The Last Taxi Review – Leaving The Meter Running
The Last Taxi has an intriguing idea at its heart but, ultimately, you should keep the meter running. Here’s our The Last Taxi review.
Since the launch of Papers, Please in 2013 brought the concept of the darkly satirical simulation game to everyone’s consciousness, there has been a steady rise in the number of games experimenting with the concept. Developer ZenFri is the latest to attempt a VR spin on the idea, with The Last Taxi.
The player takes the role of the only human taxi driver in a dark, dystopian mega city where widespread robot automation has left the remaining humans scrabbling to make ends meet. The player character buys a modified flying taxi from the slightly shady Buck, who also serves as a tutorial provider, informing the player of the various functions of the cab you are now responsible for. Buck also acts as our first fare, presenting the first chance to get to grips with the mechanics and learn the basics of how to make the customer happy.
Sadly, the disappointments begin straight away. The cab drives itself down a pre-determined route for each fare. The player only needs to operate functions such as the windscreen wipers and horn, and most importantly respond correctly to your customer’s conversation, with the best responses bumping up your star rating and thus earning you more money. You can also choose to record any conversation that appears to contain evidence of illegal activity and dob them in to the police for a nice monetary reward.
Clearly, this isn’t Crazy Taxi and, in fairness, it isn’t meant to be. But it’s strange to be put in the driver’s seat of a vehicle and not have at least some control over its direction. Even measuring subtle changes in driving patterns to affect your overall rating would have given The Last Taxi’s gameplay a bit more substance.
One underutilized mechanic is the power systems for the various cab gadgets and the mods you can acquire as you play. These are powered by your blood, using a vial which is inserted into the back of your hand. Extra vials cost money and you’d think that overuse of this unique power system would have some tangible effect on your well-being; perhaps a visual effect to show the player character getting woozy from blood loss. But nope – being forced into buying extra vials is the only downside.
The world itself seems interesting; a highly stratified cyberpunk society with sharp divisions between the haves and the have-nots. There’s plenty of lore available, not just in the cab conversations but also in the various digital newspaper articles you can peruse when you have the time. It’s just a shame that this isn’t explored in more depth, or properly integrated into the gameplay. There are various moral dilemmas, but the only consequences seem to be with regards to your bank balance, which makes you feel oddly distanced and unaffected, even by some of the more heart-wrenching stories that pass into the backseat of your taxi.
There are no subtitles, so the only way to know what your customers are saying is to listen carefully, which presents some accessibility problems. The cab ‘console’ can be adjusted with in game, but even though it seems logical for a taxi driving simulator to be played sitting, actually sitting down makes it hard to properly see the cab monitors, no matter how you adjust the console.
This highlights one particular concern with The Last Taxi – why did it need to be in VR? The game doesn’t seem to benefit from the additional immersion of the VR setup. Interacting with the cab gadgets is often fiddly, and the environment is only glimpsed through the narrow aperture of your taxi windows. Its difficult to determine what the VR aspect provides that a similar ‘flat’ game would not.
The Last Taxi at least has a competently put-together world. The art style and animation is stylised and reasonably pleasing to look at, despite occasional lip-sync issues. Though the anti-aliasing on the borders needs to be tweaked, as the way everything fuzzes at the edges, which is very distracting. The general aesthetic seems to be going for 70s/80s throwback cyberpunk, as seen with tutorial character and his hideous knitted tank top or the dark mega city environments drenched in pollution only occasionally lit by flashes of neon.
The music is oddly unfitting. The soundtrack veers towards melancholy piano tracks, which are fine for some of the sad stories expressed by your customers, but otherwise doesn’t fit the general feel of the world at all. The developers would have been better off taking a leaf from Bladerunner’s book and going for a Vangelis-inspired electronic/synth soundtrack.
The sound design otherwise is fine, with the various cab functions providing reasonably satisfying clicks, beeps and other sounds. The voice acting is very good, which is just as well, since these conversations provide the majority of gameplay and interaction. Characters like the robot maid have an electronic modulation to make them sound appropriately artificial, while still retaining a significant degree of personality.
One problem with The Last Taxi is in regards to its loading times and stability. It can take well over five minutes to load, and will sometimes crash on start-up. There are other stability problems within the game itself, making for a frustrating experience and speaking of a need for further optimisation.
The Last Taxi Review – Final Impressions
The central premise of The Last Taxi is an interesting and solid one, and the world created around it has some potential, but it lacks the high stakes and desperation of Papers, Please, not to mention potential for any driving mechanics. Instead, the player engages with a competently made Uber driver simulator, trying to juggle your bank balance and say the correct soothing words to your customer to make them give you a high rating. The result is uncomfortably close to real life for those who have ever worked in any customer service role.
The Last Taxi had such potential to create an interesting, interactive universe, but ultimately fails to properly capitalize on its premise. The game lacks depth, and its half-hearted attempts at political satire fall flat in an experience that lacks significant impact.
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