Sunday, October 03, 2010

GabCab Review

GabCab, developed and published by Reflexive Entertainment.
The Good: Smart and helpful automatic queuing of destinations, numerous vehicle upgrades, short levels, coin collection gives you something to do during routes
The Not So Good: Extremely repetitive, subtle notification of new customers, most levels are not randomized, cities hold no distinction
What say you? A solid click-management game that is light on variety: 6/8

While I don’t live in an area known for mass transit, in areas of the country where things are more densely populated, it may be the only way to get around. But we all know the subway can be stinky/scary/diseased, so a lot of people opt for cabs driven by Christopher Lloyd. It is the job of the lovely dispatcher to send the cabs on their way, carefully coordinating their efforts to maximize profit while minimize transit time. GabCab is a click-management game where you direct the actions of a talking cab (obviously), motoring around town and picking up monkeys (obviously). What will GabCab do to set itself apart in its crowded genre?

Typical of budget-level click-management games, GabCab uses a 2-D map on which you click to route your cab. The animated style works well for the overall theme of the game (a talking car), although the game could be livelier. Each of the locations is distinctive enough where you can rely on visuals alone in determining the appropriate destination. However, the game needs to indicate new passengers more clearly, either by adding a border around the edge of the characters or a more distinctive audio cue, as the passengers blend in with the buildings a bit too easily. The sound aspects of GabCab are underwhelming, with the occasional effect and canned audio cue that become repetitive and dull. Still, not much is expected in this genre and GabCab is certainly functional as a game, never getting in the way of efficient management.

In GabCab, you command a talking cab (obviously) by clicking on destinations around six cities. None of the cities are really any different other than the background (a lot utilize the same buildings) and you can’t edit your own layouts. The new cities don’t offer any core gameplay changes and it takes a while for the game to get challenging, as you can’t skip the introductory cities and GabCab lacks a difficulty setting. Each day has a simple monetary goal divided into competency grades, and achievements can also be earned for especially competent play. Each level is pretty short (around two minutes) but heavily scripted: GabCab rarely takes advantage of randomizing the customers you get, which reduces the replay value of the game (the patterns used in the game become very predictable after a while). One interesting feature that I appreciate is a countdown before resuming after you’ve paused the game, but otherwise GabCab is pretty conventional for a casual game in terms of features.

Money you earn during each day can be spent on a large variety of upgrades. These can increase your capacity for fuel, improve rider comfort, augment safety, or boost speed. Additionally, you can purchase objects to make collecting tips easier, auxiliary vehicles that will automate certain routes, or one-use items for temporary boosts in rider happiness, gas, tips, or speed. These are all great features, so it’s a bit disappointing that they are so expensive: you can’t always upgrade following each day (commonplace in most casual games), which would inject a feeling of constant accomplishment. I would rather have upgrades with insignificant bonuses that occur more often.

The crux of GabCab is to pick up customers and deliver them to their destination; this is accomplished through clicking on the appropriate locations on the map. GabCab tries its best to limit the tedium inherent in most click-management games. First, the game allows you to drop off customers simply by passing their destination, without having to click on it directly. You can also queue stops infinitely, allowing you to stack up any number of future actions. Most significantly, the game will automatically rearrange your route to a more efficient path, intelligently incorporating new stops into your existing schedule. This is a fantastic feature that makes GabCab a lot easier to play. This wonderfulness does come with a couple of caveats, however. First, it makes the game too easy: as long as you just click everywhere, you’ll never have a late arrival or miss someone completely. Second, the game rearranges gas stops, which should not be done: you need to refuel at least once per level, and the game might relegate your required fueling too far down the queue. You can manually refuel by clicking on the gas station and holding the mouse button while over your cab, but this is a case of the game being too helpful.

Completing trips on time increases your fare multiplier, bringing in more money to purchase upgrades for your cab. The game also highlights the destinations for your passengers if you forget, and you can double-click to override a path and click on a stop to erase it from the queue. GabCab could do a better job highlighting new customers, as they tend to blend into the buildings too easily and you might miss them. While you are planning your trip, tips will spawn at each destination when a customer is successfully delivered. This brings in some extra cash, caught by using your mouse and hovering over the destination. It’s trivially easy to catch tips once you learn where the coin spawn from, so this is a very minor diversion from the repetitive actions of the rest of the game. GabCab doesn’t include any mini-games to keep the action fresh, so when you’ve played one level you’ve played them all.

GabCab is a typical click-management game that stands out thanks to its automatic altering of routes, making the game a whole lot less tedious but also less challenging. The game also has a lot of upgrades to improve things like speed, fuel, happiness, and tip catching, though a lot of these new items require significant investments of money to unlock them. GabCab is extremely repetitive, from the roster of cities that all play the same with the same monetary goals, to the rare use of randomization, to the lack of mini-games to provide some variety other than clicking on buildings and catching coins with the mouse. The short levels (two to three minutes) cut down on monotony and provide a feeling of accomplishment as you quickly unlock new towns to serve. The game is easy to control thanks to the rerouting, though new customers could be highlighted better to make for even more efficient gameplay. GabCab requires an interest in the click-management genre to compensate for the high level of repetition, but it is a well-designed game overall with only minor faults.