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Quadrilateral Cowboy review

In Quadrilateral Cowboy, a surreal indie game of hacking and heists, you pull out your ‘deck’ – a briefcase-sized, late-80s/early-90s portable computer with a fold-out screen and a DOS prompt – and type on it to hack systems and command gizmos. Only, you’re not really doing this. You’re actually gazing into the virtual reality goggles of another chunky bit of retro computing in your hackers’ lair, surrounded by flickering CRTs, humming mainframes and whirring tape decks, planning some future heist in the ‘real’ world. Only, you’re not really doing that either. You’re typing on your own keyboard in your own room, playing Quadrilateral Cowboy. (I recommend using a mechanical keyboard for the full, clattering, War Games wish-fulfilment.) Wheels within wheels!

This is about as post-modern as video games get, from its self-referential premise, to its hipster fetishisation of retro technologies, to its scruffy, anti-chic aesthetic. Quadrilateral Cowboy is a game with purposefully ugly levels decorated in placeholder art, where patch notes float in the air and you can turn on ‘noclip’ mode to glitch through the scenery. It’s a game soundtracked by warbling acetate 78s playing on your ‘vinylman’ portable record player.

It could be grating, but developer Blendo Games – which is mostly a man called Brendon Chung – has a way with this kind of material. Surreal and slyly humorous, Blendo’s games delight in the unexpected, and shake up a unique cocktail of crude presentation, oddball pulp, and deceptively sophisticated, elliptical storytelling. All are on show in Chung’s masterpiece, the micro-epic Thirty Flights of Loving, a narrative game that packs more into its 15 minutes than most manage in two dozen hours. (And what a title! As a writer, Chung has a talent for poetic non-sequitur; one level in Quadrilateral Cowboy is called The Finger Lime Funicular.)