Quadrilateral Cowboy speaks to me on a much deeper level than most games do. Granted, a lot of that probably has to do with where I am in my life right now. As a soon-to-be computer science student who has recently gotten into the world of vinyl and turntables, Quadrilateral Cowboy’s love of old-school tech and analog music is right up my alley.
Despite my love of Quadrilateral Cowboy’s unique brand of cyberpunk hacking, developer Blendo Games’ newest title triumphs not because of its visual or aesthetic design, but from the minute-to-minute gameplay itself.
Unlike Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving (the other two games in the same shared universe), Quadrilateral Cowboy veers far from its experimental, adventure roots. While its predecessors could be boiled down to first-person experiences that eschewed player agency and control in order to deliver short-form stories, Quadrilateral Cowboy is a puzzle game at its heart, albeit one that dives headfirst into the world of cyber-crimes and high-profile heists.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Quadrilateral Cowboy has nothing in common with its relatives. Much like Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, there’s not much in the way of dialogue and voice-overs here, and there is no explicit narrative that drives the entire experience. Traditional cutscenes are absent as well, replaced by small clips and vignettes that introduce different characters and help to establish their connections to one another.
There’s not much in the way of forced exposition or handholding to be found here; instead, the game asks the player to fill in the gaps through exploring the environment. There’s plenty of conclusion to draw from reading old newspapers and starting at photographs, or by simply taking a moment to stop and see what other characters are up to.
Visually, Quadrilateral Cowboy employs the same, blocky visual style used in previous titles, though it’s running off id Tech 4, which I imagine provides a wider degree of flexibility compared to the older Quake II engine that was used in prior games. Characters still have the trademark ‘cubed-head’ look, and while I understand that some people prefer more flash and panache in their visuals, I personally adore the lo-fi design.
There’s also something to be said about the game’s rather off-kilter world. While it doesn’t fit neatly into one single era, there’s something undeniably charming about a game that takes place in the 80s, features hoverbikes and other futuristic tech, yet relies on dated computer terminals during gameplay. Also, there’s a portable record player that you can make use of; hopefully I won’t have to explain how awesome that part is.
Of course, much of your time will be spent pulling of heists, which is where your portable computer, affectionately referred to as a deck, comes in. For those worried about their own coding skills, fear not. Like other puzzle games that are built upon a rudimentary version of coding (Human Resource Machine comes to mind), Quadrilateral Cowboy features a simple programming interface that relies on a few simple commands, that you can pull up at any time should you get confused.
In-game help menus aside, you’ll also have the chance to try out new commands every time you acquire a new device or tool, rather than having to learn on the fly during an actual heist. There’s also the aptly labelled “tourist mode,” which is essentially a ‘very easy’ difficulty setting where failure is impossible.
Heists usually consist of stealing specific objects or photographing important documents, along with infiltrating and escaping from a secured area. As you would imagine, locked doors need unlocking, security cameras need deactivating, and trip lasers need disabling. All of this is done from your deck, where you’ll input simple commands in order to manipulate the world around you.
For example, a line of code such as ‘cam8.off(3)’ will disable “Camera 8” for three seconds. By queueing up specific commands and executing them in order, you’ll be able to manipulate the environment around you in order to seek a path forwards. Perspective and location often play an important role; you’ll often find yourself having to open your deck and hack from a specific location, in order to simultaneously observe the area around you to keep an eye on the timing of your hacks. You’ll also slowly gain access to new tools and gadgets which can be controlled through your computer terminal. A small drone/rover is useful when it comes to scouting locations and collecting objects, and you can even obtain a remote-controlled rifle that you can program to shoot.
Without spoiling too much of the game, there are different types of heists to pull off, including ones that focus more on teamwork, and some that require a high degree of dexterity and quick movement, along with sufficient hacking skills. Admittedly, while the game is certainly longer than other titles from Blendo Games (it took me between five and six hours to see the game through to the end), there isn’t a signature or culminating heist that combines everything you learned over the course of the game, and I was a little disappointed to see such an opportunity squandered. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy all the heists the game had to offer (as I most certainly did), but I did feel somewhat shortchanged at the end. Still, the inclusion of mod support means that future heists may be on the horizon.
Despite the odd technical glitch and an infrequent crash to the desktop, it’s hard to ignore Quadrilateral Cowboy’s unique brand of puzzle-solving. Very few titles leave this strong of an impression, and Blendo Games once again succeeds at crafting a brilliantly delivered story; one that is confident enough to rely on the player’s own intelligence, rather than holding their hand through a curated, one-size-fits-all experience.
This review is based off the PC exclusive version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Quadrilateral Cowboy is the perfect mix of cybercrime and cyberpunk, that trades in the darker, hard-edged aesthetic of Mr. Robot and Uplink for something that's infinitely more charming and endearing.