Game review: Quadrilateral Cowboy – hacker sim takes you back to cyberpunk future
Quadrilateral Cowboy lets you plan and execute intricate Mission: Impossible-style heists through exotic locations via a personalised computer set-up from where you ‘code’ your way to victory
Real geeks have strange, incredibly specific fascinations. There are throwbacks to those early golden days of gaming, the Mario/Zelda era in the 1980s and all its clunky-cool analogue technology. There are obsessions with precise pockets of history: Italian operas of the 1920s, Soviet-made mechanical watches, portable ’60s vinyl players. And beyond all that, buried deep down somewhere, is an oft-imagined William Gibson-esque dream of becoming a corporate-destroying hacker.
Quadrilateral Cowboy, as cool a name as any true geek could come up with, channels nearly those minor interests, those vague captivations, and unexpectedly flips them into a retro-futuristic fever dream of a virtual world. Only available on the computer devices – PC, Mac, Linux – gamers take on a hacker-for-hire, with your sole goal throughout being to plan and execute intricate Mission: Impossible-style heists through exotic locations.
It’s all controlled by your “deck”, your personalised computer set-up where you control a DOS-like interface that allows you to “code” your way to victory. Commands might be as simple as holding open a set of doors for a few seconds, or it might be as intricate as stringing together a series of commands that sees your various crime partners jumping through literal hoops to achieve their goals.
Your toys and teams are a necessary part of success, and as the game progresses and the stages follow a tried-and-tested nostalgic ’90s level-design path, they naturally progress, starting with an easy-access robot dog, through to a remote controlled suitcase rifle, then a FPS-like jump-pad, an Ocean’s Eleven-type rogue team, and all the way up to your secret agent going solo. It’s an incredibly creative way of challenging the player, even if at times it feels like a standard set of tutorials that never really reaches the real game.
We’re only scratching the surface here, and there’s so much more going on in Cowboy than meets the eye: the slow progress of perfectly setting up your deck and mastering the coding console, the downtime moments between missions where peeks behind the curtain to a hacker’s inside world are offered, the endless replayability of a nonetheless sadly short game.
Cowboy might only hint at the greatness of something similarly creative as Portal, but the fact that it never achieves it isn’t a patch on its pure ingenuity.