Quadrilateral Cowboy review

Game Info
Platform Win
Publisher Blendo Games
Developer Blendo Games
Release Date 2013

Many games aim for immersion, but few achieve it as naturally as Quadrilateral Cowboy.

In a way, it's a bit of a cheat, isn't it? There is a wide mental gap between pushing and plunging a sword into a dragon's belly or catching a touchdown and running it into the endzone. But in Quadrilateral Cowboy, your primary method of interaction is a small portable computer that you have to hammer lines of code into as you hack your way into (and out of) secure, heavily defended structures.

When it's hitting, there's a sort of perfect one-to-one symmetry between your keystrokes in your home or office and Poncho, your blockily-rendered hacker avatar. These moments, when everything comes together and you're in perfect synchronicity with the game, are absolutely exhilarating. The only problem? There just aren't quite enough of them.

Typing commands eventually comes as easily as breathing

You'd be forgiven, in the first few minutes of Quadrilateral Cowboy, for worrying that the whole thing is going to be an absolute slog. The first time you enter a command like "skylight1.open(3)" (open the first skylight for three seconds) is drudgery, as your gaze flits between your instructions and your laptop (or deck) making sure that you've got each character right.

But then, through repetition, it comes quicker. As you start to bang out lines of code, playing with them as if they were building blocks, that marvelous sense of immersion begins to take hold. About halfway through the game, I found myself getting showy with my code, inserting precise pauses between my commands (";wait(x);" where "x" is a number of seconds) that allowed me to extract the folder or safe I needed as smoothly and easily as breathing.

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This ebb and flow between annoyance and proficiency is not a one-time thing. You'll crack a series of doors with a perfect, complex bit of code and realize you left your deck outside and have no way of exiting. Press F3 to restart. You'll use your launcher to blast yourself to the top of a tower and realize that you've not planned a way back down. F3. That's not to say Quadrilateral Cowboy is unfair; it's just quick to punish carelessness and reward careful planning.

This is driven home by the fact that Poncho is almost always working in a simulation, a virtual reality program in her dingy HQ that allows her to plan heists that you never actually see take place. It's a thematically useful device for reinforcing the importance of planning, but it also can make the stakes feel lower, robbing the game of some intensity.

The fact that so much of the game takes place in a computer program makes the frequent crashes and glitches I experienced easy to explain away narratively, but no less frustrating.

At least three times I created saves that couldn't load without crashing. One level crashed the game to desktop on seven separate occasions before I finally muscled through. I know of at least one other reviewer with similar issues, but until the game is widely released, it's tough to say exactly how widespread they are.

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While developer Blendo Games may not be on the surest technical footing, it once again proves itself to be rocksteady when it comes to storytelling. As in Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving before it, Quadrilateral Cowboy is edited with savage efficiency, pulling off the rare feat of having its story sequences feel just as vital and interesting as the gameplay. And even though the world is decidedly low-poly, it's rendered in such detail that it feels just as cohesive as the best of its AAA counterparts. Maybe more so.

While those other Blendo releases were designed primarily to tell a story, Quadrilateral Cowboy feels much more like a fully realized game. There's a level select. There's developer commentary and a no-fail mode. There are leaderboards to compare yourself against as you try for better times. Unfortunately, replaying levels is tantamount to resolving a puzzle you know the answer to, and it's pretty unengaging, a problem that touches on my core issue with the game.

I enjoyed the way Quadrilateral Cowboy is constantly forcing you to learn, constantly knocking you down a peg just when you thought you had mastered all its systems enough to throw caution to the wind. I enjoyed this vacillation between master and apprentice so much that I was perplexed by just how unsatisfied I felt when the credits appeared.

I'm still not 100 percent certain about the nature of this nagging dissatisfaction, but as near as I can figure, Quadrilateral Cowboy is in need of third act, one in which you're given more freedom to apply the skills you've spent so much time learning.

The last level is an outstanding example of what I needed more of. In it, you're tasked, without much in the way of obvious prompting, with using your gadgets and training in ways you're unprepared for but which make perfect sense in hindsight. It's pleasantly demanding in a way the rest of the game falls short of. Realizing at the literal last step of the level that I'd have to replay the whole thing because I'd carelessly left a vital tool behind is one of the most delightfully infuriating experiences in my recent gaming memory. It's wonderful.

But it's also short-lived. I'm a big fan of puzzle games that don't run their mechanics into the ground, but Quadrilateral Cowboy errs a bit too far to this end, and it makes the game feel a bit like an extended tutorial in hindsight.

Wrap Up:

Quadrilateral Cowboy teaches you to use its toys, but doesn't give a lot of room to use them

It's clear Blendo is hoping other players take these toys and run with them; there is, in fact, a large button that reads "Mods" right there on the main menu. But as it stands now, Quadrilateral Cowboy feels like a wonderfully designed class in a beautiful, fascinating school that stops just short of showing how much fun you can have after graduation.

Quadrilateral Cowboy was reviewed using an advance Steam key provided by Blendo Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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8.0 Win