Review – Quadrilateral Cowboy

I’ve felt a lot of goodwill toward Brendan Chung ever since Citizen Abel: Gravity Bone blew my young mind with its expert melding of interactivity and narrative. Quadrilateral Cowboy sounded like a game he was making specifically for my own specific interests. Hacking, old computer hardware, his own personal twist on storytelling; it’s a recipe that gets my thighs grinding. That excitement eventually undid itself, however. I followed the game closely through development, hungrily devouring every little scrap of information that Brendan posted.

However, the game was frequently delayed, and as development dragged on, my interest waned. By the time the game was finally released, my excitement had burned out, and I could hardly muster a shrug. I bought the game at launch and made a token effort to play through it before moving on. I was a victim of my own enthusiasm.

In any case, while struggling to figure out what games I could actually play to completion, I had the idea to give this game another try.

I hope you’re ready for some mild programming.

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Quadrilateral Cowboy seems to exist in the same bizarre, loosely defined universe as the Citizen Abel games. It’s a world of intrigue where contract wetwork is a simple day job. You play as a member of a contractor group that accepts jobs to carry out heists. Acquisitions, if you will.

The game consists of several such heists, each one in a different location and requiring different skills. Initially, it’s mostly you, your deck, and a few gadgets. You get by various traps by doing some basic programming tricks. Things mutate from that starting point, with even the basic gameplay loop eventually fracturing and re-establishing itself as something different. You start casing the area you’ll be infiltrating, then taking control of other characters to plan out the heist.

Between each heist is a vignette that silently establishes the three main characters and the world they live in. They’re peeks into the bizarre lives they live; their apartments, their hobbies, their history. In typical Blendo style, it’s minimalistic, but still tells you everything you could need to know. The characters, despite not sharing a word between each other, seem believable as friends. It’s certainly not a narrative-focused game, but the small details that Brendan Chung likes to cram into every facet really brings everything alive.

THE SMALL DETAILS

That bears repeating; it’s really the small details that bring the game alive. The gameplay itself suffers from the problem of eternally feeling like a tutorial. Each heist brings about its own twist that you must once again learn. You’re then asked to immediately put it into practice, usually in a very simple obstacle. The game never gets very creative with its implements. The last level does a decent job bringing everything together, but even then it doesn’t feel very creative. When you’ve got a belt full of gadgets, a team of people with different skill sets, and a deck full of commandline, I kind of expect that by the end, I’m putting together elaborate Rube Goldberg configuration, but it never gets that far.

It’s built on the idTech4 engine (the same one that powered Doom 3), and there’s Steam workshop support for additional level, but I’m not exactly interested in playing a tech demo for a toolset. It kind of breaks my heart to say that.

It’s the little moments between heists that bring the game alive.

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The game world does its best attempt to tie everything together. It exists in the nebulous world that Brendan Chung has put together; an odd cyberpunk dreamworld where vinyl records never lost their dominance and strange ramen combinations make the foundation of people’s diets. Cyber-limbs co-exist with clunky analog computer equipment. It’s this weirdly intriguing world that just feels like a nice place to hang around. It’s inviting to probe the margins for the little things that give hints of what life is like here.

It feels more lik Brendan Chung enjoys building these worlds than putting a game together, something that is evidenced by the fact that his Citizen Abel games rarely actually involve a true gameplay loop. I’d probably prefer it if things were slowed down a bit more. I’d rather explore the world more. I’d rather ride the space elevator than rob it. I think Brendan might be better suited to making a game like Bernband rather than these spy thrillers, but I’m not someone who should be giving career advice.

VIOLENT LOVERS

I’ve probably made it sound like I don’t really like the game, but that’s not entirely true, I just don’t feel it lives up to its potential. My initial read of the game was that it was a hacking game like Uplink but with a firstperson perspective. That’s not really the case. Even with those expectations set aside, I find the game to be intriguing but limited. It feels like someone took a larger game, clipped out all the tutorial segments, then pasted them all together into one bigger game.

I really just wish it would have slowed down a bit. You’re constantly on a timer — there are even leaderboards — and it would have been more satisfying to be forced into more complicated puzzles that require a deeper level of consideration. What’s there isn’t bad. Some of the obstacles do require some thought and the game as a whole is relatively breezy and free of frustration. It just feels like it could be more.

On the other hand, if you were a fan of Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, the same great world building and style is present here. It’s really what Blendo Games excels at. It’s what was doodled in the margins that makes the game worth playing.

7/10

This review was conducted using a digital Steam version of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 181 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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