STAFF REVIEW of Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator (Xbox Series X)

Friday, March 22, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator Box art I’m a sucker for simulation games, and these days there seems to be one for nearly any type of job you can think of. The latest in the genre is Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator, and if it’s got simulator in the name, it’s got to be a pretty faithful recreation of the job right? Well, yes and no. Developed by Simteract and published by Nacon, Taxi life puts you in the shoes of a taxi driver, picking up passengers all over a faithfully recreated city of Barcelona. While I’ve never been personally, I’d certainly love to go now to see how accurate their recreation of the city actually is, I just hope that the drivers in real life and better than the ones in game.

There’s no real narrative per-se, you’ll simply be taking a quick road test to introduce you to the gameplay basics of navigating your car controls before you’re set free in the the city of Barcelona to drive passengers from one corner to the other. Earn money and experience for doing so, purchase new cars, upgrade them and eventually even start a fleet of drivers all working for you.

You’ll first begin by choosing your driver, but don’t expect any sort of character creator here, you simply choose one of a couple drivers without any option to customize. You then choose a company name for your save file, a logo from a handful of premade ones, and then you’re off to play however you like. There are a few options you can choose in the difficulty, even how the car itself will handle from simple arcade controls all the way to simulation where you’ll need to use the clutch and shifter.

Gas and Brake are mapped to the Triggers as you’d expect, though it took some getting used to not being able to reverse by simply hitting brake again once stopped. Instead you need to place the gear into reverse, then hit gas, which makes sense in a real car, just not as common for other car games. The D-Pad is for your turn signals, which you’ll want to use if you want to be a courteous driver and earn the most tips from your customers. You can of course use your horn for when people walk in front of you or cut you off, but it doesn’t actually do anything as no pedestrians or drivers react to you road raging with your horn.

Picking up passengers is simple enough, choosing which you want to get from your map and following the GPS to the spot. Park in the designated area and they’ll get into your cab, setting your GPS automatically to their destination. Make sure you follow the rules of the road though, as each customer will tip you based on how accurately and safely you drive. Would you tip a driver who drives down the wrong side of the road or breaks the speed limit? Probably not. It’s the same here.

The simple gameplay loop of picking up customers and taking them to their destination is an addictive one, as you earn money and XP for each successful ride. The city is bustling during the day with traffic and notably quieter during the middle of night. Barcelona is recreated on a 1:1 scale and gives you 286 miles (460 km) of roads to explore, from highways to narrow one-way alleys. There’s just enough detail in the city that it almost feels live, filled with garbage cans, road work, broken lights, car accidents, trees and parked cars, but the pedestrians walking about on very linear and rigid paths quickly take you out of the immersion.

Following the rules of the road may seem easy on paper, but watching where you’re going, remembering to use your signals, stopping at red lights, watching your speed, keeping an eye out for red light runners, and simply remembering what side of the road to be on is a lot to think of all at once. Road rules are slightly different in Barcelona than here, so I had to get used to looking for traffic lights at the sides of the road, not hanging in the middle above. There’s also a lot of roundabouts, multilane ones as well, something we don’t see a lot here on the west coast.

Every so often your customers might strike up a conversation with you. You’re not obliged to engage and speak to them, but you’re given a few choices you can respond with the D-Pad, and after a little back and forth you earn a little XP based on how well they enjoyed the discussion. This happened quite rarely though, maybe once every dozen or so customers. Others may simply ask to have a window rolled down or to wipe the bugs off your windshield.

There’s no shortage of customers, and I did like the fact that once you drop off one rider, it’ll ask if you want to pick up the closest person nearby waiting for a ride. You can see all the people wanting a taxi on the map, able to choose and make a waypoint to them at any time. There are even a handful of special challenges to complete where the customer asks you to get them to their destination as fast as possible where you don’t want to worry about the road rules or speed limits.

Your vehicle is your livelihood, so you need to maintain it as well. You’ll need to make sure you have enough gas, repair any damages and of course keeping it clean, as customers won’t be happy with a dirty ride. When you eventually purchase and unlock an electric car, you’ll also have to monitor its battery level. If you want to take a break from driving customers, there’s also plenty of landmarks to find, each netting you some decent XP for your troubles. I do wish there was some sort of history lesson unlocked for the landmarks though, as I would have been interested to learn more about them.

As you earn XP and level up, you’ll be able to spend points in the skill tree. There’s a decent amount of options to choose from, like earning more money or XP, reduced ticket prices, or increases to how much your staff will earn. It’s not a large skill tree by any means, but enough that it gives you something to work towards for a while at least.

Money is arguably more important, as this is how you’ll be able to purchase new taxis, upgrade your car stat wise and aesthetically, as well as pay your employees and fines. You can upgrade your cars handling, speed and braking, even adding new paint, rims, spoilers, interior, and even undercarriage neon lights if you really want to stand out. There’s not a lot of options, car or upgrade wise, but just enough that I wanted to customize each.

Every new car you buy, you can also hire a worker to join your company. You get to choose from a list of which person to hire, each with their own positive and negative aspects. The menu system for this is a bit convoluted and confusing, but you’re also able to choose their work times and district to cover. Every new car means more potential earnings, though I constantly had issues with them not working when they were supposed to or not bringing in really any money, and I’m not really sure why.

For all the things I did enjoy about Taxi Life, there were at least two more that frustrated or disappointed. First and foremost, the AI in this is basically nonexistent. Pedestrians will walk through crosswalks whenever they please, regardless if it’s a green or red light. Worse yet, they might get halfway across the walkway only to turn around and go back, then change their mind again, basically stopping you from driving until they decide where they want to do.

Then there’s the bug where you pick up your single passenger, but when you bring them to their destination, two or three get out of taxi instead. Or where the quick cutscene plays of them getting into your taxi, but your car continues to roll forwards or backwards without you able to stop the car, which then results in a minor accident and needing a repair later on.

AI drivers are not much better. More than a handful of times I’d be sitting at a red light only to get rear ended at full speed. Drivers also don’t know where they’re going or follow the rules of the road, as they’ll change lanes last minute, or simply stop in an intersection or roundabout for no reason at all. I mean, I guess there are actual terrible drivers like this in real life, but I don’t believe this was specifically programmed to recreate this. Seeing a cop blow through a red light is also something not uncommon given their lights weren't on.

The majority of the time there was no performance issues, but every so often, seemingly in certain crowded areas, the framerate goes from being smooth, down to almost single digits. This of course usually results in a crash as you’re trying to compensate when the stuttering moments. Visually the city can look beautiful as you drive by certain areas and observe landmarks, and while there’s a few radio stations, they are all quite bland and the voice acting from you and the customers during dialogue is terrible at best.

Once you have the majority of the skills have been earned and have a handful of cabbies working for you, there’s really not much else to work towards. That said, there’s still some enjoyment to be had to picking up a few customers and bringing them to their destination within a gorgeous city. Clearly rough around the edges, Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator frustrates in certain ways, yet is relaxing in others.

**Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 4.7 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 3.0 / 10


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