Welcome to Los Ojos, the automated sci-fi city of the future. Controlled primarely by the mega-corporation Capra, follow Lina as she struggles to begin a fresh life in a new-age city after being left stranded by her soon-to-be room mate – Savy. Lina will meet different and unique people every step (or city block) of the way, and players help manage her days to keep her head above water in Neo Cab.
Neo Cab is a suvival-esque visual novel with branching paths based on dialogue choices, developed by Chance Agency. I’ll avoid story details, as that’s a major draw for this title. Players take the perspective of Lina, a cab driver in a new city soon out of work due to a bill that would potentially ban human drivers. Lina sprawls Los Ojos as a sort of futuristic uber, making money to keep her car fueled and a pillow under her head each night, until the narratives eventual yet abrupt conclusion. I really wanted to like Neo Cab, and at times I did. There’s certainly a market for this title, so there’s a delicate balance of measuring subjective taste with objective quality.
Now, how one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s examine the product through the lens of metrics such as; Graphical fidelity, story/characters, content/length, controls and gameplay, then finally, sound design and cinematics.
Starting with the visual elements, Neo Cab is quite aesthetically appealing. There is a heavy focus on neon purples, blues, and pinks, though every color in its palette is often bold and vibrant. I thoroughly enjoy the art style, but feel at times that it hasn’t been utilized to its fullest potential. Facial animations, while present, seem shallow and repetitive. Strange – for a game so focused on characterization, expression and mood. This could be remedied by simply adding a larger variety of facial expressions, especially considering we spend a large portion of the game looking at these faces: it’d make a world of difference in regards to its immersion. Sometimes it looks like passengers aimlessly stare off into space, but I must admit the holo-displays and cop helmets are visually satisfying.
Still, in regards to visuals I’d noticed on multiple occasions; passengers getting in before the vehicle stopped and text getting cut off at the top. The police interractions are by far some of the most visually appealing sections in the game, but unfortunately that’s not saying too much. The city (as you drive by) looks quite average, I was a little disheartened by the lack of futuristic detail on city streets. On first glance, Neo Cab looks expressive and enthusiastic, but the longer players spend in Los Ojos, the more mundane and repetitive it begins to appear.
Now this isn’t to say Neo Cab looks bad, it’s actually quite nice. It simply looks dated at times. Even if this exact artistic expression was envisioned, it still feels as if it were lacking resources or time for the desired execution. It’s passable, but by the time you reach the end you’re bored of the same grins, smirks, and frowns you’ve received for hours. Neo Cab ran flawlessly at 1080p 60fps on ultra settings.
Characters & Story
The pride and glory of Neo Cab as a visual novel are undoubtedly in its characters and plot. And oh boy, this is a mixed bag. Some players will adore Los Ojos and its inhabitants, while others will be offput by their abrasiveness.
Seeing as subjective taste plays a huge role here, it’s important to distinguish between a characters intended role, and the resulting impact. Many of the characters in Neo Cab are written and designed to be frustrating to deal with from Lina’s perspective, such as Luke. However, I’ve never played a game with the objective of being repulsed by snobby or douchy characters, and this happens on multiple occasions. Azul, for example, was a pretentious, condescending asshat more conversations than not. This, tied to the feelgrid mechanics (which we’ll touch on in the gameplay section) gives players a feeling of dissociation. We are supposed to feel in control, yet the moods of Lina are often predetermined and dictate further interraction. There (more often than not) feels like an intended “right” answer in most situations to appease a particular NPC, but this often defeats the perceived purpose of choice.
This isn’t to say that some other characters aren’t a delight to speak with, such as Liam or Oona. Interractions with Oona were always interesting and engaging. There’s nuances to discussions that are sometimes hit, and sometimes miss. At times an individual will sound passionate and sincere, othertimes I felt like the writers were preaching in my ear. Sure, the topics of the game are inherently political but there’s a definite undertone of inserted personal politics.
