Assassiner à Paris
You awake from a coma in a Parisian hospital, unsure of where you are or why you’re there. A nurse slowly coaxes you into conversation, informing you that something unthinkable has happened: you were assaulted by the serial killer known as The Judge (or The Sandman, or The Angel of Death, depending on the story you choose). There’s no time to rest, though, as the cops are waiting right outside the room ready to throw some tough questions your way. Cut to a few months later, when while working your cab you pick up someone familiar- one of the police officers that was at the hospital the day you woke up from your coma. Far from a friendly, familiar face, she immediately gets confrontational. She says she knows your secret, that you’re really an ex-con using a fake name in order to get the loans necessary to operate your cab and turn your life around. While she applauds the effort, she also knows that this means she’s got a one-up on you. If anyone finds out who you are, your current life is over. In order for her to hold your secret, you’re going to have to work for her, and it’s not going to be easy. She needs you to find out who The Judge is. Using your status as a cab driver, you’ll have to talk to people and follow the clues to figure out just who this deranged person is terrorizing Paris.
So begins the noir narrative of Night Call, a mystery-cab simulator with a lot of promise and a lot of charm. In any narrative game like this, the experience lives or dies on the quality of the writing. While it’s hard enough to come up with an interesting story or concept, playing it out via engaging dialogue is another thing altogether. Thankfully this is where Night Call shines most. There are quite a large number of passengers available to come across (more than you can interact with in a single playthrough), but even the ones that don’t contribute to the mystery have interesting things to say, and I was genuinely interested in hearing most of them out. Dialogue seems natural, and the characters are deeper than I expected. Passengers range from shady accountants to abuse victims to poets and beyond, and each one is humanized beyond the stereotypes one might associate with their first impressions. Some have developing storylines that play out over multiple rides, and some only make a brief impression before disappearing into the night.
There are a few different mysteries available to play through, though all three are wrapped in the same package. Each mystery has you investigating under the same circumstances, as listed above, which was a bit disappointing. While each has its own evidence and ending to work towards, it was a bit odd having each of the three starts exactly the same way in the hospital. Whichever mystery you choose, over the course of a handful of nights, you’ll be able to pick up clues from passengers, contacts, and the media that add information to a clue board in your apartment. Each night you’ll be able to see your new evidence and how it ties to the various suspects. There are even funky little connective strings that can be manually moved around, and bios of relevant people that are involved in what’s going on. To be frank, though, I considered my engagement with the actual detective work secondary to just relaxing and listening to people’s stories. There’s nothing wrong with it, but playing through the mystery is fairly on-rails. There isn’t really a way to know which passengers will have story-relevant information and which will be unrelated, so picking passengers isn’t particularly strategic. The game also automatically connects relevant clues to suspects, though it’s up to you to decide which evidence is most important. It works with the laid back, relaxed vibe that Night Call has going for it, but I would have liked to see a bit more involvement opportunities when finding clues and identifying potential sources of information.
The only exception to this is the end of each mystery, at which point you’ll have to look at your evidence, decide which suspect seems like the right choice, and make a call. Make the wrong one, and your police contact will make good on her promise of ruining your life. Make the right call, and you’ll have to navigate a conversation with the suspect in order to survive and end their crime spree. It’s very possible to not have collected enough information if you didn’t happen to hit the right passengers or location, but, thankfully, after reaching any ending the game lets you reload the last night in which these decisions are made. Yes, this takes away some of the pressure and finality of the narrative, but it’s great for exploring what could have been without making the player replay three-four hours just to see a different ending.
The Practical Side
While figuring out the mystery is puzzle-y enough, the game also makes you consider the actual logistics of driving a cab. You’ll have to consider time and distance when deciding which fares to take, and you’ll also need to consider your fuel level and proximity to gas stations. At the end of the night, you’ll take your earnings and tips, subtract things like upkeep costs, and only add the rest to your pocket. It’s a promising concept that could easily have added a bit more depth to a fairly passive experience, but these elements never really come much into play. I never really thought about any of it, save for getting gas when I was running low and was never impacted negatively. After the week was over I ended up with less money than I started with, but, as money isn’t used for anything except gas, it didn’t matter. As long as you don’t hit zero, which I didn’t despite doing nothing to save money, you’re fine. I would have loved it if money could have been a more meaningful element of the game.
Given that almost the entire game takes place inside of a taxi, I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s ability to build mood and ambiance with its limited graphics. The black-and-white noir aesthetic is brought to life with nice visuals and some varied camera angles that did a lot with the confined nature of the game. A few of the buildings flying by the car stick out a bit as their computer-generated models clash with the hand-painted look of the characters, but it didn’t bother me too much, and overall I was perfectly happy with the presentation overall. Playing the game late at night, the room lit only by the glow of my monitor, it was easy to slip away and escape into the cool, chill vibes of the Parisian night.
Despite a few shortcomings, I quite liked my time with Night Call. While I would have liked to see a few more opportunities for active engagement with the mystery, the setting and quality dialogue kept me happier and more relaxed than a murder mystery should. In the series finale of The Office, Pam Halpert says that “There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?” and I kept thinking back to that quote throughout my playtime. Having finished my time with the game, it’s not the murders or gathering of clues that are sticking with me the most, but the regular passengers. There was something about the man who may-or-may-not be Santa, the couple looking for a sperm donor, the scorned rural reality show star, and the rest that seemed to jump out of the screen for me, and following their stories sometimes seemed like catching up with old friends. Night Call is not something to pick up if you’re looking for something actively “game-y,” but it’s one that I’d recommend to anyone willing to spend a few dark nights simply enjoying the ride.
Fantastic atmosphere, well-written dialogue, interesting cast of characters, relaxing atmosphere and presentation.
Finding clues is fairly uninvolved, money management has more potential than it lives up to, each mystery is framed the same way.