'Neo Cab' is the most perfect demo game I played at E3 2019. Here's why

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Games, multiple companies at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) have told us, are for everyone. Fine, but only because anyone who says they don't play games is lying. After all, game-like tricks are often required to simply get through the day. And technology is only making it worse.

Maybe you struck a pose for the sole purpose of getting Instagram likes -- the very act of winning approval. Perhaps you used a dating app and swiped left or right, a tactic more akin to choosing a character than a partner.

Or what about that time you gave an Uber or a Lyft driver a three-star rating, forgetting that these are actual people probably struggling to pay rent rather than trained professionals? You're essentially playing with their livelihoods.

Have you ever wondered what your own Uber or Lyft rating is, curious if your personality warrants a high score?

Whether you know where the X or B button is on a controller is irrelevant -- you play games. The problem is, the video game industry too often seems disinterested in this, designing for a select group of button-pressing experts rather than, well, for everyone.

But occasionally a game get its completely right.


"Neo Cab" was the most perfect demo I played at E3 this year, a game designed not just with the sort of clean and simple choice-based interface that could be grasped by many, but also calling to attention to the mini emotional mind games that occupy -- and wreck havoc on -- our day.

In a sci-fi noir setting, "Neo Cab" explores the delicate and perilous balance of managing our happiness while also analyzing how it's affected and shaped by others. The backdrop is a tech-obsessed world that breeds selfishness at best and dehumanization at worst.

And its one that feels dangerously close to reality. The main character, Lina, works essentially as a near-future Uber or Lyft driver; she has to find a way to maintain a perfect five-star rating while also managing her emotional health.

The game, due later this year for home computers and Nintendo Switch, dials into the anxieties surrounding our current social and economic climate, imagining a time when the haves and the have-nots are divided among those with jobs and those trapped in the gig-economy lifestyle championed by ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft. There's an underlying mystery -- your friend is missing -- but the game's core conundrum concerns Lina's well-being.


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