Neo Cab
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Credit: Chance Agency

Console-Tation: Short games with optimistic sci-fi narratives

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Oct 23, 2020, 3:45 PM EDT (Updated)

Hello everyone, and welcome to Console-Tation, a feature series on SYFY FANGRRLS where we help you find your next favorite video game — one you might not have heard of, but are going to love.

I'm your host and SYFY FANGRRLS resident gaming expert, Laura Dale. I've worked as a full-time video game critic for the past five years, and it's my job to help readers like you discover that next game that's going to be exactly your jam.

Our recommendations are not just based on your taste in games. Tell us what movies you love, what book genres you're wild for, maybe even what music you like. Paint us a wide picture of your interests, and we will try and find a game tailor-made to your tastes.

Do you want help finding that next game that's perfect for you? Well, we have a form you can fill out here. If you're selected, you might get your next game recommendation, courtesy of Console-Tation.


Our email this week comes from Daisy, a SYFY FANGRRLS reader who’s looking for something short and story-based.

Dear Console-Tation,

I need help expanding my horizons a bit. I play a lot of different things, but I tend to end up sinking time into open-ended system-driven games like Disgaea, Grim Dawn, Warframe, Stardew Valley, etc.

The thing is, the games that have really stuck with me in the last few years have been so much more narrative- or character-focused, but I'm really out of my depth looking for those kinds of recommendations. Some fantastic games do pop up on the radar like Heaven's Vault or Disco Elysium, but I wouldn't even know where to look for good visual novels or the like.

I don't usually go for high fantasy, but I do l love some science fiction, especially stuff that plays with a sense of mystery or ambiguity - and I can appreciate a sad ending, but would prefer something at least a little bit positive. In games, I find turn-based RPG combat a bit tedious, and I have a bad habit of not finishing games, so a good ending to a challenging 80-hour game is going to be wasted on me.

In short, I'd like something with a real focus on well-written characters or story - do you have anything that will suit me?

Daisy (she/her)

Systems of choice: Switch or PC preferred, but has access to PS4 or Mobile too.

Cost: Preferably on sale.

The key things that stood out to me were:

  • Narrative-heavy adventures
  • Interested in visual novels
  • Enjoys mysteries, ambiguity, and science fiction
  • Endings that are not totally sad and depressing
  • Fairly short length games

I thought of three recommendations for Daisy.

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Neo Cab

Neo Cab (2019)

If you want a short, narratively-focused, mysterious video game with some light science fiction elements, and a little more visual presentation than your average still image-based visual novel, then Neo Cab might be exactly the game you’re looking for.

Neo Cab is set in a near-future cyberpunk city, where most jobs are readily becoming automated. You work as one of the few remaining human taxi drivers in a fictional city and had been planning to move in with your friend Savy before she suddenly disappeared. Now you have nowhere to live, bills that need paying, and a missing friend to try and track down, all while holding down a job.

By making narrative choices, you attempt to keep your driver rating high on the app you’re booked through, keep the main character happy, and use the power of human communication to learn clues, and critique unchecked capitalism.

The game features multiple endings, some of which are certainly positive, but which ending you see will depend on the route you take through the game. A playthrough only takes around five hours, so it should be completable in a couple of sittings.

Neo Cab is available on both PC and Switch, and there’s a demo on Switch you can check out before you buy.

Heaven Will Be Mine

Heaven Will Be Mine (2018)

If you like the idea of a visual novel that’s all about queer women in their twenties, mechs, romantic tension, combat, space, and awkward clumsy love on the battlefield, I can’t recommend Heaven Will Be Mine highly enough.

Set in an alternate universe 1980s, the game follows the story of three female mech pilots in the days before the space program is wound down for good. You’ve got a veteran pilot, a woman with psychic powers, and a hacker, all on different sides of a long-standing conflict, all eager to fight for what they believe in, and all just a little bit flustered by each other’s pretty faces.

Heaven Will Be Mine is explicitly queer, with two of its major characters being trans women and all of its major characters interested in other women. There’s a narrative justification for it in-universe, the mech pilot program has become the refuge of those somewhat shunned by society, but it creates a really nice background for queer romance to be explored, while also exploring how cool it is when a mech does a really cool punch in space.

Heaven Will Be Mine features multiple endings, and while they all involve some degree of compromise or failure, they all also involve a degree of hope and optimism. Every ending sacrifices a little of what one character wants for a little of what another wanted, but in the end, none of the endings feel overly sad for no reason. They’re all balanced in a way that feels realistically mixed if leaning a little towards the positive by the end.

It’s worth knowing the game contains some discussions of sexuality, violence, and trauma, but none of them feel unnecessary and are all used sparingly.

Heaven Will Be Mine is available on PC.

Tacoma

Tacoma (2017)

If you’re looking for a narrative-heavy science fiction game with a bit more active gameplay, it might be worth checking out Tacoma.

Set on a seemingly empty space station towards the end of the century, you play a woman named Amy, fitted with an augmented reality device, trying to discover the fate of the station’s former crew.

The way the game plays out is that you can bring up security camera footage of moments on the ship, and walk around holographic projections of them in real-time, rewinding and viewing scenes from different perspectives to try and glean new information as you progress. With a fairly large cast of characters present in any given scene, half the fun is trying to keep track of who is doing what at any given time, and how their various stories intersect. It’s a narrative told in a more cluttered and tangled way than most narrative-heavy games, but the payoff is worth the work.

Tacoma is only two and a half hours long and is the kind of game that, upon completion, I had a very strong urge to play over from scratch to recontextualize everything I had experienced.

Tacoma is out now on PC, and PS4.

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