the game a couple times. There is no way to pick up all of the passengers in one playthrough so you will miss some of the story in every game. Your choices throughout the game also have an impact on choices and the story later in the game. If you don’t mind playing through the game a couple times the length shouldn’t really be an issue. If you only plan on playing the game once of twice though it may be a little on the short side.
Ultimately Neo Cab does some things right while other things could be a little better. On the positive side Neo Cab’s story and atmosphere are quite good. The game creates an interesting cyberpunk universe that is fun to explore. The best part of the game is probably the passengers you interact with throughout the game as they are unique and interesting in their own ways. As Neo Cab is basically a visual novel the gameplay is pretty basic. The gameplay basically revolves around choosing between different options. While I wish there was a little more to the gameplay, these choices do seem to actually have a pretty big impact on the rest of the game. Neo Cab also includes an interesting mood mechanic which impacts the options you can choose with your passengers. This is an interesting mechanic as it forces you to manage your character’s emotions as well as the mood of your passengers. At times though this mechanic falters as it seems to take control away from you as it puts your character into a certain mood which then forces you into choosing certain dialog options. The game’s length can also be a little short depending on what decisions you make throughout the game.
Neo Cab is an interesting game but it won’t be for everyone. If you aren’t really into visual novels or story driven games where the only gameplay is making different dialog decisions, Neo Cab probably won’t be for you. If you think the premise sounds interesting though I think you will probably enjoy Neo Cab and should consider picking it up.