Most Anticipated: Quadrilateral Cowboy
Death and syntaxes
At 35, you die a little. Or rather, you accept the life you will not lead, you say goodbye to it, and this, it turns out, is a quiet form of dying. Happy new year! At 35, I acknowledge that I'm unlikely to rob a bank. I probably won't even wait in an unmarked van outside the bank, tapping away at a terminal as the grids go down and my sexy accomplices wriggle through vents and hop across elevator shafts.
All of which makes Quadrilateral Cowboy a game I don't just want, but one that I pretty much need. It's a role-playing game, in a weird sort of way: when I finally get to fire it up, I will be role-playing the life I once childishly assumed I'd lead.
And the role-playing goes deeper than you might think. You're cast as a hacker in Brendon Chung's latest, and while that normally might involve a few QTEs or perhaps a cat-and-mouse mini-game, in this adventure, it means you're going to have to learn a basic programming language. The aging IGF build I've played makes this abundantly clear early on. When the tutorial level begins and you ghost up alongside a speeding train on your sick hacker motorbike as Clair de Lune wafts over the soundtrack, there are no enemies to face and no low walls to stick yourself to, just a series of numbered doors and hatches to access and then open as you make your way towards your objective.
You wander around the chunky, colourful, espionage-chic 3D environments in the first-person, but you can also throw your computer deck down on any handy surface and start typing away. The deck's a beauty: an old clickety-clackety keyboard and Moire-riddled CRT display that unfolds with a gentle complexity from a tan-coloured briefcase, and once you've booted it, you can type simple commands that allow you to pop open a skylight in the ceiling, say, or turn off a CCTV camera so you can sneak past. Each level is two levels, two worlds - there's the tangible, and the electronic, and you must navigate them both.
Complexity comes thick and fast, I suspect. After that first mission, you're sent into increasingly circuitous environments filled with security systems that send out alarms if you turn them off for too long. Swiftly, you've gone from playing idly with the environment as you explore to planning a spectral run through it, in and out as fast as you can: three seconds on that door, cameras off for five, two seconds on the lasers and then another second to get the final lock open.
All of this is already delivered with the kind of glamour and humour only Brendon Chung can master, too. The locations look like super-spy bachelor pads from the likes of Get Smart or Danger Man, while even the simplest piece of furniture has a kind of lavishness to the way its defining details are made to fit with the rich colours and basic shapes of the block-headed art style. One day, Chung's going to render a sunken lounge set across from gratuitously amber drapes and the whole wide world will gently iris out to the sneaking baseline from the Peter Gunn theme.
He's our Henry Mancini, then, and he's taking his time: Quadrilateral Cowboy was my choice for the game I was most anticipating in 2013, too. Looking back, I even used that same line about mini-games and QTEs when I wrote about it.
No bother. I can wait for a game that sees Chung blending the bristling systemic nouse of games like Flotilla with the sly, evocative storytelling of Gravity Bone and 30 Flights. In fact, I'm going dark on this until it's safely with us. The security wires are cut and the unmarked van's idling across the street from the bank: don't let me down, Chung, don't let me down.