I don’t know how to start this article. There’s so much to say about this game, so much contained in such a small space, that covering it all seems impossible.

NeoCab is a game about friendship, love, obsession, deceit, abuse, politics, technocrats, and revolution. It’s a cyberpunk dystopia that uniquely reflects our world. It’s a high-stakes mystery that can end very, very badly. It’s a lighthearted taxi simulator where you drive around making smalltalk with passengers. It simultaneously does all of these things, and so, it’s hard to fit into a box. But we’ll try to do just that.

You play as Lina, a driver for the fictional rideshare app NeoCab. Lina is moving to the city of Los Ojos to live with her estranged best friend, Savy, whom she hasn’t spoken to since an explosive argument a year ago. But very soon after Lina arrives, Savy disappears, leaving Lina stranded. With little to go on except Savy’s recent (and unexpected) involvement in a local activist organization, Lina has to track her down while navigating a city run by NeoCab’s competitor, Capra, as well as making enough money to survive.

Lina’s relationships with every single character are all amazing, but her friendship with Savy is at the game’s core. Lina is established early on to have trouble controlling her emotions, whereas Savy is almost superhuman in her calm — which is how she wins every argument.

Before she disappears, Savy gifts Lina a FeelGrid, a device that tracks her emotions and displays their intensity. From then on, regulating Lina’s emotions becomes the main game mechanic: Conserving her emotional energy is even more important than conserving her funds. If her emotions become too extreme, certain in-game choices can become unavailable to her.

Apart from Savy, Lina can also form relationships with her many passengers. My personal favorites include Gideon, a spunky baby activist who’s still figuring out what she believes in; Azul, a more seasoned activist who’s a little rough around the edges; and Agonon, a cultist who preaches the gospel of a “Pain Worm” that lives underground and feasts on sadness. It’s impossible to learn everything about every passenger in just one playthrough — one of the most sobering moments of the game was during my second playthrough, when I found out a passenger I’d felt a connection with on the first had been lying to me the whole time.

But NeoCab isn’t all finding old friends and making new ones. The political backdrop quickly finds its way to the forefront as Lina feels the consequences of operating her NeoCab in a Capra-run town. Much like certain real-life companies that definitely don’t rhyme with Gamazon or Chasefook, Capra uses its monopoly on the tech sector to influence governmental politics. Lina arrives at Los Ojos at a time when Capra, which operates entirely using self-driving cars, is capitalizing on a ballet dancer’s death in a car crash to push a ban on manually-operated cars.

I really admire cyberpunk for doing things that steampunk can’t. Namely, making sense. But beyond that, it takes the very real metal and plastic future we’re hurtling toward and humanizes it. 

The game is available for download on Apple Arcade, Steam, and Nintendo Switch for less than $10.

Everyone in NeoCab is someone you’ve met at some point in your life, complete with very real flaws and very real conundrums. NeoCab came at a time in my life where I needed a character like Savy to show how seamlessly manipulation can disguise itself as friendship. I’m sure that no matter who you are or where you are in life, this game can do the same for you.

Tagged: videogames


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