Cities and the people that inhabit them have a multitude of stories to tell. Without generalizing too much, there’s a good chance that at least one stranger has made an impression on you with a tale, perspective or other powerful moments of connection. At its best, Night Callsends a string of these interactions your way with writing that is vibrant but realistic.
At its worst, it’s a game with a mystery that gets overshadowed by the aforementioned strengths. As a troubled taxi driver in Paris, your vehicle is the lucky vessel of these unfolding narratives. However, it’s up to you to suss out which people and intel are most pertinent to your investigation as the informant of a corrupt police officer.
Night Call starts you out as a cab driver who witnessed, and survived, a horrendous attack from a now-infamous serial killer known as “The Judge.” As you regain consciousness and your health over a few months, you’re sent back out on the job to bring Paris’ colourful citizens wherever they so choose.
The Judge and his string of murders dominate the conversation no matter where you turn, whether you’re hailing an actual suspect from place to place, or stopping to chat up the clerk at the gas station. Eventually, you’ll come to find that law enforcement is suspicious of you, as you were the only person to ever survive an encounter with The Judge. What results is a certain officer approaching you in your cab, threatening you into becoming her direct informant.
Once your new objective is asserted, the way you approach the job is fundamentally altered. You’ll become more selective as to which clients you pick up, as you fight against time and your fuel gauge to pick up as many new clues as possible. Back in your humble studio apartment, you finish your night shift by further building up cases on each suspect on your cliche but charming corkboard.
The process of elimination and deduction eventually takes over as you solve the mystery that plagues Paris in Night Call. It’s a fairly fun mystery, but the overall purpose of your cab driving job is nowhere near as engaging as completing the job itself. Once again, these NPCs are written beautifully and, as such, Night Call is a wonderful interactive narrative experience.
As far as challenges and core gameplay, well, it’s not exactly the most invigorating experience out there. The mystery itself, despite some diverse difficulty options, is quite simple. Additionally, many visual components and written cues get recycled. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it did encourage me to take breaks more often to avoid boredom. For a game that’s quite short for a standard playthrough, I was hoping to be more consistently glued to the screen.
All about the atmosphere
The game’s visual and sound presentation is great. The ambient and nocturnal nature of Night Call’s soundtrack lends itself perfectly to the black and white aesthetic of this iteration of Paris. Considering the fact that a vast majority of the game takes place between the inside of a taxi, the developers did an excellent job of making the most out of this limited perspective and play structure.
Things managed to get shaken up a little bit through sudden cut-out shots of the passing streets, or a birds-eye view of the taxi ride. While these are welcome palette cleansers, they lost their lustre after a couple of hours into gameplay. Lastly, the overall map system is clear and accessible, but on-screen selections were oftentimes a little delayed or buggy. A location selection sometimes required 2 or even 3 presses before my cab would carry out the trek to its next destination. While it was never a cause for frustration, it was somewhat detrimental to the immersion of what is effectively an interactive novel or comic. An unwanted breakup in the rhythm of it all.
Ultimately, I recommend Night Call to just about anyone looking for a 4-6 hour break away from the intense focus that comes from more action-packed AAA experiences. For heavy readers of fiction (game-related or not), Night Call provides countless examples of excellent dialogue and vivid atmosphere that is sure to provide some much-needed escape.