Neo Cab Review: An Earnest, Heartfelt Narrative

by David Sanchez October 25, 2019 @ 2:47 pm

Reviewed on PC

People go through life and interact with hundreds, no, thousands of people. There’s your family, your group of friends, the people you grow up with, your pals, and then there are the folks you just sort of meet along the way. These are people you cross paths with and have a few words with. Maybe you didn’t know it or think about it much at the time, but those brief, minute interactions are significant. I think about that sometimes, but Neo Cab really put the importance of such bite-sized interactions into perspective.

Developed by Chance Agency, Neo Cab is a narrative adventure game that follows Lina, a driver for an Uber-like service who meets a cast of unique characters along the way. These characters form the foundations for what is a truly sincere and authentic emotional journey, and just like those folks in real life who you meet that are just passing by, Lina and the rest of the cast in Neo Cab are likely to leave a lasting impression.

The Last of a Dying Breed

Lina is the last human driver in a world that has been taken over by automated ride services. She carries this burden with her, and you feel for Lina as she relies on this job to survive in the city of Los Ojos. As someone who recently had a brief stint with Uber Eats and Postmates, I connected with Lina a bit personally — she’s just trying to make an honest buck, and driving services may not be the easiest way to do so, but hey, it’s better than nothing, right?

Lina’s first customer, referred to as a pax in Neo Cab, really sets the tone for the rest of the game. It’s through this first interaction that you learn just how much Lina hates the corporate automated stronghold that’s taken jobs away from hard-working folks like her.

As if her gripes with automation weren’t enough, Lina has just moved into town and has buried the hatchet with her longtime best friend, Savy, after the two had a falling out sometime prior. Life doesn’t present many second chances, as Lina will let you know, but this is her opportunity to reconnect with her once-best friend and move forward with her life.

Lina and Savy aren’t just reuniting, though — the two are moving in together and rebuilding their friendship after a long time apart. As you’ll learn during the initial interactions with her, Savy is a loyal and kind-hearted friend who can sometimes be a bit aloof and even erratic. Even then, her intentions are definitely in the right place, and she’s a likable character.

A Reunion Cut Short

When you meet up with Savy, the two friends begin catching up. They briefly talk about the past but make it apparent that what they truly want is to move forward. Savy gives Lina a Feelgrid bracelet, which lights up and displays different colors and shades depending on Lina’s mood. Savy does this so that Lina can be a bit more honest about her emotions — not just with others, but with herself, as well.

Savy asks you to drop her off somewhere as she has some business to take care of. It’s kept under wraps, but you get the feeling that Savy is a bit uneasy about the whole thing, which in turn makes Lina uneasy. You make plans to meet up with Savy later in the night, and shortly after, Savy goes missing. This leads to an overarching story where Lina tries to find out exactly what’s happened with Savy while interacting with different pax.

Just Passing By

It’s through Lina’s conversation with the folks she’s driving around town that Neo Cab really gains its identity. Every night you pick up a few customers who are dealing with their own issues. Some are protesting the current state of society. Others are highly analytical of Lina’s personality. There’s one female pax who’s both dreading and excited to go on a date with someone she met online.

Each pax you pick up has a unique personality. You’ll like some characters more than others, but you’ll gain so much from each conversation — even the uncomfortable ones. Multiple dialogue options allow for myriad shifts in tone in these conversations. You can be having a really great chat with someone only for it to turn unpleasant if you say the wrong thing. Alternatively, if you’re having a rather bad convo, there are still plenty of ways to salvage it before the ride’s through.

There’s a lot of depth to the conversations in Neo Cab, and part of that depth is attributed to just how real the dialogue feels. The lines said by each character don’t sound like just another script — no, they sound authentic. These conversations are grounded, and I was caught by surprise at just how well Neo Cab does dialogue. Kudos to Chance Agency for writing one hell of a cast of characters.

While Lina’s major objective appears to be her search for Savy, that plot line takes a backseat to the rest of the gameplay in Neo Cab. Not to say that particular storyline is underwhelming or unimportant, but it never feels like it has as much weight on the overall story the game tells. For me, the lasting impact was in the pax interactions more so than Lina and Savy’s relationship.

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve, Literally

The Feelgrid bracelet Savy gives Lina isn’t just for show. Depending on which direction the conversations with Lina’s customer’s go, the bracelet will reflect what the protagonist is feeling. Certain characters will react to that, and on top of that, some dialogue options will become available or unavailable. So if Lina’s feeling especially anxious or upset, you won’t be able to continue the conversation with an upbeat or positive line of dialogue.

It’s cool how the Feelgrid essentially means Lina has to be honest with the other characters, because it means you can’t BS your way through the game. This mechanic forces you to make a selection that you otherwise may have opted not to just so you can save face and say what you think the other characters would want to hear.

A Different Kind of Cyberpunk Future

You’re likely to get serious cyberpunk vibes from Neo Cab. The way some of the characters dress, the fully automated future, the neon-drenched high-rise buildings — all these elements form a sci-fi futuristic setting, but the game never feels post-apocalyptic or even fully dystopian. While I did get the feeling that things were bleak for Lina from time to time, the story Neo Cab tells isn’t of the end-of-the-world variety, and I appreciated immensely how the game could take that cyberpunk tone and turn it into something different.

I really liked the graphical presentation of Neo Cab. The cel-shaded visuals give the world and characters a cool look, and while some of the character designs and facial gestures are a bit awkward, everything sort of just fits together really well overall.

The soundtrack also fits well with the look and themes of the game. Music ranges from synth compositions to more space-y tunes that sound absolutely phenomenal as you drive Lina’s customers to their destinations. You could make the argument that this type of dialogue-focused game would’ve benefited from full voice acting, but given how real these characters feel, it would probably take away from the experience if at any point a voice actor sounded like just that, a voice actor reading lines. The decision to omit voice acting means you get to read lines how you want them to sound.

Neo Cab is easily one of the best adventure games of the year and an honest, memorable experience. The story beats with Savy aren’t as strong as they could be, but even then, the writing is so sharp and raw that you’ll find yourself making a bunch of connections with the different characters you meet along the way. The game stayed with me long after I’d played it. Neo Cab is a wonderful and emotional ride that lives and breathes through its writing. Lina is a fantastic protagonist, and joining her on this journey is something I won’t soon forget.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Follow this author on .