Night Call – noir-styled visual novel that interweaves a series of murder mysteries
Night Call a noir-styled visual novel that interweaves a series of murder mysteries through the tales of dozens of ordinary Parisians, the threads of their lives intermingling as you crisscross the streets of the city. Everyone’s a little frail or fragile, much like the fabric of the game’s core investigation, and it’s the insights into people’s everyday hopes, fears, and secrets that linger long after the end credits have rolled. You play as Houssine, an Algerian immigrant living in Paris. Much of his background is elided, or only revealed in suggestion over the course of the game, but he is Muslim, sports a thick, dark beard, and works as a cab driver on the night shift. Houssine is recently back behind the wheel after an assault that saw him hospitalized and, because of who he is, a suspect in the very crime of which he was a victim.
It feels right that Houssine would be of interest to the police given the political climate (both current and echoed in-game) and the hints at his troubled past. And it feels authentic that someone would pressure him to essentially become an informant, the kind of blackmail that insinuates that inside the moral grey area of society lies a corrupt, black core. These themes–of feeling like you don’t belong, of a rotten system operating to exclude all but the privileged few–infuse not just Houssine’s personal experience but of many of the people he encounters, and work well in linking together an otherwise disparate collection of stories. At one point a young black man from Chicago (he’s in Paris studying to become a mime, hilariously) gets into Houssine’s cab after a humiliating run-in with the police, and they bond over their shared experiences. “I’d say the police have a problem with black people,” Houssine says, then grins, “and Arabs.” Each night, Houssine hits the streets to track down clues and follow up leads, all while performing his regular job. From a map of the city, you select a fare to take and watch a yellow arrow navigate to its destination, the scene then overlaying an interior shot of the cab with Houssine front right and his passenger(s) in the back seat behind.
It’s a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, too. In total there are 75 passengers to meet over the course of the game, drawn from a broad range of ages, social classes, ethnicities, sexualities and, in one or possibly two cases, dimensions. They each have their own stories to tell, and Houssine seems to be the man chosen to hear them all. That’s because while he’s an outsider, as a cab driver, Houssine’s difference is camouflaged. Many of the people he picks up are oblivious to him, at least at first. Couples discuss private matters as if he is not there. Lone passengers mutter to themselves, seemingly unaware of the possibility there’s a real human being sharing the vehicle with them. When they do notice him, one passenger scoffs at the idea that a lowly cab driver could have any useful advice. Another passenger assumes Houssine has certain political sympathies because he’s a brown, working-class man. “According to the people of this country, you don’t count,” one character tells him, with weary resignation. Houssine is both othered and unseen, tagged as different and yet simultaneously erased.
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