I often hear of people talk about the story of a video game being really important. Mostly, this means that they are looking for an experience like a great movie or TV show. People want a cinematic game that reaches them in the same way that traditional media does.
One of my favorite games of 2015 was The Witcher 3. I found the story to be huge, expansive, and epic like the prestige TV shows that dominate today’s cable landscape. Telltale Games eschews this completely and uses an TV-like episodic format and even called the sequel to The Walking Dead - Season Two.
Quadrilateral Cowboy from Blendo Games delivers a great story with emotional depth and astonishing humanity like other important, significant games. However, it accomplishes this feat in the subtle way that only video games truly can. Instead of leaning into delivering a cinematic, dialogue-driven movie experience, Quadrilateral Cowboy focuses on what makes video games unique - direct input. Sure, there might not be multiple endings or decisions affecting the game. But the game, in the tradition of Half-Life, lets the player experience everything firsthand and at roughly their own pace.
The main thrust of Quadrilateral Cowboy consists of a puzzle game using a litany of hacking terminals, gadgets, precise timing, and trial and error. The whole thing is wrapped up in a sort of alternative cyberpunk dystopia. If Blade Runner had an analog open relationship with Sneakers and The Matrix, Quadrilateral Cowboy’s remarkable world would be the obscure and wondrous progeny. The hacking is fun and light which makes it a few steps simpler than the superb Hacknet, but utterly effective. Combining every command to complete a level into a single line of code is astonishing. I would love to see what speedruns are possible.
Quadrilateral Cowboy nails something that I find lacking other larger big budget games. It puts a lot of faith and trust into the audience. Tutorials are short and to the point, and the game figures you can cope with a bit of trial and error. Admittedly, I found myself thinking that I wish the game was more implicit in its explanations, but maybe we just need to have bit more faith in ourselves.
The story is smartly revealed in small and enigmatic scenes spread across the game. Slight variations in character dispositions between missions impress characterization. The “larger” story elements flirt with being almost too vague, but, again, provoke interpretations of the main character. I once spent 15 minutes after a mission playing a relaxing game of badminton with no “real concrete” game purpose. However, it brought me further into the world in way that no movie, TV show, or novel could. Quadrilateral Cowboy asks the player to do things few games dare: reflect, interpret, draw your own conclusions.
If ever a game deserved the comparison to a weird, indie festival film, Quadrilateral Cowboy fits the bill. It is coy, ambitious, and fun. Brandon Chung is a true video game auteur.