Developer: Chance Agency
Publisher: Fellow Traveler
Platform: Windows (reviewed), Mac, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2009 (iOS), Oct. 3 (other platforms)
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Links: Official website | Apple | Steam | Nintendo.com
Before I go into how much I really like the new video game Neo Cab, I want to speak to the clever new way that some people can pay for and enjoy it.
Last month, I gave a nod to the video game Gears of War 5 as a no-brainer reason to throw a few bucks at Xbox Game Pass. Instead of paying $60 and going into the game with high expectations, you could jump into the XGP subscription service at a promotional rate, sample the variety of Gears 5 solo and online modes, and get out unscathed, if not quite entertained.
This comes to mind when I recommend Neo Cab as a perfect bonus for the new, $5/month Apple Arcade subscription service. Do you own an iOS device and want an awesome, not-too-long game that leans into the limits of a tablet or smartphone? Neo Cab is arguably the coolest game outside the subscription service's premiere deluge of quick-burst, twitch-and-tap games, and its brief, genre-blurring impact is easier to suggest within a reasonably priced subscription.
The other option, a $15 standalone purchase, adds just enough friction to a universal recommendation. (It's this version I tested, launching this week on Windows, Mac, and Nintendo Switch after an Apple Arcade exclusivity period.)
Though the game swims in incredible atmosphere and hinges on a cool premise—you're a gig-economy taxi driver in a dystopian future, determined to uncover a mystery—this isn't a steering-wheel drive through busy streets. Think of Neo Cab as "Emotional Conversation Taxi," not the arcade classic Crazy Taxi. The result is one of the most unique and self-assured games of 2019, but its niche appeal is worth minding.
Capra's in control
How many years in the future does Neo Cab take place? It's not entirely clear. Some of its citizens' faces are smothered in high-tech headsets, which generate "augmented reality" grids of data or cover people's faces with "digital beauty filters." (That seems a bit more futuristic than even a folding smartphone.) And the game's dense, handsome cities resemble the neon-lined vistas of your favorite far-future sci-fi. Yet the populace of Los Ojos relies so heavily on smartphone apps and handing data over to massive corporations that its conversations could easily be copied and pasted from the year 2019.
The mix makes for a dramatic setting to drive into as Lina, a struggling young woman who has moved to the nearest big city to reboot her life. She's a rare breed: a human gig-economy driver, as opposed to the automatic robo-driving fleet operated by a massive corporation (Capra) whose robo-claws are planted into every facet of Los Ojos' infrastructure. (Capra runs the city's gas stations, capsule hotels, apps, and even a surveillance force made up of everyone from robotic cops to gig-economy spies.)
Thus, the game opens with Lina setting up her Neo Cab driver account in the new city, then giving her day's first ride to Savy, a longtime friend and new roommate. Lina and Savy immediately get into a fraught conversation, and an hour after their shared ride ends, Savy disappears. Whoops: there goes Lina's sole connection to a giant new city, not to mention her free bed.
Thus, players spend the game as a car operator with a few priorities: find clues leading to Savy's whereabouts, make enough money to pay for gas and sleeping accommodations, and maintain a high driver rating to continue pulling customers and fares. You might expect a resulting video game to revolve around a steering wheel, but in Neo Cab, the focus is on a conversation wheel and an emotions wheel.