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Blade Runner: When Westwood dreamt of electric sheep


A look back at the '90s CD-ROM epic

In the wake of Denis Villeneuve's astounding sequel, Blade Runner 2049, people are once again speaking in excited tones about the potential for a new Blade Runner video game experience.

I remember back around 2010, when some mysterious art was leaked for an alleged "in the works" game based on Ridley Scott's original sci-fi classic. Sadly though, nothing came of this. Thus, fans got sad and went back to their hopes and dreams of unicorns, wishing that a dedicated and faithful recreation of Los Angeles 2019 would one day surface.

But, this has already happened, albeit twenty long years ago.

Westwood's Blade Runner, released for PC in 1997, is a point-and-click adventure telling the story of Rep-Detect agent Ray McCoy, assigned to track down a group of Replicants involved in a massacre at a pet store, a crime most heinous in the universe's post-animal times. As McCoy investigates this case, a larger picture unfolds, with murder, mystery and intrigue all combining in the polluted, dystopian world.

Blade Runner goes absolutely out of its way to placate die-hard fans of the 1982 film by faithfully recreating locations, characters and even iconic shots from the movie. It allows the player to visit many of the film's famous (and infamous) locations, and interact with some of its characters, with Sean Young, Joe Turkell, William Sanderson and others returning to provide voices. Snippets of Vangelis' ethereal score soundtrack McCoy's journey into the night.

Behind all this squealing fan service lies a genuinely interesting mystery featuring some legitimate detective work. The L.A. Noire "Do as we say" take on being a gumshoe isn't in effect here. The story and its outcome are directly affected by your ability to spot clues, gather information, squeeze the truth out of suspects and put all the pieces together.

The game has great, immersive sequences involving the photograph-analysing Esper unit and the Replicant-detecting Voight-Kampf machine. These sections are very cool and integral to the design, as what you see and miss in these photographs and interviews can, and will, change the outcome of various character's lives.

Blade Runner's protagonists and antagonists all go about their business in real-time, meaning that fellow agents and seedy crooks can get the better of McCoy, or perhaps even see him as a dangerous threat, based on what you have uncovered during your investigation. Players can even choose to withhold evidence from police records, in order to protect certain characters, or perhaps McCoy himself.

All this street-beating investigation builds toward multiple endings for McCoy, his friends and his enemies, ranging from somewhat cheerful to oppressively bleak, with various stages in-between. This gives the game some solid replay value. I distinctly remember running through it multiple times in a row, looking for all of the branching paths and hidden choices. That's a lotta disc-swapping, kids.

It can't be denied that the game has lost some of its aesthetic charm when viewed on a large HD monitor some two decades later. The backgrounds are looped FMV clips (ala Fear Effect) which makes for a bit of a blurry viewing experience today. The rendered character models, amazing in 1997, are unsurprisingly somewhat robotic in a post-PS4 society.

But, however time has treated this piece of gaming history, Blade Runner remains an unashamed love letter to the fans. By avoiding re-telling the movie's narrative, it allowed Westwood to weave their own tale of death and drama in future Los Angeles. Whilst there are better point-and-click games available, Blade Runner more than fulfilled its purpose, before fading into semi-obscurity, with some still unaware of its existence.

Like all fans of the neo-noir masterpiece, and its more than worthy sequel, I would be very happy to hear that a new Blade Runner title is in the works. You can only imagine what could be created with today's amazing video game technology. Still, even if such a game never emerges, it doesn't really matter. The definitive Blade Runner game has already been made, even if it did end up lost in time..

Like... tears, in rain.

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Chris Moyse
Chris MoyseWeekend Editor   gamer profile

Chris (Orochileona) has been playing video games since video games began... still terrible at them. Former Saturday Night Slam Master, rambles nostalgically like Abe Simpson. I ain't here to figh... more + disclosures



Filed under... #90s kids #Adventure Games #Electronic Arts #PC #Point and click #retro #Sci-fi



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