Quadrilateral Cowboy is a cyberpunk game for the ‘80s, with turrets controlled via blinking
Blendo Games' Quadrilateral Cowboy isn't pretty. But then, it's not supposed to be. This is cyberpunk as viewed through the lens of the 1980s, where hackers carry around bulky laptop suitcases, insert blocky cassettes into tape decks, and the hacker interface is a white text on black background DOS.
The game mixes traditional objective-based game play with puzzles to be solved, similar to titles like Portal and Quantum Conundrum. In the tutorial level available to PAX East attendees, players are tasked with infiltrating a secure compound and snapping incriminating photos before extraction. There are plenty of obstacles in the way, but thankfully, our cowboy has their handy deck, a portable laptop-like device that can hack nearby objects with the correct command prompts.
Each obstacle is highlighted and named, so you know what your target hack is. Approach a door, and you might see “door4” laid over top of it. To get past the door, you'll set down your deck, and type “door4.” This will show all the available commands for the door, including “door4.open(x)” where x equals the number of seconds the door stays open.
It doesn't take long before the game starts throwing more complications and more obstacles at you. Soon, you'll come across doors and gates that can't be open for more than a few seconds, lest they set off an alarm. In one stressful puzzle, I had to correctly time my hacking so that I could hack one camera, move forward, and hack the next one before the first came back online.
It's stressful and intense, in all the right ways. You want to shout to your non-existent heist team, “Just one more minute! I'm in the mainframe, I just need one minute!”
Learning the language
Brendon Chung, the game's creator, told the Report that the game is meant to teach players to explore and learn. “I think it's fun to learn new things. I think games kind of treat learning things as a chore that you have to go through in order to get to the real meat. But for me, when I think of learning, I think it's fun. So Quadrilateral Cowboy is all about learning a new language, mastering a new language, getting a handle on all the nuances, all the syntax.”
The game also allows some very… interesting hack combinations. When I noticed that the game had a 'blink' key, I asked what it was for. Chung teased a section of the game where the player will steal plans for some less-than-reputable people, and as an insurance plan, they can set up a sentry turret that's rigged to fire depending on how many blinks they program. One blink to turn on murder, two blinks to turn off murder.
The game is unarguably cyberpunk, but filtered through Blendo's strange vision and distinct style. There are signs that warn how long a door or gate can be open, how long a camera can be off, but it's always up to the player to decide how to tackle each obstacle. The world offers hints, not solutions. “For this game, my big goal was to focus on player agency, to let them play with these toys and go through the world in all these creative ways.”
The game isn't nearly as polished as a AAA title or even many indie games, but it's not supposed to be a completely smooth experience. “I think there's something important and satisfying about the tactile feel of the keyboard, something satisfying about using this horrible CCTV monitor, and connecting to a robot that's walking around,” Chung told the Report. ” I wanted to try and get some of that clunkiness. It has a good feel to it. It's good to be clunky. I miss it.”
Quadrilateral Cowboy doesn't have a release date yet, but if you're aching to try it and are in the Boston area, you can find it in the Indie Megabooth area of PAX East.