Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator – PS5 Review

Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator from Krakow-based developer Simteract and publisher Nacon is pretty much exactly what you might expect from the title. You’re a taxi driver in a city, in this case an approximation of downtown Barcelona. In a revelation that won’t shock you, you have to pick up passengers and drive them to their destination. In effect, Lazy Taxi rather than Sega’s classic Naomi and Dreamcast rather more crazy arcade take.

At the outset you’ll be introduced to the slightly idiosyncratic handling and frankly fussy criteria for picking up and dropping off a fare. Upon both picking up and dropping off you have to fit into a fairly narrow slot, either by stopping on a dime or by fitting into a tight parallel parking space. The tutorial tries to coax you into reversing into bays to pick up too, but during gameplay itself you can go in nose first and then reverse out.

Almost as soon as you’re done with the basic manoeuvres, you’re thrown into the city proper. You’ll be struck by what appears to be a fairly accurate representation of the city, though never having been there ourselves it’s difficult to conclude whether it is or not. What is immediately apparent is that Taxi Life is a game of two halves. While you’ve not got a fare on board, all gloves are off. It’s more like the aforementioned Crazy Taxi or the long since abandoned Midtown Madness series from Angel Studios/DICE.

All you’ve got to watch for is pedestrians on zebra crossings who have the unnerving knack to just walk out without any warning whatsoever. Other mild annoyances are speed cameras as well as the occasional traffic cop. The only penalty from knocking over a pedestrian is a fade to black, whatever task you’re carrying out ending and a €100 fine. The fines for traffic violations are similarly insignificant, especially when you can garner many times that for just one fare.

Running a red light is understandable, though going through on amber is also deemed to be wrong. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference between us Brits and our wrong side of the road Spanish cousins. You get pegged for going the wrong way down a one-way street too, that’s fair. But when you’re held up by the occasionally terrible AI drivers blocking a junction, sometimes you’ve no alternative but to bypass their collective idiocy. Then you’ll cop a fine for driving against the flow of traffic, but it’s preferable to being sat behind digital idiots.

If these don’t seem like any sort of deterrent, you’d be right. However, when you’ve got a fare on board it’s a different story. You end up driving like Morgan Freeman with Miss Daisy in the back. Your fare has a patience meter and this will reduce for any sort of infraction. It’s like having a driving test instructor marking you down as you go. If you’re in the middle of a turn after a perfectly acceptable green light and get held up by the AI coming to a halt without warning, if the lights then turn red the patience meter goes down.

The thing is, there’s a noticeable disconnect between what the passengers say and what rating they give you. One second they’ll say “this is the worst cab ride I’ve ever had!” and when you drop them off, you’ll get a maximum five star rating plus a generous tip. Also, you can have a perfect drive and not get a tip for no apparent reason. The only leeway you get is the special missions that allow you drive hell for leather with no worry about traffic infractions. These are sadly infrequent, especially given how mundane typical fares are.

One thing we noticed is how beset by one-way roads Barcelona appears to be. This is all well and good as many towns are similarly afflicted, like this writer’s home city of Winchester or the likes of Reading. But even they have linked lights so traffic flow isn’t as staccato as in Taxi Life. It’s a rare occasion that you’ll pass through a green light, stick to the 50km/h limit and not get held up at a red light.

Even the AI drivers seem to struggle with this as we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been rear-ended while waiting for lights to change. In real life you’ll get an insurance payout assuming you’ve not been hit by an uninsured driver, only in Taxi Life you’ll take the financial hit. You see, your vehicle has a durability gauge as well as fuel and cleanliness to take into account. Fuel is essential, as is servicing. Though just like traffic violations being towed to a garage has a tiny charge, so if you break down or run out of fuel you can just get towed for next to nothing.

We had a puncture for no apparent reason and tried to make it to a garage to replace the tyre, but what we didn’t account for was the handling of our car being affected so detrimentally that we found ourselves spinning even when going round corners. So yes, we’ll take the tow next time.

One thing that Simteract have done well is modelling the many historical monuments from the well-known like the Sagrada Familia all the way through to places you’ve never heard of. These can all be collected for a handy experience boost. We abandoned the picking up of fares in preference of exploring the city for the most part during the early stages of the game. These along with classic artworks painted on the sides of buildings are a great way to explore the city without worrying about mithering passengers. The passengers themselves will occasionally engage you in conversation, just small talk really. Though if you engage with them and don’t inadvertently suggest that their interests are dull, you’ll get some bonus experience into the bargain.

