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Enlarge / Yes, this passenger pukes in your cab's backseat. It's both the least and most of your concerns as a near-future gig-economy driver in the surprisingly stirring Neo Cab.Chance Agency

Game details

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
Price: $15
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

  • You play the game as Lina, a longtime gig-economy cab driver moving to a new, larger city. Unlike her old home, the city of Los Ojos is being overtaken by a robo-driver cab force, which sets a lot of friction into motion.
  • Use this interface to pick up "pax," the slang term for cab passengers.
  • Everything you say or do comes with a question of how it might affect your livelihood.
  • Turns out, your conversations may also be paid forward with future encounters (positively or negatively).
  • Each ride ends with a rating…
  • …and an indication of how that affects your greater rating (which can affect which people you can or cannot pick up in the future).
  • Hopefully you get a financial tip.
  • You'll also have to manage your electric car's charge level, which can affect what routes you drive between passengers.
  • Occasionally, you'll manage an SMS interface with friends.
  • Your sketchbook starts out with basic plot points.
  • It evolves over the course of your gameplay to offer plot reminders and specific doodles based on choices you made.
  • Augmented reality interfaces appear on many of your passengers.
  • In some cases, those interfaces augment how people look to the outside world.
  • When passengers start going down some crazy rabbit holes, your character Lina does well to respond with anchored, skeptical, and funny replies.
  • The synergy between the official city government and the Capra corporation is at its most stark with this fleet of robotic cops.
  • Lina eventually gets pulled into a radical anti-Capra organization. She can choose how much to align with them.
  • Certain dialogue options only come up when Lina's emotions reach a particular state. (More on that in a second.)

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.

  • The Feelgrid device is always represented by a colored grid at the bottom-left of the game screen.
  • More on how it works.
  • One heckuva mood ring.
  • The feeling and the intensity matter.
  • Read More – Source

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