Sometimes, a game can survive solely on its visuals or certain elements of its gameplay. Other times, games with relatively mediocre elements can be saved by the way those elements are packaged and presented. Night Call is a cinematic adventure game that is somewhere between the two. Taking place in modern-day Paris, the main character is a taxi driver who gets roped into solving a murder case thanks to a dark secret from his past. As you drive around the city taking on fares your passengers open up to you. You must gather clues and intel from your clients and friends to solve the mystery in time.
Night Call owes a lot of its visual style to film noir, featuring deeply contrasting light and shadows and stark, sharp lines. As you drive around the city, half your screen has a map of Paris, and the other shows your cab and the passengers you’re carrying. There are some pretty great moments where the visuals cut away to a passing shop, showing the rain beating down on the streets. These cutaways really add to the feeling of film noir. At times it can be hard to remember that you’re actually playing a game. A lot of the time Night Call comes across more like a movie.
Night Call Is Full Of Ups And Downs
While Night Call succeeds in calling back to film noir in its visuals, it is less successful in recalling the tone of the genre. As you first drive around, listening to passengers and picking up clues, everything seems pretty grim and serious. Your character has a dark, hidden backstory, the city is dark and mostly depressing and there’s a serial killer on the loose. However, you do on occasion pick up a passenger or have an encounter which somewhat ruins the atmosphere. Without actually spoiling anything here’s a list of encounters which sort of removed any sense of immersion for me: Santa Claus, a person from the future, the ghost of a victorian-era child, yourself, a cat. A funny side campaign would probably have been a better choice for some of these passengers. The encounters themselves aren't bad, but they just break immersion like a brick to the face.
The gameplay suffers from the same ups and downs as the tone. You spend most of your time driving around and picking up fares. As you go, you have to keep an eye on your slowly dwindling time, money and fuel gauges. You have to balance your time between learning clues, taking on passengers, and going off to buy fuel. Honestly the fuel and money elements of the gameplay just feel superfluous. Time management alone is a good enough way of adding stakes to the game. Having to manage money and fuel as well is just annoying and obtrusive to the good mechanics, such as passenger interaction.
Where Night Call really comes into its own is in the moments where you’re free to just drive around Paris chatting to people and learning about the world and characters. It’s fun picking your way through the maze of social interaction between you and your fares, but it is less fun when you actually need to try and solve the crime. On your first time through each of the three included cases you have very little to go on. Each fare is just a picture on the map, and points of interest are just little exclamation points. Unless you already know who each passenger is then picking their little faces is completely random. Every so often the game will through a random clue at you from a random passenger anyway. It's entirely possible that who you pick doesn't really matter at all.
Your Decisions Don't Seem To Matter In Night Call
In short, although Night Call seems like a game in which your decisions are important, they rarely actually are. A corkboard filled with clues is how you handle solving the case each night. Suspects link directly to clues on their own, so you don't have much input. On top of that, each clue boils down to only a single sentence or word. There are no case files or victim profiles to read through for info either.
All in all, Night Call feels like a great game in concept which was let down by poor execution. There’s a bunch of pointless systems just sort of stapled onto the game which doesn’t need to be there. For instance, there's another time management mechanic to do with studying case files. The files you have to pick from are only about 4 or 5 in number, and you chose between studying them or sleeping. 6 in-game days is plenty of time to study each file, with time to spare too.
Night Call Review | Final Thoughts
The worst sin is probably that it doesn’t matter what you spend your time doing. At the end of the investigation, you have to accuse one of the suspects. If you accuse someone other than the actual murderer, the game asks if you’re sure. If you pick the right one, it doesn’t. You can basically spend the entire game twiddling your thumbs and still solve the crime. It’s a real shame that Night Call ends up being so disappointing. The character and exploration elements are a lot of fun, and pretty well put together. Finding out about your character's backstory is interesting. However, there’s just too much else going on which lets the entire experience down. None of the three cases offer anything that different since they all feature mostly the same characters. Even finding out about your own character results in basically the same outcome.
Night Call is a game with a great concept let down by poor execution. Exploring the city and interacting with passengers is fun enough, but trying to juggle time, fuel and cash just feel like unnecessary additions to the formula. Additionally, there's an unwelcome disparity between the gritty noir thriller atmosphere and the zany, sometimes supernatural characters you meet. If Night Call had featured drastically different adventures or trimmed the fat with its mechanics, it may have been great. In its current form, Night Call fails, both at being a crime noir thriller and a Parisian taxi simulator.
TechRaptor reviewed Night Call on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Night Call is a game filled with good ideas, but terrible execution. Great characters and exploration are let down by superfluous mechanics and a lack of meaningful choices.
- Great Noir Style
- Interesting Characters
- Interacting With Passengers Is Fun
- Money And Fuel Management Are More Of A Distraction
- You Choices Don't Have An Overall Effect
- Not Many Differences Between Cases