Great games: Blade Runner (1997)

In 1997 Westwood released an adventure game I consider to be among the best of its genre. This game was a licensed game based the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah and Sean Young among other well-known names.  And I'll write more about the movie on some other time. And maybe I'll even throw a line or two about the Philip K. Dick novel as well.

The first crime scene and the beginning of the story

Just like the movie, the game takes place in a rain-soaked Los Angeles, where a group of rebel replicants runs amok, trying to get their hands on the secrets of replicant mortality and how to get more life. Unlike the movie, you don't control Deckard, but a rookie Blade Runner, Ray McCoy. The case you run does have connections to the movie case though, as it's taking place roughly the same time the movie is. You even get to see a lot of same places and even some of the characters from the movie, but sadly not all voiced by the same actors.

If you love (like I do), or even have seen the movie, it will be easy to slip in the same world again. The developers have made a lot of effort creating the familiar places and vehicles into a close resemblance to the movie originals. There's the constant rain, pouring down the streets, the sound effects and music cues straight from Vangelis, even including some of the famous tunes from the movie itself. There's the Voight-Kampff tests you can do and the Esper photo machine you can use to examine photos more closely. All in all, it is all about being a cop in the world of Blade Runner in the track of replicants.

One of the many familiar locations from the movie, the bar of Taffey Lewis, where Deckard finds Zhora. You'll also see an outside view of the street the clubs are located.

Unlike many other adventure games, Blade Runner can be very forgiving. Despite you are a cop looking into a case the game doesn't expect you to find every bit of evidence. There are other cops in the world as well, who can find stuff you miss and the game can continue from there. It also adapts to your choices and the things play out a bit differently depending on what you have found and who you might have interrogated.

Conducting the famous Voight-Kampff test for a suspected
replicant. Some of the questions come directly from the movie.
The police work is overall very nicely executed in Blade Runner. Every crime scene you go into feels like a subject of real investigation. You try to locate at least the most obvious pieces of evidence, get the needed information from the witnesses and then continue on examining the evidence you've collected and probably checking out the police mainframe for the pieces you have missed and what other Blade Runners have run into on their investigations. This isn't surprising though, as evidently, Westwood picked the brains of Police Quest creator, an ex-cop himself, Jim Walls about how investigations would roughly go in real life. And like or hate Police Quest games, they do take the procedure of investigation seriously.

As Blade Runner is an adventure game of the 90's, you'd expect it to have a lot of illogical puzzles and all kinds of moon logic, but that's not the case at all. The puzzles revolve mostly around trying to crack the case, in one way or an another. It's in a sense, and in practice as well in many cases, more cinematic game than many other adventures of its time. The story flow is one important aspect of the whole thing.

The most ingenious thing about Blade Runner is though, that it has an element of randomness. Each time you start a new game the game draws a lot of whom of the characters really are and are not replicants. This effects on how you proceed in the case. It also has several different endings which you reach by simply investigating the case in a bit different manner as well. You can end up being a replicant yourself. Overall Blade Runner has 12 different endings. There are two locations where the endings can take place, but each location has 6 different variations all depending on your choices made during the game.

The art of the game looks pretty good as well, especially for a pre-rendered mid 90's game. There's nothing particularly interesting about the background art itself, they're just pretty nice looking 3D renders, some of which are based directly on the movie itself, just like many of the props and cars and people you see all around. The most interesting thing about the art is, that the game used voxel-based characters for the 3D models, making them look a lot better than your average sharp triangle based 3D models did at the time.
The police department. At times the artwork follows the movie so closely, that even some of the camera movement for the room transitions or in-game cinematics takes cues directly from the movie.

Voxel lady dancing in a bar.
The drawback of the use of voxels instead of more traditional 3D meshes is, that despite for the time they did look better, you also couldn't have 3D acceleration on it, so the game couldn't take an advantage of 3D cards which were gaining popularity back then. Also, as voxels are just 3D pixels, the characters at times look like walking hunks of pixels. Very nicely animated in any case.

I hadn't played Blade Runner for nearly a decade before I took on this new playthrough. I was fully expecting to be disappointed by it, but in the end, it holds up very well. So well in fact that I'm not ashamed to call it one of the best games I've played, especially on the adventure games genre. On a side note, if you're trying to install BR on a modern, 64-bit system, you'll need this custom installer. Just follow their instructions and you're golden, as the game itself purrs like a kitten even under Windows 10.

Does it have its own share of issues? Sure. There are bugs here and there, nothing game crashing or breaking more than they are hard edges left unfixed. There are a couple of occasions the game might assume you've done something you haven't yet and McCoy's inner voice might be a bit off or runs ahead. The issues aren't serious and I wouldn't be surprised if there's an official patch on them somewhere around the net. Though in some cases it might be just caused by an oversight of anyone not writing more coherent dialogue for some points of the game. But as said, those things are minor annoyances more than they are huge issues. The more groanworthy issues are the occasional pixel hunting and the possibility of dying if you're not paying full attention at times when you enter a scene. But then again, you could argue the pixel hunting is only logical when you are examining a crime scene.

Sadly enough Blade Runner is not sold anywhere legally at this moment, so I can't point you any other legal way to obtain it but eBay or some other site where you can find used games. Or maybe you'll be lucky at second-hand stores. But if any game deserves a re-release, it is Blade Runner.

The movie had a snake dancer, the game has a dragonfly dancer. She might or might not be a replicant.