On the topic of writing I found Neo Cab’s quality ranged from philosphic and exquisite at times, to flat out bad. Chance Agency rides a fine line between immersive and realistic sounding dialogue, and trying frustratingly hard to be ‘hip and cool’. Some things are understandable, but after a few minutes of dialogue I was almost expecting yeets and dabs.
The setting of Los Ojos is a bit more straightforward, characterized by it’s bright neons, digitized store/ad fronts, and an ideological war against corporations. I’m glad Chance Agency chose to catagorize Neo Cab as “now-punk” rather than cyberpunk, as I’m not sure sure if it feels in the same vein as Blade Runner or Altered Carbon, science fiction and anti-corporate idealism aside.
Content & Length
Gameplay length with Neo Cab can range from a 3-10 hours (being generous), but the catch is in its replayability. Lina will not have the opportunity to see and talk with every NPC in Los Ojos, and will require multiple playthroughs to experience it all. There are 18 unique characters to interact with, that should keep players busy for a while.
Controls & Gameplay
PC controls for Neo Cab were simple enough, essentially everything aside from the menu (escape key) is mouse operated.
Getting into more of the meat here, Neo Cab introduces the “FeelGrid” mechanics. Which at its core is; a mood bracelet with varying intensities. Certain events and interactions will effect Lina’s current mental state, either allowing or disallowing specific replies. For example: if someone is aggrivating Lina, but the player wants to be kind, they won’t be allowed. Or if a player wants to call out a passenger for being an ass, Lina needs to be mad enough.
The crux of Neo Cab’s gameplay is primarily dialogue, money management & strategic routing. To clarify, players never drive the vehicle. Usually players will be given 1-3 dialogue choices, however 1 or 2 of those options may be inaccessible based on Lina’s mood. Players may lose if unable to gold a 4 star rating, or run out of money. The written dialogue accurately portrays what will be spoken, which I greatly appreciate. Also, the inclusion of a text speed slider is small yet welcome addition.
One of my biggest complaints is the calculation of Lina’s star rating. It’s bullshit, and makes the player feel slighted. So, if Lina has ten 5 star reviews and gets one bad review, the assumption is that; the one bad review would dilute in the pool of good, right? Not in Neo Cab’s case! It calculates your new rating based on the average of ONLY the previous rating and the recently received 1 star. So those other nine 5 stars? They don’t matter, you now have a 2.5 star rating. Additionally, while I’m nitpicking, players have a $35 goal each day that seemed insurmountable. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be achievable, but with 3 passengers each, ranging from 5-9 dollars per customer that’s still only $27 best case scenario. I’m aware ‘premium’ rides are available, but players require a 5 star rating, which is difficult to maintain considering the rating system.
Sound Design & Cinematics
Moving on to sound, the first thing I noticed was the highly original soundtrack. Fantastic work here, with the only exception being once again: variety. The music is all fresh and tailored perfectly for Neo Cab, however near the halfway point it feels highly regurgitated. I really enjoy the sountrack, it’s just not quite enough.
Next, I thought it was odd that a game so focused around characters and their interactions would make the decision to exclude voice work. This may contradict the intended artistic vision, however I believe it’d greatly improve the experience and add potential depth to its people and its world. To my recollection there were no present cinematics.
When all is said and done I found Neo Cab quite intriguing. However, the more time I spent with it the more its cracks and imperfections showed. These issues would certainly be exasperated if it were a 40+ hour journey, but Neo Cab is a bite sized adventure. That in mind, Neo Cab isn’t asking full price either. As a mobile game I’m sure it’s fantastic, but on PC it feels highly restrictive.
As previously stated, enjoyment of characters and story is highly subjective, and much of Neo Cab just wasn’t for me. It’s not that I can’t enjoy Visual Novels, this one just didn’t hit the right notes for me, but it may for you. Neo Cab will be a strong title for a select group of people, though I imagine the average consumer won’t be missing much. Neo Cab is available for PC, Nintendo Switch and iOS.
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As Bright As It Can Be Abrasive
- Score: - 6.8/106.8/10
+ Amazing Color Usage
+ Great Soundtrack, Just Short
– No Voice Acting