Have you ever taken a cab and gotten one of those drivers that just have a way of opening an interesting conversation with you, only to have your whole drive to your destination gone by quicker than expected? That’s the premise of Night Call essentially, where you play as taxi driver, conversing with your passengers to try and solve a murder mystery. Your meter is running and you only have a certain amount of time before your shift ends, so you better start piecing clues together to figure out who the killer really is.
You’re a taxi driver that works the late shift in Paris. You’re a friendly type that just allows people to feel that they can open up to you and talk to you about whatever, even wildly inappropriate topics and situations. There’s a serial killer in the city though, and he not only murdered your passenger, but left you for dead. You somehow survived though, and after months of time off, you’re ready to get back to work, trying to put the whole traumatizing ordeal behind you. As situations unfold, you’ll be forced to play detective and help catch the killer, not just by figuring out clues that you’re given, but by talking to passengers that may have been involved, victims or have witness testimonies.
You’re just a simple taxi driver though, how can you catch a serial killer? You have a special gift that allows people to entrust you like a confidant at times, so it’s up to you to talk to whomever you can to get whatever information possible that would be relevant to the case. Problem is, you also have a job to do. You’re only able to work a certain amount of hours on the night shift and you still have expenses to pay like gas and fees. Do you give a homeless guy a free ride somewhere in hopes that maybe he has some credible information for your case even though that means you won’t get paid or get a tip? It’s small decisions like these that will determine how much information you can gather towards solving the case.
As for the gameplay, Night Call is more akin to a visual novel than a traditional “game” per-se; Narrative driven, but very little gameplay aside from choosing who to pick up and what responses to choose in dialogue sequences. You begin with an overview map of Paris, seeing where you currently are and passengers all over that are requesting a ride. You only have a certain amount of time in your shift, so you’ll need to be strategic in whom you pick up, as the further they are, the more time and gas is used. Do you opt to pick up closer passengers to try and get more information overall, or focus on specific witnesses and suspects? It’s completely up to you, but you’ve only got a handful of days before you need to choose a suspect with the evidence you’ve uncovered by your conversations with your patrons.
At the end of your shift you’re forced to go home. This is where you’ll see your list of suspects and victims and all of the clues you’ve gathered so far. Clues come from various sources and if they match the police reports, they will be highlighted and attached via string on your board to the person of interest. It’s an interesting system, but quite basic.
The meat of the “gameplay” will come from the conversations you have with your passengers. Some have nothing to do with the case, some are oblivious that you’re even in the taxi with them and others are clearly hiding something. Some people just want someone to listen to their rambling, though maybe they’ll accidentally admit something they shouldn’t if you poke and prod them for more information. How you do so will be up to you though. Do you take a more aggressive approach or let them spearhead the conversation and follow their lead? What if they talk about something that makes you uncomfortable or propositions you? Would you give into their request or lie to simply get information? You choose all of the responses and every person is different, so it’ll really matter how you reply to some people, as the same type of questions or answers won’t elicit the same reactions from every passenger.
On top of watching your limited time each night during your shift, you also have to manage your cash flow. With how much driving you do, you’ll need to fill up gas at some point, which costs money. Do you forgo picking up an important passenger on the other side of town to take on a few paying customers nearby? There’s a constant balance of time versus money that needs to be watched carefully, especially if you decide to play on the harder difficulties, not even including trying to navigate the best ways in conversation with customers to try and get the information you want.
There are three different cases you can take on, though they are play nearly identical, with you waking up from a coma and having to solve the serial killer mystery. What is interesting though is that the killer is different with each playthrough, and with dozens of different characters, you can’t make any assumptions from one playthrough when you start anew, as someone guilty in your last game might be completely innocent this time. With nearly a hundred different cast members, each one with their own quirks, personalities and backgrounds, it will take you a bit of time to complete fill your “Passidex”. Now and then there are even a few ‘supernatural’ customers. These initially threw me off but they add just a little more flavor to the seedy and mysterious world of Paris at night.
What makes Night Call stand out the most though is its visual style. It utilizes a noir style aesthetic, so every scene and character is hand drawn in black and white, giving it that classic graphic novel style to it. The art style couldn’t be any more fitting for the backdrop and setting and fits wonderfully. While the animations are a little rough at times and transitions seem to loop quite often, overall I truly enjoyed the noir style artwork.
The biggest miss is that there’s absolutely no voice work for any of the characters. While yes, Night Call is more of a visual novel, having spoken dialogue would have made the immersion that much deeper. I kept picturing the driver with a deep scruffy voice, you know the kind, which narrates to himself and breaks the fourth wall. While the lack of voiced dialogue is disappointing, the musical soundtrack is fantastic. The ambiance is heightened because of the great music and I actually enjoyed it more than the gameplay after a handful of cases.
While Night Call may be perceived as a simple visual novel by most, and it is at its core, it’s not only compelling but has a unique and interesting backdrop that all comes together well. While it takes a case or two to really get the hang of the best way to play and spend your time and money, it’s a distinctive experience that I’ve glad to have played, even if the gameplay becomes repetitive over time. With dozens of characters to interact with and many branching dialogue trees, there’s plenty to talk about, even if it’s just a few minutes with the stranger in the back seat.
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