A great premise with great mechanics, absolutely ruined by its philosophy.
Neo Cab was a game I was excited to pick up and play as the game has a lot of strong points. The cool 80’s synth-wave aesthetic was an immediate draw for me. The game features a mystery where the player will have to talk to the various denizens of Los Ojos to find Lina’s missing best friend, and to compliment this is a mood system that either opens or closes various dialogue options. All of this together sounds like something I would enjoy, but very shortly into my time playing this game I quickly learned that some of the main characters of Los Ojos are insufferable to the point of wanting to just leave and never return.
Let’s delve into Neo Cab’s good points. The art and soundtrack are great and match the theme of a futuristic city at night time. Overall, the artistic design choices illuminate the city of Los Ojos with vibrant lights and signs, and it has a pleasing aesthetic as you converse with the various people you accept into your car and deliver them to their destination. Along the way the player will meet some strange and otherwise interesting characters from an old woman obsessed with chance and probability to a doctor who has some shady methods and history. As the player progresses and talks to more customers, some of them become almost regulars. They’ll have more conversations, will remember your past choices, and the routes you took to get there.
As previously mentioned, there’s a mood system in Neo Cab that influences your dialogue choices. This mood status and its changes are based on a wrist device called a Feelgrid that functions similarly to a mood ring. The colors and their intensity shown on a grid will show the player where they stand at any given time. The player may find themselves sitting in the red, resulting in Lina being too mad to make more rational dialogue choices, and the player may want to try to steer the conversation away from a sensitive topic to navigate closer to either green or yellow to open up some of those extra options and choices. I felt as though this was one of the games strongest points. A system that’s simple yet complex enough to create some innovative narrative choices and will have the player actively thinking about how the current situation will affect Lina’s ability to make certain decisions.
The world of Los Ojos is one that tells of corporations going too far. The entire taxi cab driving industry is run as a monopoly. The player assumes the role of Lina, the last human driven taxi cab while the Capra Corporation comprises its taxi cabs of robots and automation. Although Capra has a firm hold on the taxi cab industry, it is more well known as a massive tech giant, giving people access to holo-displays, vast technological devices and services. In a way, Capra could be seen most comparatively in our world to Amazon, not really in terms of tech, but in their presence and setting the stage as a company so massive that their reach knows no bounds.
My biggest issue with Neo Cab is with Lina and her best friend Savy. Early on in the story, it’s revealed that Lina was a former employee of Capra and holds a certain disdain for the company. Inherently, this is a massive problem. In Los Ojos, Capra is virtually everywhere and endorsed by most of the population. It comes up in conversations constantly, and whether you as the player see Capra as this evil entity or not, Lina will easily get angry about Capra and will send her mood into the red. Lina makes the choice to move to this city with Capra’s presence being so overwhelming despite her personal feelings towards them is a bit contradictory. It’s the equivalent of moving near an Amazon warehouse or corporate building and then getting mad when people bring up Amazon because they work there, know someone who works there, or just generally enjoy what Amazon does for them. There is no real player choice to determine how Lina reacts to certain things as she is not a blank canvas. She already has her convictions and opinions. Instead of making choices and taking things where the player wants like in a traditional role playing game, the player must determine where Lina would want to go based on her opinions of the world. You can make choices that go against what Lina would want. She’ll become more angered and put off if you don’t de-escalate when Capra is brought up, which leads to various penalties as the game goes onward.
Savy is a whole other issue and is tied to one of the game’s other themes of rebellion and standing against the establishments and big tech. Other characters you meet will also be involved with this theme as you run into a group of anarchists in your journey. Los Ojos is based in California, so it’s no surprise Savy is a valley girl in the way she talks and texts. When you meet Savy she shares a lot of the same anti-Capra sentiment as Lina does, which isn’t too much of an issue seeing as how the player isn’t the one controlling them. She also talks about how instead of a perfect family life, she prefers “Social Activism”, and how she would be afraid if people saw her as “pro-car”. In a world where you move in with someone who drives a car for a living it seems like a very unavoidable entity to be involved with. When Savy goes missing, I don’t feel any connection or desire to try to find her as I wouldn’t want to talk or associate with her if I was given the choice.
Neo Cab isn’t a story about the player, Neo Cab is the story of Lina and what she wants to do. You do not develop her over the course of the game, you only make minor choices in dialogue and decisions that impact how the game ultimately plays out. Neo Cab has its fair share of good features, characters, and dialogue that is great for a certain audience. For me, Neo Cab was something I struggled to get into, and I feel I wasn’t the intended target for this game.