Many games can spend millions on creating photorealistic depictions of a place only for it to not feel like a real location. Night Call, however, does that quite cheaply with a 2D noir art style, fully-text conversations and a cast of wonderful characters.
Night Call is a game which puts you in a taxi driver’s shoes during a serial killing spree. Having been attacked by the killer, you come back to work after recovering only to have a police detective blackmail you into getting info on the killer for her. With that, you get into Night Call’s gameplay loop, which features the driving section and the investigating section. While driving, you use an overhead map of Paris to navigate through the city, while managing your money and fuel to make sure you don’t get fired. Through the map, you get to choose your next passenger, gather info relating to the investigation at special locations, and like any regular taxi driver, fill up your gas tank.
This driving section plays out like a visual novel, and quite a competent one. The black-and-white noir style works well, and all the characters are beautifully drawn. Your main mode of gathering intel is through talking to your passengers, and this is where the game shines. It features a cast of 70 different characters, each with their own personalities and needs. Some might want to ask your opinion on personal decisions, others might want a place to vent, and some might just want to ride in silence. My favourite was the journalist who I convinced to leave everything behind and get on a plane to follow the love of her life. Many of these characters are very well-written, and if you interact with them correctly you might also get new intel to help in your investigation. Of course, you don’t know right away who has something useful to say so you’re always looking for ways to hold a conversation.
The characters, the music and the protagonist all work to give the game a distinctly Parisian feel. The music is low and subdued but matches the vibe of the cold Paris nights. Every now and then someone remarks about the state of Paris, about how things are changing, sometimes even venturing into the realm of racial and gender issues. When I encountered these situations, they were always tastefully executed. In addition, small remarks about certain streets and areas really made me feel like I was right there, in the heart of Paris, complaining about the cold alongside my passengers.
You might have noticed how I haven’t mentioned the second part of the gameplay loop, the investigation system, at all. That’s because it sucks. There’s no other way to describe it, since almost all you’re doing in this section is looking at a board with all the suspects and clues you’ve found and...that’s it. There’s no ‘and’ because that is all you can do. Instead of going through the clues and intel you’ve found and critically analysing it you’re mostly just guessing which one of the suspects is guilty, and that is deeply unsatisfying.
There are 3 different cases you can play through, but they all feature the same cast of 70 characters. During my first playthrough, which lasted a few hours, I guessed the killer incorrectly because of the aforementioned investigation system. Despite that, however, I found myself immediately starting a new playthrough. Not because I wanted to find the killer, but because I wanted to drive and interact with all the characters. That is what I recommend you do as well – treat the game like a visual novel. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have 23 characters left to pick up.