PAX Prime 2012: Quadrilateral Cowboy Hands-On
Hacking – well, “hacking” – has been a part of plenty of cyberpunk video games. Outside of a few dedicated titles like Uplink and Hacker Evolution, though, recent games have reduced the supposedly genius act of breaking into futuristic computer systems into something akin to hacking the Gibson – goofy, simple visual puzzles that could be cracked by a child. What sort of evil future corporation protects their assets with copies of Pipe Dreams?
Quadrilateral Cowboy aims to fix this trope. One of the games on display at the PAX 2012 Indie Megabooth, Quadrilateral Cowboy throws the player into the role of a rather unscrupulous hacker-for-hire, complete with a dimly-lit secret hacker lair. Missions are selected on a totally retro computer system, and involve breaking into various buildings and completing objectives for your employer. The mission on display involved sneaking into an office and scanning some important documents without anyone noticing.
The main character is actually pretty nimble, and the whole thing feels similar to first-person platformers like Mirror’s Edge, with breaks in between parkour sessions to solve hacking puzzles. In the demo mission, the building’s alarm would be triggered if any door or vent was open for more than three seconds – not a problem for the player, armed with their totally retro laptop (or “deck”, for a way more tubular cyberpunk name).
The deck can be used to connect to security systems, giving the player a directory of nearby objects usable in each puzzle. Typing a string of code into the deck while connected to the right system controls objects in the environment; opening a door is as simple as connecting to the network and typing a command string (something like door2.open (3) for a 3 second window) into the deck. Of course, the puzzles require a lot more than just that – even by the end of the demo, Quadrilateral Cowboy was an intriguing mix of remembering in-game code strings and player dexterity – dodging lasers while running towards a closing door became quite a juggling act.
It’s not actual hacking, but it’s a far better approximation than anything found in most games – at the very least, it’s more thematic than simply highlighting an object and pressing the “hack” button or playing a quick word puzzle.