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Mile High Taxi is a swift ride through old visions of the future

Metered out.

I still remember the build up to American McGee's Scrapland. I would buy gaming magazines (well, when I was allowed to), particularly PC Zone, and the full-page ads made it seem like it was going to be a truly wondrous, open sci-fi adventure. There were also big expectations thanks to the success of McGee's previous game Alice. Despite the decent reviews, though, it didn't really have much of an impact at the time.

I thought Mile High Taxi was going to be similarly huge and expansive. Made solely by Cassius John-Adams, a game dev veteran with his first indie outing, the game has taken three years to come to fruition. It's easy to describe it as a mash-up of Crazy Taxi and The Fifth Element, as the inspiration is both clear and unapologetic. Yet weirdly enough, the jank, however much intentional, reminded me of the basic mechanics and scrappy charm that makes a handful of the games of yesteryear so endearing.

The goal of the game is pretty simple: pick up waving customers in your flying taxi and drop them off at their desired location. This can sometimes involve slowly ascending and descending towards different platforms. But not too high or low, as you'll go out of bounds. And once you check out the free roam mode, you'll realise just how small the total grid you can access is. It's like seeing how tiny the maps are in the 2021 remasters of the Grand Theft Auto games once all that city fog was swept away. Given it's made by a lone developer, it makes sense that this compact sci-fi world is basically a playground for your flying taxi.

Mile High Taxi.Watch on YouTube

The reason why we even have games like Mile High Taxi is thanks to the expiration of Crazy Taxi's signature hovering directional arrow patent. However, the thing that drew me into the simple, arcade gameplay was the whole Y2K vibe emitting on screen.

Yes, we all know the Y2K era is having a revival and it's something I've discussed before in great length. Whether it's through Hypnospace Outlaw, films like Aftersun taking place in the late 90s, or the return of the 'going-out top', it's interesting to see the creative work of those who grew up during this particular period revive that outlook for a new, younger generation.

But Mile High Taxi is different in that it presents a Y2K vision of the future. For some reason, this has always meant metropolises would expand enormously in a vertical direction, with giant screens filled with annoying adverts everywhere, and random, tiny green spaces so we could still have a source of fresh oxygen while fighting any fears of claustrophobia. There was even a parody of this type of world after Microsoft did their take on the future well over a decade ago. So many classic arcade games take place in one particular setting, and John-Adams has done a good job creating a colourful yet lo-fi world.

The difficulty with these visions is that they seem to collide with the fiery reality we're facing with climate change, social strife and finite resources. But the real charm of the Y2K era is how positive and optimistic the future still felt, and I still believe utopic images of a potential future can act as excellent sources of inspiration, particularly when it comes to gaming. The best throwback we can have is the return of that era's mindset. It's why everything felt so new and fresh back then.

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