Review: Night Call – Detective Noir Ruined by Repetition

Until the night of the attack you were keeping a low profile. But a detective discovered your dark past and blackmails you. He uses your position as a taxi driver to gather information and rumors in order to catch the serial killer who failed to kill you. Night Call is a narrative-driven mystery game which involves investigating three cases of serial killers. From developers MonkeyMoon and Blackmuffin, this noire-style adventure is not perfect, but certainly left a lasting impression and has a lot of potential.

Taxi driver Houssine is the main character of Night Call, who is tasked with investigating the serial killer that tried to kill him. Houssine has six days to come up with results; otherwise, Detective Busset will leak Houssine’s real name and dark past. The key to success? Listening. Houssine has a talent for getting people to talk – he’s a taxi driver working night shifts and people talk to taxi drivers. Houssine is a strong main character and the details of his background aren’t given to us straight away – instead they are slowly trickled in through his speech, monologues and hallucinations. I felt really involved in this character and it was great discovering his different approaches to the various passengers, sometimes even forming romantic relationships with them. Overall, he felt really human and well-written.

The story is told through dialogue and the writing can be poetic (quite literally when you encounter a woman who has been writing the same poem for eleven years) and captivating, really enhancing the interactive novel aspect of the game. Night Call’s writing is definitely its strongest feature with up to 75 different characters to meet during shifts. The majority of the stories you hear during rides are fascinating, with their own little twists and turns. Characters range from a doctor struggling to live up to his father’s expectations to a man who has just won the lottery and given it all away. Despite its gritty tone, Night Call isn’t afraid to introduce fantasy elements; you can give a lift to a vampire or be visited by a time traveler. Its variety of colorful characters keep the repetition from being outright boring and it will get really easy to become involved in their storylines, leading you to look out for them again in future shifts.

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Different dialogue directions can lead to different outcomes, including this conversation with Annabelle who is a journalistic photographer struggling with her overprotective family, who disagree with her potentially dangerous profession.

And it’s not just dialogue, as there are plenty of scene descriptions supported by alluring paintings of the view outside the taxi window, although I do wish there were more of these. Characters are accompanied with minimal but effective and beautifully hand-drawn animations. Night Call is like an interactive graphic novel, and the black and white art style certainly gives off Sin City vibes.When accompanied with the mellow soundtrack the score, graphics and writing as a package paints a romantic picture of the French capital at night.

As far as gameplay goes, the mechanics are fairly simple. You start each shift at a map. Here, you can choose between serving the variety of customers who pop up on screen, investigating sources, or even visiting a gas station to talk to the cashier, fill up on gas or buy a newspaper or scratch card. You are limited by your gas meter and time limit, but the most troublesome obstacle will be money. You are still working a job after all. If you run out of money you are fired and forced to restart the shift. This was fair and gave the game a bit more challenge.

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The map is detailed with gas station symbols, the “eyes” which point towards investigation leads, and potential customers within that area.

Once you select a customer, you drive them to their destination and sometimes they give you a clue for the investigation. At the end of every shift you consult your investigation board where you analyze clues collected during the shift and compare them to the details of each suspect. At the end of day 3, Busset calls you to remove a suspect from the board as they have given her a reasonable alibi. At the end of day 6, Busset asks you to choose the culprit, at which point you are given your last chance to look over clues before giving Busset a name. And hopefully, it will be the right one. This is a unique gameplay style and the game has a great concept overall.

However, repetition breaks what could have been a really enjoyable game. After finishing my first case, The Judge, I was excited to move onto the next one and continue discovering new characters and moving on the stories of those I had already met. But you’re forced to start a new game for each case. At the end of the credits, you are brought back to repeat night 6 and the only way to begin a new case is to go back to the menu and start a new game with another investigation. The intro is the same every time; Houssine is attacked, wakes up in hospital, does his first shift where Busset blackmails him and uses the same dialogue all over again. It’s tiring, and the lack of a skip option for dialogue really makes the repeated intros become a drag and almost put me off starting the third case. Even keybinding options would make this a better situation as I got tired of constantly clicking through dialogue using my mouse. Repetition is a consistent part of what is already a patience-testing game with the amount of reading it requires. Even in the writing itself there are repeated descriptions with the same copy-and-pasted description every time you enter a gas station.

And if that’s not all. The characters you met and spoke to in the previous case will also be reset, which means you’re once again offered them as a client in case you want to repeat the exact same dialogue for some reason. There are 75 different clients in total and I encountered 54, but after that I found it difficult to find new clients as I was only seeing faces from previous cases which I did not want to repeat. It felt almost punishing for completionists such as myself. This felt especially frustrating given that some characters require more than one journey to hear their full story, so if you weren’t aware of this before you started a new case, then that progression is lost and you may never know what happened to them.

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The investigation board is vital to success and allows you to move clues around if you think one relates to a certain suspect.

I also encountered a few glitches and bugs which wouldn’t have been so much of an issue (seeing as though this is still version 1.0.7 and more patches are promised) but for such a short game these glitches happened often and the majority of them froze the game. This would set me back half an hour or so in progress because sometimes I would need to quit and restart the shift. Another glitch would happen during dialogue, where I would click on one option and the game would respond as if I’d picked another. This sometimes ruined interactions with characters because if it was a bad option, then it can cut a conversation short. And, though not exactly a glitch and more of a gameplay flaw, it’s impossible to make a profit (Houssine is still a taxi driver after all and needs to make money along with his investigation).

For an investigation game, the most puzzling restriction is that it doesn’t let you actually read case documents or hear the clues given by passengers. Instead, it appears as a shortened summary to add to the investigation board. I found this broke the immersion and made some clues confusing when taken out of context. This especially became bothersome when starting a case, because there is no information on who each victim is or why the suspects are being considered. This makes it harder to piece clues together, which is annoying as Houssine knows these details but the player does not. The game also refers to events or business names and assumes I would know what these are.

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All the clues you collect whilst on a shift won’t be viewable until you have returned to your room and are presented with the shortened version.

The most distressing aspect of Night Call is how much potential it has. Admittedly, I knew who the murderer was very early on in the first case, yet was forced to continue playing out the six shifts until the opportunity to name them arose. But asides from that, I found the other two cases to be very intellectually stimulating. I especially liked The Sandman, which isn’t quite as obvious and requires you to cross-reference clues in order to guess the right one, as it attempts to trick the player into picking another if they are not concentrating properly.

Night Call needs tweaking, which the developers have promised to do. But right now it is far too overpriced considering its flaws. I enjoyed meeting new clients and uncovering each mystery, but the game would be even better if it stood as one playthrough experience where, after the first case, Houssine continues to work with Busset for the remaining two cases. This way the player could build on their clients’ stories and relationships so it would feel more complete. The map could be more detailed so that, like any taxi driver, they know where the hospital or airport is. And a game like this shouldn’t really have a difficulty setting, as it’s about finding clues and piecing them together properly, so it should be played how the developers intended rather than it being easier or harder depending on the setting.

This visual novel is oozing with atmospheric noire which easily pulls you into the mysterious world MonkeyMoon and Blackmuffin created. The storylines are fascinating and each character is compellingly written. Minus a few writing clichés, this game’s strongest value is its writing which it nails in almost every aspect. Unfortunately, its repetitive content and faults make it feel unfinished and in that matter, overpriced. However, I did enjoy playing Night Call despite its flaws and can definitely see it having potential to be a spectacular game within this genre. Because of this I will definitely be following its future development, as promised by its creators, to see what they have in store based on feedback.

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