2019 Nintendo Switch, iOS, MAC and PC
The concept of playing a game set in a cyberpunk future where corporations control every aspect of life was once a dystopian notion of science fiction. Today, in 2019 (the year in which the prescient movie Blade Runner was set) that premise has become a redundant social commentary on our day-to-day lives, where people voluntary take on subsistence level work as a cute-sounding “side hustle”. This, and the voluntary participation of most citizens in a constant state of surveillance, is the grist of Neo Cab, a text adventure from US developer Chance Agency.
While Neo Cab is the last off the rank to address the absurd nature of our times and does not provide a new perspective in terms of social commentary, it does advance the text adventure genre. Make no mistake, this is nothing more than a talking simulator and all of the game play occurs in your mind. There is no pixel to hunt, or devices to combine to advance the plot, indeed the game trudges forward despite your intentions otherwise All you have to do is select from what turns out to be mostly meaningless dialog choices.
While there are some small deviations from your avatar’s work as a cab driver, for the most part the dialog choices you’ll be making are with your backseat patrons, whom you are trying to win over to keep your customer satisfaction ranking up. While driving around Los Osos, which is an analogue to Los Angeles, you must keep your customers happy, your electric cab charged, make enough money to not experience homelessness and also solve the mystery of the disappearance of your best friend.
The mystery aspect of the story quickly takes a back seat to the enjoyment of engaging with your clients as you take them to their destinations (keeping in mind that you never actually drive or control the vehicle, only your dialogue choices). Unfortunately due to some game crashing errors, I had to replay quite a bit of a game, giving me the opportunity to discover that the apparent choices had no consequence, with different dialog paths very quickly terminating at the same destination. Finding this our early in the game certainly diminished my enjoyment, but the mental challenge of appearing to out-think my patrons was enjoyable in its own way, with the desire to achieve and maintain a five star rating being reason enough to get to the end of the game.
Sadly, the game culminates too quickly, with a final path that is not signposted, (there is no, “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you’d like to do before going to this FINAL location?” hints here). Even worse the final dialogue exchange provided no real choices either, with my character being ultimately removed from my control and making narrative choices I though where, well, out of character. Again, due to a hard crash on the Switch version I played, I got to play through this last leg of the game twice, this time changing all my choices, and again getting to the same place, leaving no catharsis as the game ends, which left me questioning why I bothered to go the distance with the game at all.