The world is full of cyberpunk stories. The genre has had a resurgence in recent years. Altered Carbon, Mutant Year Zero and the development of Cyberpunk 2077 have kept it firmly in our minds. This doesn’t look to stop either with plenty of new smaller stories occupying a space in the genre.
Neo Cab is one of these smaller cyberpunk stories. Developed by Chance Agency, the game sits somewhere between a text adventure and investigative conversation simulator. A mix of Subsurface Circular and 2064 Read Only Memories, leaning much more towards the former. You play as Lina, a Neo Cab driver. Her story begins as she makes the move to Los Ojos, a futuristic city on the cusp of automation, to reunite with her estranged friend Savy and move her life. Shortly into the game things kick-off and it drags us down a tale of a suspicious disappearance, corporate espionage and questions around human rights.
The story mainly takes place within Lina’s cab. We learn about the world, society and the inhabitants of Los Ojos through intimate, often funny conversations. Her fares range from tech bros and data witches to tourists and mech suited kids. All have interesting stories and this is Neo Cab’s biggest pull. The writing, from the way Lina is presented to her interactions with the characters, is believable (within the context of the setting). The conversations vary as much as the characters. Some drive the story along, others feel like they’re fleshing out the context. All are interesting.
When Lina first reunites with Savy, her childhood friend, she gives her a gift, a Feelgrid bracelet. This reads the wearers blood and displays that person’s mood. This is the driving method of determining the conversations you experience. Lina’s thoughts on a conversation, interspersed between exchanges, can change your mood, as can some people’s responses to you. Lina’s mood will then either unlock or limit some responses you can give. An aggressive response would be locked out if she’s feeling sad or chilled. It can be slightly frustrating when you’d like to respond in a certain way and can’t. On the other hand, it’s clever and a little more realistic to actual conversation. This draws you closer to Lina and how she feels about the situation. She’s a fleshed-out well-written character that isn’t just a reflection of ourselves.
The conversations and these choices are the games best feature, yet I feel it’s let down by the main story. Lina and Savy drive this story and whilst I liked and got to understand Lina, I never did the same with Savy. Neo Cab’s grander ambition of tackling these cyberpunk tropes didn’t come together and felt like something I just had to do rather than fully engage with. It felt a little tacked on, something to explore at the end of a day’s shift. You’ll mostly be choosing fares to take on and experiencing their conversations.
The play of being a futuristic gig driver, balancing fares, money, the energy of the car and where to sleep also felt a little lacking. The important element for Lina is to maintain her driver rating. A lower rating may lock you out of taking on some passengers and hamper your progression. Putting the player in this position is an interesting take on an anti-corporate story. The constant reminder of how bad Capra is, Los Ojos dominating corporation, runs through everything. From their automated cars being direct competition to a significant, controversial bill they’re backing you can’t get away from this anti-corporate feeling. Yes, it’s very cyberpunk but super early in this kind of future. Not everyone has fully embraced tech, some even shun cars altogether. It comes across as an early part of the technological, corporation-dominated future and the stories told work well for it.
Neo Cab is a good three hours and I’d be happy to replay and see how Lina’s mood and choices affect the end of the story. The human aspect is the best thing about the game. Learning about people including Lina works very well. Savy’s story is more hit and miss with a take on corporate espionage that doesn’t fit the scale of the rest of the game. If you enjoy short narrative stories where a conversation is key then Neo Cab is worth picking up.
Should you play it? Yes
Why? It’s an intimate, human look at interactions in a time of cultural significance (to the characters). The writing is good and it looks gorgeous.
But… If you’re looking for something with a gripping, grand cyberpunk story, it may not hold you too long.
Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Fellow Traveller through Evolve PR