Tuesday 17 January 2017

Games: Riding with keyboard cowboys

Quadrilateral Cowboy, (PC/Mac) 5 Stars, Age:7+

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter

If nothing else, QC wins plaudits for best name ever. But that playful title conceals an audacious heist caper, its retro aesthetic melding text adventures with complex visual puzzles.

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Your band of hackers for hire takes on a string of infiltrations and thefts, manipulating the buildings' security measures - doors, laser trip-wires, cameras, etc - via typed commands on a portable computer. There's a great dual physicality to the gameplay, requiring you devise a route to your target and type in a series of timed hacks (open door, shut off laser, deploy gadget, etc) before actually moving your character through the obstacles as the code runs.

Equally engaging are the backstory vignettes between missions, deftly sketching the relationships between the all-female cast with nary a word of dialogue.

QC stumbles a little towards the end, its grand series of ideas not quite coalescing as expected. But its memorably weird world will lodge in your brain in a way that won't let go.

Hyper Light Drifter

(PS4/XO/PC) 4 Stars Age: 7+

Style and substance fuse into one compelling whole for this gruelling Zelda-esque dungeon explorer. HLD features exquisitely drawn 16-bit visuals, a delicate soundtrack echoing Vangelis in full Blade Runner mode and an intriguingly opaque storyline.

While explaining precisely nothing, HLD (pictured) expects you to learn to navigate a mazy world and conquer a stream of enemies with only a simple dash move, an underpowered gun and a slash attack. And just when you think it's too tough, you meet one of the frightening bosses.

It's a shame this pitiless difficulty curve ramps so sharply because HLD has beauty and magic to spare. Even while hopelessly lost, you'll find something to admire.

Abzu

(PS4/XO/PC) 3 Stars Age: 7+

Like an abstract take on snorkelling or scuba diving, Abzu immerses the player in the ocean's hidden depths with a magical mystery tour of coral, fish and a hint of human influence.

What feels like a series of interconnected aquariums often looks enchanting, enhanced by a soaring soundtrack. But Abzu's strictly linear progression and shallow mechanics hamper its reach for deeper meaning and connection to the player.

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