Night Call opens with a dimly lit shot of the Eiffel Tower. While such a picture of Paris is conventional, Night Call’s potential shines brightest in the unconventional story it tells.
In this dialogue-fueled adventure, the player takes the role of an unnamed survivor of an attack from a Parisian serial killer nicknamed ‘The Judge’.
The story starts with the victim (a taxi driver) awakening from a coma. Despite being attacked, he becomes a potential suspect due to his criminal record. In order to clear his name, the driver makes a deal with the police — it’s his task to discover the serial killer’s whereabouts through subtle interrogation of passengers in the cab he drives every night.
This is where Night Call’s thematic strengths come into play. The driver ‘hunts’ for information while the killer hunts his victims elsewhere in the city. Both are cunning in accomplishing their missions, as both hide their purposes and identity in a way similar to how the game hides information from the player — only small bits of the driver’s name, background and characteristics are presented through narrative, and what little I could learn came via dialogue with other characters. I interpret this lack of information as an attempt to set up for a potential plot twist at a later stage in the story.
The mechanics of ‘searching’ for The Judge take shape in a minigame in which the player has to control the driver’s cash, gas and time, although in this limited demo version consisting of a single night, there’s no resource stress yet. Potential cab passengers are available to be picked up by the player, scattered across Paris on a convenient map with icons of characters. There are also icons showing the driver’s home, gas stations, and the most direct route the driver has to take to get to them. Which characters are available is randomized, as replaying gave me completely different options.
Each character that’s picked up has a destination and a backstory. I expect the conversations to grow into leads, but it’s also possible that one of my passengers could turn out to be The Judge himself. It’s up to the player to converse with them during their trip and find out as much as possible. So far I’ve encountered stories about forced marriages, nihilism and family losses. In all these scenarios, the passengers behaved strangely in some way, such as awkwardly smiling at moments of sadness or during long silences. The main character clearly notices these odd occurrences and explicitly reveals his thoughts to the player in dialogue.
At the end of the first night transporting two passengers, there was an opportunity to view links between victim reports, autopsies and other situational memos, but there was hardly any evidence gathered. It’s not obvious at this stage, but it looks as if multiple nights of conversations lead to additional information, which might result in a large web of links and deductions to be made, eventually guiding the player to the identity of The Judge.
With the main gameplay components consisting of chatting up passengers, sustaining a healthy income as a cab driver and potentially linking different parts of evidence, how The Judge’s case develops will be crucial to such a narrative-focused experience. For now, Night Call impressed me with its mysterious demo, and I will certainly play it as soon as the opportunity arrives. After all, The Judge is still loose and on a killing spree…
— David Bakker