Neo Cab is a lesson in how our feelings impact ourselves, and others.
One of the most common terms heard amongst mental health circles is "Your feelings are valid." It's a debatable statement, as feelings can come from various places of different stature. You might be feeling mad that your best friend had her foot crushed because a driver was making a turn and was texting while driving. You might feel angry that your best friend lost their life some time ago from an incurable illness. You might feel mad because you went to Mcdonald's, and the McFlurry machine is still broken after they said they'd fix it three weeks ago. That is acknowledging feelings, but what those feelings can lead to and the consequences they can create, are all part of the conversation of how and why we feel. One such game that offers an interpretation of this is NeoCab, a sci-fi visual novel that puts players into the role of a futuristic ride-share driver and a city filled with dark secrets beneath its cyan blue skyline. NeoCab is a short but solid game, encouraging players to ask big questions regarding big tech, government corruption, and how the manipulation of technologies can be used in nefarious ways. Beneath waves of mauve and blues lies an important statement about what we feel, what leads to feelings, and how we respond.
Neo Cab launched in 2019 for Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox and was part of the PC Gamer Showcase for E3 2018. The game is an interactive visual novel where players pick up passengers and interact with them in an entirely automated city. Players play as Lina, the last human cab driver, looking for a fresh start but being enveloped in an investigation of potentially global proportions. When her best friend goes missing, Lina uses her wits and smarts as a cab driver to talk to various characters and piece together where her friend went. All the while, Lina balances money to recharge her car and where to eat and sleep.
Additionally, as a ride-share driver, her rating matters, and passengers will leave reviews. Too many bad reviews, and Lina will be fired. At the center of this experience is the FeelGrid. The FeelGrid indicates the emotions of its wearer in real-time, and different colors represent an emotion. The FeelGrid is a strong indicator of the flow of a conversation and can unlock different responses depending on the emotion.
Overall, the game was a solid experience, despite being held back by what was clearly a limited budget. NeoCab needed technical work in its characters for emotional expression, such as voice acting and facial animation. However, the overall experience is a profound one, with an abundance of characters to interact with and a story that is relevant, as well as a cautionary tale to a plausible future. I was particularly impressed with the protagonist's vulnerability, being she is just a driver carving out a living as opposed to a former detective or gifted investigator. It was an authentic tale; I could have imagined it making even more of an impression if it had a grander budget. But once again, the centerpiece of NeoCab, The FeelGrid, also leaves players with the consequences and ramifications of their actions.
Within the context of the game, the FeelGrid is a device worn by its user, and it appears as an accessory, such as a bracelet or necklace. The colors correspond to a feel. Red means anger, yellow means anxious, green means alert, and blue means morose. The shades of color can indicate the severity of the feeling as well, and in the context of NeoCab, it can indicate the ability to create specific responses. Most visual novels or games with choices present special choices if a certain objective is met, but for NeoCab, how the player feels can change at any moment, depending on a number of potential environmental happenings, including triggers. NeoCab presents feelings as many things. A utility for investigation, a tool for negation, and even a weapon to strike hard. While feelings can be valid and entirely up to the player and the protagonist, the consequences are out of anyone's control and can become any number of things.
NeoCab challenged me on this front and had me reflect on my feelings. Emotions, especially when tethered to aspects of comradery, love, romance, and how deep those relations go, can become even more powerful or volatile. As NeoCab is a game entirely dependent on story, this post won't go into spoilers, but it made me think of my emotions and feelings, especially regarding the relationships I've made and lost along the way. NeoCab explores the impact of feelings in many ways. One ending even tests the player in recognizing friendship, loyalty, commitment, and the toxicity that may arise. One theme even brings up the morals of resistance against technological corruption. Is a character fighting for the right reasons because it is the right thing, or are they self-centered and fighting for the cameras, fame, and glory? And what are the choices one is confronted with when potentially dragged into something they never asked to do?
There have been those that burned bridges with me and people with whom I've had to burn bridges. Many have been from my personal life, but some have surprisingly come from my time writing about video games. In some instances, the answer was clear: the people in my circle didn't respect me, my time, or myself. They saw me as a person to take advantage of and as someone that goes out of his way to help others; it felt disrespectful. However, despite being perfectly justifiable in choosing to cut ties, I would still feel bad making such a choice. I'll even admit to accepting responsibility for things I never did wrong, just to keep a relationship. The results haven't what I wanted or desired, and looking back, it seemed to benefit the other and not myself, even at the expense of my pain and distress. Even today, even when I know I did what I had to do in such circumstances, there is a degree of regret that such a conflict occurred, to begin with.
However, as a Jon Luc Picard quote once told me, "it is possible to make no mistakes and still lose, for that is life." It's a quote I remind myself of when I question my feelings and am confused about what to do.
Feelings are everything. They make us human, but as always, we need to be very careful in how we feel and what we do with those feelings. Love is a feeling and can be a great one, but where does that come from? What is the context and reasoning? Hatred is a feeling too, and a destructive one at that. Where that feeling is coming from and how we address it is imperative to mental health. What we say, broadcast, and tweet, all have meaning, feeling, and emotion. Without careful consideration of the context and intent, any number of emotions and feelings can completely betray the original message and turn into something disastrously damaging.
Games like Neo Cab are important and strikingly relevant, even as the game features a futuristic aesthetic and quirky characters like a cyborg psychic. It's a reminder of emotions and what we do with them and how friendship, while noble, could intensify into toxicity and lure one into unbecoming actions. Where your feelings take you is up to you. Just be sure to listen, breathe, and keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
Neo Cab is available now on Steam, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.