Night Call Review — You Talkin’ To Me?
Become the Batman of taxi cab drivers as you try to solve a neo-noir murder mystery.
Night Call is a “neo-noir murder mystery” set on the streets of Paris. You play as a taxi cab driver who the murderer injures in the game’s opening cutscene. The police view you as a potential suspect given your shadowy past. To help get them off your back, you agree to help the investigation by digging up clues during your nightly cabbie work. It’s a unique concept with interesting ideas that deserve exploration.
The gameplay is incredibly simple. As your shift begins, you receive a map of Paris. Across the landscape, you’ll see various points of interaction. For the most part, these are passengers looking to move about the city. There are also gas stations and unlockable locations of interest.
Regardless of what you choose to do, the game plays out in a series of text interactions. You have a few options during the different dialogues, and your choices determine where the story goes. You’ll need to correctly read the situation and delicately talk your way to new information.
It’s a cool concept. As the policewoman who puts you on the case says, “You’re not Batman.” You don’t have any skills outside of driving and talking. From that limited skillset, you have to do something the police have been struggling to do for months: catch the serial killer.
Night Call reminds me a lot of the board game Chronicles of Crime. In both, the people you interact with are somewhat random. Night Call is about a specific murder; however, there are different options for each of your playthroughs that completely switches up who the killer is. That means that someone can be a murderer in one playthrough and then be just a guy in the next. For me, this led to the stories of each person I interacted with feeling more important than the actual case I was trying to solve.
Fortunately, most of the characters you meet are fascinating. This is a game that is not afraid to get both dark and weird. One passenger will be a former police chief dealing with the trauma of what he’s seen on the job. The next will be a group of drunken cosplayers searching for their friend. And, while you’re driving between the two, you’ll get a passenger from the future who talks through your radio. The characters are really all over the place and do a good job of keeping the story fresh.
That said, there are a few things that could make learning their stories much easier. As mentioned above, when you’re looking at the map of Paris, you’ll see points where you can pick up people. Until you get close, you have no idea who the person is. Thematically, that maybe makes sense; however, it makes it very difficult to find a specific person. I understand the game wants to make the passengers “random”, but when I only see people I’ve previously interacted with, it gets frustrating.
I also have to question if who you see is truly random. At this point, I’ve completed each case at least once. I feel like I’m constantly seeing the same five or six people all the time. I have to waste precious time darting around the city just to find someone new. Even if they just let you see which characters need a ride at the time, it would go a long way in improving the experience. At least then I wouldn’t waste all my gas hoping to find someone other than Shinji or Amelie. Those characters were fun, but I already know their story.
Even with those caveats, I still enjoyed the process of learning each person’s story. The game forces you to pay rapt attention to their every word and movement if you want to move the story along. It doesn’t let you save willy-nilly, so save-scumming is basically impossible. And you might not see that person again, so getting the conversation right is very important.
When you do finish up the case, you’ll be tasked with driving the suspect to a specific location and trying to get a confession out of them on the way. These rides are tense, as the music ratchets up, and the suspect slowly begins to decipher who you really are. Once I hit these final “missions,” I never “failed” them, but it’s easy to see how you could play the situation incorrectly and get yourself hurt or worse.
However, even though it feels like that could happen, I doubt it actually does. One of the big problems I have with Night Call is that for as much as the developer says the game is “non-linear” and “random”, it doesn’t really feel that way.
Take the three cases, for instance. Sure, maybe the selection of suspects is different, but if I pick up Agnes or Sean, they’re always going to have the story. Some characters are much more fleshed out, and you can easily have multiple interactions with them. However, you learn everything you need to know about most of them in a single cab ride.
So really, all of those cases are just variations on one case with a different name. That wouldn’t be a big deal if I could more easily select my patrons, but Night Call doesn’t provide that option. Instead, I feel like I’m just picking up the same people over and over again, hoping that the next fare will bring something new. That’s something that feels like it could be fixed with a patch that makes characters you’ve encountered in past games slightly less likely to be available for pick up.
Speaking of patches, this game needs one. There’s nothing game-breaking, but I did run into a number of small issues that need some smoothing out to fix the experience. For example, sometimes I would pick up a passenger, and then the game would just warp forward and pay me for the fare without any conversation taking place. There were also a number of times when my taxi just wouldn’t move along the map. If I quit and reloaded the save, it would usually go back to work, but not always. It all just makes the game feel a little sloppy technically. Fortunately, we were told that the developers are aware of some of these issues and are looking to fix them soon.
In some ways, Night Call feels more like a fascinating experiment than a video game. The noir-style graphics are gorgeous, and the music perfectly fits the mood. However, from a gameplay perspective, there’s not much here. Largely, your enjoyment of the game will come from whether or not you connect with the 70+ characters and their stories.
For me, I enjoyed my overall experience. There are still characters I haven’t met, and I want to get back in and try to find them. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the murder mystery, but I do want to know what happens to Janet from the future. Night Call is, at its best, a story with engaging characters that make you want to learn their secrets. If nothing else, I’m deeply interested to see what the developers at Monkey Moon and BlackMuffin Studio do next.