I have become increasingly fond of narrative-based games over the last couple of years. Great storytelling combined with simpler mechanics and difficulty makes them a fantastic way to relax from all the fast-paced action I typically surround myself with. Night Call, from Black Muffin and MonkeyMoon, appeared to be an interesting narrative game that touches on some deep subjects that should fill this role perfectly.
A late-night smoke break is meant to relax and calm the nerves but discovering a dead body kind of ruins that premise. As you approach to get a better view, everything goes black. Suddenly there are bright lights and a female voice calls for your attention. You have been in a coma for two weeks following an attack from Paris’s newest serial killer. You are lucky to be alive at all! After taking another few weeks off from work, it is time to return to your job as a taxi driver. Of course, your first night back on the job brings even more surprises as a police detective enters your cab and coerces you into being an informant. Now you have 7 days to figure out who the killer is by talking to your passengers or everything will be pinned on you!
Night Call is a different kind of narrative experience than what I am used to. The whole game plays out without a single voiced line of dialogue. Instead, it relies purely on text to get its story across. I found this approach very unique but it did come with its ups and downs as emotions of certain scenes aren’t always portrayed clearly. Others did feel good when left up to my own interpretations, however. I also enjoyed the protagonist's narrations of occurring situations. The dialogue options presented during conversations are also some of my favorite of anything I have played in recent memory, with many different emotions and tones being available during different interactions.
The whole premise of Night Call is to track down a serial killer and you accomplish this by gathering clues from your taxi passengers. There are three different scenarios to choose from with varying motives making each case have their own challenge to solve. The game does also offer a set of difficulty levels you can choose from to further tailor the experience, from pure narrative to also having a money management system you need to keep track of. Regardless of the case, the game will play out the same.
When you first begin a night you will be greeted with an overhead map of Paris and a selection of passengers will appear for you to choose from. By choosing a passenger you will drive to pick them up and they will inform you of their destination and the amount you will be paid is also displayed. This is when the dialogue discussed earlier will play out. Depending on your choices you can have your current passenger spilling their guts to you or sitting quietly waiting for their destination.
These interactions are where the meat of Night Call really lie and getting the passengers to talk can present some cool stories. There is the thug who is now dating a cop who gets him to start reading classical literature, the lesbian journalist you can convince to follow her love to London, or the priest who has accepted that his faith might not be as popular as it once was. Each interaction can carry significant weight and Night Call isn’t afraid to bring up touchy subject matters like terrorism, racism, sexism, fear, religion, love and sex.
After each ride, you will be given your fare and a new selection of passengers will be displayed. Besides passengers, there are other locations that can be selected for a visit. Certain clues can unlock a location for you to visit to further investigate and find more information. There are also gas stations scattered across the map that you will need to visit from time to time as your taxi runs low on fuel. Gas stations can also provide clues of their own, from the daily newspapers and talking to the clerk on duty.
After each shift, you will head back to your apartment where you can then use your detective board to arrange clues you have found for the case. Detective Busset will provide clues at certain times throughout your journey but the majority will come from your interactions with your passengers. Sometimes a passenger might even leave something of interest behind that you can use for the case. After you finish going over the day’s clues you will end the day and repeat the process once again.
At the end of night 6 you will be asked to present your evidence and accuse one of your suspects. If you have figured out who your killer is and select correctly you will be brought to an end game process of where you try and drive your killer into police custody. Your taxi will also be wired and it is your job to get that person to confess to their crime. This final showdown has a good amount of interaction and might be the best out of the whole game!
Night Call is a noir-inspired game so it is very thematically black and white. The art style is also very clean and looks great. The games screen is split with a map of Paris on the top and characters and interactions on the bottom. At different times the scene will shift to a view of Paris or even a plane in the sky to help give an ambient effect that works well.
Again, Night Call is not voiced at all, instead relying on sound effects and music to try and convey its tone. The sound of rain and the taxi doors opening and closing all sound great. Music also sounds good but doesn't always feel right to the scene it is playing in. It can also get fairly repetitive after a while.
With 75 passengers and 3 cases available, there is quite a bit that you can do in Night Call. Each time you interact with a passenger you can find out more about them and this info will be added to a passenger index, or passidex for short. Getting some passengers to open up is harder than others, so be prepared to take the same person on multiple rides. The randomness of passengers you can give rides to will also change up how replaying cases can turn out.
What It Could Have Done Better
Unfortunately for a game that relies completely on character interactions, some characters are just not interesting. During these less than interesting interactions the game can really drag and become boring. I also had issues playing the game when I had a controller plugged into my PC, making the mouse unable to select anything. There was also a few glitches in the game’s top screen GPS tracking that would have a ride end halfway to the actual destination. Thankfully there was nothing permanently game-breaking and I am sure that these glitches will be patched out.
Between the subject matter and noir styling, there is a lot that can appeal here to narrative fans but Night Call isn’t for everyone. Some characters are dull to interact with and the game could be considered repetitive. There is a great story to be found with each case for anyone who wants to pursue it though, and that alone makes Night Call worth playing. For anyone with Xbox Game Pass for PC, the game is free so it doesn’t hurt to take Night Call out for a test drive and see what you think for yourself!