We did encounter some weird bugs while finding a couple of the last few churches, one in particular being where we fell through the game world accelerating to speeds in excess of 600 km/h. Not to mention when we respawned and found ourselves on top of a building. We got the trophy for finding all the monuments at least.

As well as the bugs we’ve mentioned, pretty early on you’ll become aware of the occasional frame rate drop. This is just about excusable when you are driving in a straight line, but when you’re turning a corner, drop a frame and suddenly crash through no fault of your own, it’s a bit hard to reconcile.

One area where we experienced some of the worst performance we’ve ever witnessed on PS5 was on roads that parallel the main railway station. We were supposedly doing 70km/h but when the framerate dipped into single figures, it felt like we’d inadvertently had the handbrake on. Not good then. Oddly, you can’t even access the railway station, just drive past it. If the 3D model has cause to be that complex that it make the game performance nosedive, we have to wonder why.

The performance using the in-car view is patchy as hell too. Pop-up is especially evident here. Not to mention the field of view is so restricted that we opted for the external chase view almost without exception. Parking in the drop-off and pickup zones is also borderline impossible using this view too. A visualisation like our old Nissan Pulsar with its all-round cameras would be a great quality of life improvement.

One thing the game does well is implementing of indicators using the d-pad. Sadly, all other functions like air-con, wipers or the radio are accessible via a selection wheel. This would just about be forgivable if your progress was paused as you accessed it, but instead your vehicle keeps on moving at a fifth of real time speed. This has led to us crashing due to granting a passenger request to open the windows or to switch on the radio. It’s a terrible implementation and makes us wonder why a similar system to the likes of Tesla Autopilot wasn’t included.

The only real option is to stop your vehicle altogether, which sorta breaks the immersion. Why can’t you assign frequently used functions like cruise control to a button of your choosing instead? Another thing that Taxi Life could do better is its GPS implementation. Yes, it’s constrained by the restrictive one-way systems, but when you drop off a fare and opt to take the nearest fare, the GPS will try to make you take a circuitous route to pick up the next passenger.

Even if they’re literally on the opposite side of the road. If a customer is in line of sight, it’d be handy to know they were. At least handbrake turns work pretty well and are effective at overcoming the terrible navigation. Just don’t do it with a copper in sight or they’ll ticket you, though as we mentioned you’ll soon make it back from your fare.

On occasion you’ll find yourself being close to a drop off yet be routed out of your way to account for the one-way systems. Having the ability to say to a customer could you drop them at the end of the block instead would resolve this, but as it is you have to play it by the book.

We’ve been playing Taxi Life a fair number of hours now and almost find ourselves enjoying the experience, though we’ve yet to figure out how we add vehicles to our garage. Is it gated by our driver level or our turnover? The in-game menus are no help in that regard.

In conclusion, Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator is an earnest attempt to replicate driving a cab in a large city but it’s held back by the frequent performance issues and the frankly awful AI drivers plus pedestrians. Even the dumbest real life pedestrian won’t cross a busy junction when the lights have turned green, but here they do. We hope that the devs get a patch implemented to address these issues, but we fear the GPS fussiness is ingrained. That’s not to say we’ve not had fun playing, because we have. It’s just been a bit frustrating.

EDIT: literally the day after we posted this review, a patch was deployed on PS5 that has resolved the slowdown issues that were very evident at launch. It remains to be seen if the AI drivers are still as stupid, but it’s a good sign that Simteract are active in terms of post-launch support. 

Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator
8 Overall
+ The size of the map and depiction of Barcelona are impressive
+ Fun despite performance issues and awful AI drivers
+ Can be more fun just driving around looking at the sights without a fare
+ Non-standard fares are fun
+ Frequent performance issues at launch now resolved
- Passengers are more stringent than the police are
- In-car view is next to useless
- GPS function is often completely pointless
Taxi Life: A City Driving Simulator is fun enough but in its current state, the crippling performance issues and terrible AI drivers that you share the city with are big blots on the landscape. As it stands, the technical issues and dumb implementation of in-car controls are holding this otherwise impressive game back. (patch dropped less than 24h after this review resolving the slowdown issues, score amended)


About Ian

Ian likes his games weird. He loves his Vita even if Sony don't anymore. He joined the PS4 party relatively late, but has been in since day one on PS5.

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