Who doesn’t like a good mystery? One with a noire setting in the night time streets of Paris as a taxi driver who has a gift for getting people to talk? Using that gift to find a serial killer. It is a tale as old as time isn’t it? Well that’s the premise of Monkeymoon’s Night Call.
I so wanted to love Night Call, as there is much in there I love. As mentioned above the setting, the idea, the mystery. It is all there in abundance, but something just feels a little off with the overall experience.
Let me start of with the positives though, because there are some which are so good, it saves the game from being one I’d usually bin off and ignore, to one I was happy to push through and that is the story, the presentation and the atmosphere.
I love a serial killer based story, I don’t know why, maybe I have my own psychopathic tendencies. I just do, I am a sucker for a mystery that involves them. So the opening of Night Call drew me in instantly and had me intrigued throughout, as I needed to know the outcome.
You take on the role of a cab driver who is the only known survivor of the killer known as the Judge. After waking in a hospital you are soon back in your role as a cab driver and soon after that accosted by Busset, a lieutenant in the Parisian police on the trail of the killer. I won’t spoil much, but this is pure TV crime writing and is all the better for it.
You are tasked with doing your job as a taxi driver, but also helping find the killer. Using your skills as a cabbie to talk to passengers and uncover various secrets that can lead to the capture of The Judge.
The toned down palette works wonderfully well and gives of a pure noire feel at all times and each character you interact with manages to convey their personality, despite little in the way of animation. The game has very little going on, but somehow still manages to make Paris come alive, within the confines of a taxi.
Honestly, I loved the story and the character and found myself engrossed by the whole thing. So it is a shame that there are elements that really let Night Call down and that comes in the form of specific gameplay loops.
As a taxi driver, you need to ferry your fares around Paris and earn money to live. Y’know, because it is your job. This would be fine and everything, except it feels very in-balanced and takes away from the enjoyment of the story and the mystery of trying to catch a killer. Being in the cab is great and talking to passengers is also a joy, but the need to make money was a hindrance more than anything. I’d rather this was pure visual novel at this point.
Then there is the investigation sections. These should be where the game stands out. Where you feel like you are solving cases and getting closer to nailing the suspect. But somehow I just didn’t feel that at all. There is an in-game time limit to capture the killer, which I guess is meant to make things feel tense as time ebbs away. Yet it just didn’t grab me in the way I’d hoped.
Compare the investigation stuff here to the likes of Her Story and Telling Lies and it is worlds apart in how it makes you feel like you are actually doing some investigation work. In Sam Barlow’s FMV titles I was making notes, theorising, scrubbing through footage and it felt almost real.
With Night Call though, this loop felt almost arbitrary and almost forced. I’d rather have been able to just go through it all at my own pace and uncover secrets, lies, clues. Look, it isn’t terrible, but I felt personally it could have been so much more.
After finishing I had to really consider how I felt about Night Call. From a critical point of view, there are many things wrong with it that stop it being a classic. Yet the story and atmosphere completely bring it up a level or two. I honestly can’t explain how good this is, but how disappointing it is too.
The characters I met, the stories I was told, hell even some of the social commentary within the narrative, will all stay with me for a long time. I just wished Night Call was wrapped up in some better surrounding mechanics.