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Tech by VICE

Become the Best Hacker 1980 Has to Offer in ‘Quadrilateral Cowboy’

Brendon Chung’s newest is the closest you’ll get to a Mission: Impossible game.

by Zack Kotzer
Jul 30 2016, 1:00pm

Image: Blendo Games.

I'm pushing a vault out of a window. Due to my line of work, cyber-espionage and sabotage, I'd assume the vault's full of valuable documents. The moment I touch the vault I trigger a turret, meaning I have about ten seconds before it make some melty Swiss cheese out of me. This is exactly what happened during the previous simulation, where I also had to hop across rooftops and use a termite-looking "Weevil" drone to jack into the door controls. I did that laying on my stomach between the floor and the ceiling, placing my computer console and a CCTV (to see through the Weevil's eyes) among the ventilation pipes. All to get into this room and get torn up by bullets. I've failed but I will try again, to do better, and after I succeed I will try again, to do it better, because in Quadrilateral Cowboy you don't just have to be a good hacker: you have to be the best hacker.

Created by Brendon Chung, Quadrilateral Cowboy takes place in his surreal, recurring fictional city of Nuevos Aires, scattered with the debris of odd books and ramen packages and where everyone has a flat face on a square body, like papercraft South Park characters. But unlike Chung's previous games like Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, Quadrilateral Cowboy isn't an experimental narrative game but one more rooted in the more familiar grit of conspiracy, quick wit, and competitiveness.

It's set in alternative 1980 where buildings vine their way into the sky and flying motorcycles exist, but technology is otherwise stuck in the bog of cassette tapes and manual input. You're part of a trio of women, freelance hackers who work in the cover of night. Every gig requires surgical planning and craftiness, using coding to hack the planet and ensure you don't get caught or killed. Most of the game is set within simulations of your heists, where you time yourself to get in and out, leaving less than footprints and taking nothing but corporate secrets.

Framing the game around training scenarios means you're not only trying to set records against other players, but so is your character. It's Chung's least plot-centric game yet, but even the time trials are part of the story.

Being the best hacker in 1980, of course, means using a lot of cool tech. You'll have the Weevil drone, a remote controlled turret of your own, a launchpad, but your most essential gadget is a central computer terminal that controls all your own tools as well as hack the doors and security hurdles around you. A popular security service ensures that most of these obstacles cannot be hacked for more than three seconds at a time. Hacking these things is more than just button pushes on your end.

Your clicking computer rig needs you to be specific. If you open a door or turn off a laser you have to type in how long. If you want your Weevil to turn or move forward, you need to type in how far or to what degree. If you want your turret to shoot, you have to boot up the program and type "fire." From the outside this might sound like secretary work, but in practice it actually feels like programming.

If you want to merely get by you can go step by step, but players who want to demolish every leaderscore will need to come up with entire command chains, sequences created by separating each function with a semicolon. This means that, on certain levels, you can begin by typing in a single elaborate code command on your computer terminal and then sprint through the entire stage without stopping.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is about being extremely efficient with outdated machines. If video games are about power fantasies, this one is for players who want to fiddle around with manual objects in a virtual space, flip switches, loosen screws, control ye olde drones with every clunky command, and type on old, loud keyboards. If you ever wanted to be a hacker—not a real one, but the cool idea of being hacker you got from a cheesy movie—it's bliss.