Night Call is a rare and cathartic experience, one that astutely captures the simple and profound moment of hopping into a taxi and having a chat with the driver, who in one of those rare and memorable situations can serve as an effective combination of a therapist and bartender. Personally, some of the most indelible conversations I’ve ever had in my life were when I had a bit of a chat with my taxi driver. Granted, on most trips it is an awkward silence filled in by the radio, but more often than not it’s a pretty cool connection between two strangers trading stories across a span of 20 or so minutes.
In Night Call you are a taxi driver caught in the midst of something far bigger than yourself. There is a serial killer on the loose and you somehow managed to survive the assault. With bills piling up in a dingy studio apartment, you have no choice but to drive through the streets of Paris, picking up strangers in the dark to earn a living. Soon you find yourself caught in some elaborate corruption and conspiracy within the law enforcement, which means you now need to “cooperate” with the authorities, lest your past catches up to you. Suddenly the taxi driver is neither a therapist nor a bartender, but a begrudging detective.
The main crux of the experience in Night Call is picking up passengers during each night shift and having a conversation with them: most of these clients are inconsequential to the main narrative, while some end up being key players in the broader serial killer conspiracy. Ultimately every passenger you pick up in the graveyard shift proves to be memorable in their own right. They all have a story, some more willing to banter than others, and yet they all collectively portray a broad spectrum of the modern human condition.
It’s clear by now that this video game is a noir narrative at its heart and, more so than the main objective and storyline, it’s the act of simply picking up these many, many passengers that becomes the core of the experience in Night Call. With a passenger “Passidex” to complete, most players will enjoy the act of simply driving strangers around and hearing their stories, which is why the inclusion of a free-roaming mode independent of the main adventure is most certainly a smart move by the developers.
Night Call has a non-linear progression to it, and while the pace is slow it suits the mood of the experience. By the end of the shift, there usually isn’t enough time to put all the clues and notes together before it’s time to hit the clunky sofa bed. Not that it matters, because ultimately the journey is far more interesting than reaching the end of the murder mystery. Although largely text and narrative-based, there are some gameplay mechanics in place here which, although don’t really punctuate the experience too much, certainly help with the overall immersion. Fares are collected and a fuel tank needs to be kept full, which means spending some of the earnings at the petrol station. By the end of a shift both time and energy are scarce, which means you will need to carefully decide how to spend the limited time at home to “study” and piece together the clues. Importantly, what shines the most about the gameplay is how dialogue choices and trees are frequent, often leading to interesting and contrasting directions in a conversation.
Visually Night Call makes use of an ideal noir-style aesthetic with memorable character designs, and the haunting music does an excellent job of creating a sombre sense of atmosphere. It really does invoke the feeling of being alone under the night lights of Paris. It’s not always perfect though, as some of the animations tend to be looped and, in some cases, don’t match what’s happening in the narrative, especially during moments the taxi is shown to be driving when it really should be parked. This is but a small complaint to an otherwise gripping and immersive ambience.
Night Call on Xbox One is a vague yet captivating journey into the heart of modern humanity, as seen through the eyes of a lone taxi driver caught in a rather deadly game. Even when the structure and direction of the main objective isn’t always clear, the very act of interacting with passengers in a meaningful way is perhaps the most cathartic and significant aspect of the whole experience. If you love the idea of spontaneously chatting with fascinating strangers, then Night Call will most certainly give you a long list of memorable characters.