Noir cinema has left quite a mark on detective fiction, as well as popular culture as a whole. The style and tropes of noir feature in everything from Star Trek to Sin City and games have also frequently felt the genre's influence. Tex Murphy stands out as a prominent example, adventure games being a perfect match for the dark and gritty tones of noir. I recently got the chance to take a look at Night Call, a noir adventure game published by Raw Fury, and developed by Monkey Moon and Black Muffin.
Night Call puts you in the shoes of a down and out taxi driver. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, you find yourself forced into investigating a serial killer. With your best resources being the passengers you pick up, you must take to the streets to learn what you can about the mystery. During the course of your investigation, you must juggle your need to earn money with your need to figure out who perpetrated these violent crimes.
The main character is roped into the investigation because he is attacked by the serial killer. Since he is the first victim to survive, the police investigate him. A suspicious detective enlists the main character as an amateur sleuth after her investigation uncovers his criminal past. With his future on the line and threats of exposure to the people around him, he must balance his need to do his job with his need to uncover the identity of the terrifying killer.
The gameplay in Night Call splits into two separate parts. Firstly, you must drive around and pick up fares. As you drive people around you'll often get options on how to engage with them, if you do at all. This is your primary method of getting new information about the case, as well as keeping your bank balance in the black. The other half of the gameplay takes place in your apartment. You have a cork board set up with various suspects and clues pinned to it. You take what you've found out about the case and have to try and see what you can piece together. The strategic element to this is actually more to do with time management than it is with puzzle solving. You only have a limited amount of time each night to study your new information. Eventually, you have to sleep.
In fact, there's not a whole lot of 'figuring out' going on in Night Call. The game is more about choices, both about your life, and how you choose to interact with your fairs. Not only can your choice of response give you information, but it can also net you a bigger tip. It seems like balancing your finances, as well as your sleep, is going to be a big factor. When you end a night with little time left the game tells you how sleepy you're getting, putting the pressure on you to prioritize better.
Visually Night Call reminds me very heavily of Rainswept although it has a much darker color palette. The graphics look like they were made with construction paper, but have tons of detail. The entire game is presented in black and white, in a similar manner as the noir films which inspired it. There is also liberal use of high contrast, which makes everything seem very stark. The visual style perfectly matches the dark tone of the story.
Overall, although my time with Night Call may have been short, it certainly got me ready to know more. The game handles discussion of some pretty dark themes in a very delicate way, mainly by having the protagonist at the center of said discussion. The noir style and prioritizing choices over challenges is an approach that not very many games have pulled off. It seems that Night Call might just be the first game to make the style work. I for one cannot wait to discover more about this game.
TechRaptor previewed Night Call on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is currently scheduled for a Summer 2019 release.