The world is black and white, shadows coalescing at every corner, forcing light to always stray from the eye. In modern-day Paris, a serial killer is on the loose and stalking the streets. You are a taxi driver trying to get a new lease on life while making ends meet, something that has suddenly become increasingly difficult to do. One night as you drop a passenger off, you notice a victim on the ground. A figure gets the jump on you, and with a sudden attack, you are rushed to the hospital where you slip into a short coma. You are told you are the lead suspect for the murders because you were the last person seen with the victim, and while trying to earn your keep, you must also earn your freedom by trying to find the real killer. This is Night Call from developers Monkey Moon and BlackMuffin Studios. Some readers might have noticed it on the montage of the Microsoft E3 press conference this year.
Booting up the demo for Night Call I was immediately strapped in. The noir landscape the developers turned Paris, France into looks fantastic and striking. Lights are used incredibly well and it at least feels like a classic noir story from the tone presented. The music using synth beats feels like something akin to Blade Runner but in a modern context, only adding the punchy effect of the noir vibe. The art for the characters looks good, feeling detailed yet mysterious to the point they draw you in. It makes you want to get to know them better, which is the main point of the game.
The game sets up the narrative as you driving a taxi around Paris at night, trying to acquire details from your passengers and figure out who the real killer is, while still making a living and doing your job. As novel a concept as this is, I do find it somewhat ridiculous that the concept stretches over the entirety of Paris, which has a huge population. It kind of forces you to take a huge leap in logic that not only would you find one person who has information on this killer (and who needs a ride on these late nights) let alone multiple passengers.
If the scope could be limited to maybe one sect of the city or just moved to a smaller city, in general, I feel it would not only service this concept better, but also keep the story tighter and tenser. That being said I’d love to see where the game goes, though this is far from my only problem with my time spent with the demo.
Multiple bugs made the relatively short demo both confusing and frustrating to play. Night Call has you scan over the map of Paris to find a passenger, gas station, or drive home for the night. This isn’t anything problematic in terms of gameplay, but there were times when the map was supposed to zoom out after a passenger left the car, only for it to stay zoomed in completely on the spot they left me. This forced me to have to stare at only a small portion of the map, scanning every bit until a face popped up by my luck of scanning over it. And during conversations with said passengers, I had instances where the dialogue would skip forward by two lines, taking me out of the conversation. My first playthrough of the demo I didn’t even see any passengers pop up on the map, and I don’t think that was intentional. These were the three bugs that really bothered me, but there was an unintentionally laughable bug as well. While driving passengers a 3D model of the city scrolls behind you, and while it is supposed to make turns around corners to simulate motion, there were times where it looked like the car was stuck in a blender, the city behind us spinning uncontrollably while we kept a casual conversation.
If the scope could be limited to maybe one sect of the city or just moved to a smaller city in general I feel it would not only service this concept better, but also keep the story tighter and more tense
Sadly bugs and logical leaps were not my only problems with this demo. One small problem that may only be my objective opinion is that the writing, and more so the dialogue feels stilted. I felt multiple points in the game that it simply throws the player in. Now I understand tutorials can get annoying, but simply throwing a player into the water and expecting them to swim can be hazardous. The gas stations are never mentioned to the player, just simply dumped onto the map with no explanation.
Once you eventually drive home for the night, you are given the ability to start conducting your investigation (after which the demo ends with a very fitting song). The problem is once again no explanation is given, and once you start interacting with the files you have, you have no idea what reading over them did, because you don’t get the chance to read over them. Games have a visual language, and the mechanics should be as intuitive as reasonably possible. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
When I asked how far along Night Call was, I was told it was quite far but still not done. I want to stress that I have no doubt, and even hope, that most of my problems with the game could be ironed out. The reason being is I see the potential for a really good narrative based game here, but it needs more work.