Games that time forgot: Blade Runner


I'll tell you about my mother... If you've never seen or heard of the film Blade Runner, do yourself a favor and rent it. It's one of the most well-shot, thought-provoking films ever made, and it's my single favorite science fiction movie. That being said, even if you haven't watched the movie, Blade Runner: The Game is pretty entertaining, albeit in an extremely flawed kind of way. Memories. You're talking about memories. Story Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase - a being virtually identical to a human - known as a Replicant. The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-World as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth - under penalty of death. Special police squads - BLADE RUNNER UNITS - had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant. This was not called execution. It was called retirement. The events of the game parallel those of the movie. Ray McCoy, rookie Blade Runner, is charged to find and retire four Replicants who hijacked a moonbus (exactly what it sounds like) and piloted it back to earth. One of the main themes of the film was the question, "what defines humanity?" The artificial Replicants often showed a stronger lust for life than the "humans" that pursue them, and, as a result, both the characters and the viewer are forced to redefine their definition of what makes a living being a human. This theme is carried over into the game pretty efficiently: every Replicant you meet does not have to be immediately killed (although you can do that). After testing to see whether or not they're artificial (through something called the Voight-Kampff test, which plays out like a kind of minigame), you can talk to them, calm them down, let them run away, or even join them. Many of the human beings you meet are repulsive people, while many of the Replicants are extremely sympathetic--cases in point, a 15 year old named Lucy and a 20 year old stripper named Dektora. You have to make legitimate moral choices during the course of the game. Granted, the choices are pretty well defined (kill this guy, or don't kill him), but the game still manages to translate the thematic message of a film into a totally different medium. In the same way that the message is translated, the visuals and overall narrative style of the movie are transferred as well: Los Angeles still looks like the bleak, vaguely cyberpunk, Asian-influenced dystopia it was in the movie, thanks in no small part to the fact that Syd Mead, who designed the look of the film, worked alongside Westwood Studios during the creation of the game. Additionally, the game is full of voice-over narration from McCoy, resembling Harrison Ford's narration in the theatrical release of the film. I'm not in the business. I am the business. Gameplay Blade Runner is technically an adventure game, but in many ways it's no more interactive than a choose-your-own-adventure book. You run around, talk to people through dialogue trees, collect clues, and use minigame-type gadgets, but you have nowhere near the control one gets in, say, Sam and Max. The inventory items you collect cannot be used for anything other than subjects of conversation with NPCs, you are often times told exactly where you need to go, and McCoy's voice-over narration does all of the detective-work for you. The biggest changes you make are decisions that affect the storyline (the aforementioned decisions of who to kill and who to set free). There are 13 different endings in the game (5 main endings with up to 3 small variances each), and it's totally up to the player as to which one he ends up with. You're not cop, you're little people. Graphically, Blade Runner is similar to many games of its era, in that the environment is composed of a few interactive hot spots hidden in a large, pre-rendered world which is constantly running on an animated loop to give it the illusion of movement and interactivity. It's kind of hard to describe, but if you've ever played Fear Effect, then Blade Runner's graphics work just like that. While it isn't technologically impressive, the game remains relatively pretty-looking considering the prerendered backgrounds are extremely detailed, down to the neon lights and noirish shadows from the movie--even if the characters themselves are pixelated and ugly in comparison to their surroundings. Why You Probably Haven't Played It Because (A) you probably haven't seen the movie, (B) the game isn't so much a game as it is an interactive movie, and (C) when presented with the first two facts, there's very little chance you're going to shell out 40 bucks for it. Blade Runner came out a roughly the same time as a much higher-profile adventure game, The Curse of Monkey Island and both games tanked pretty miserably. I can't really tell a big, tragic, The Last Express-esque story for the failure of this game, because I'm quite honestly surprised that it was even made in the first place:the market wasn't really hungering for any more adventure games, much less one based on an underperforming sci-fi art film from 1982. And yet, it was made anyway. The game also got extremely mixed reviews. Some critics loved the style and the story despite, or even because of, the lack of interactivity, while some critics understandably hated it because, apart from the major plot decisions, the game is almost unforgivably linear. The game even managed to divide fans of the source material. While the game remains true to the look, feel, and meaning of the original film, it intersects with it far too often for many gamers' tastes. For example, in the film, the Replicants that Deckard is chasing hole up in the hotel Bradbury, and he has to climb up a dresser to get to a hole which leads him to the roof. In the game, which takes place at the exact same time as the movie, the Replicants that McCoy is chasing hole up in the hotel Bradbury, and he has to climb up a dresser to get to a hole which leads him to the... And that moment isn't alone in being ridiculously similar to a scene from the film. Not only is the method with which the Replicants return to earth almost identical to the way they do so in the film, but entire conversations are almost directly ripped: Tyrell tells the exact same things to McCoy in the game that he does to Deckard in the movie, as does Gaff (a veteran Blade Runner). The number of parallel scenes, and the degree to which they are ripped off, go well beyond the level of mere "homage," and into the realm of "the developers were too lazy to come up with something new so they ripped off the film's story and used slightly different characters". All those moments will be lost. Like...tears...in rain. That being said, if you've never seen the movie, the game holds up really well. When I first got this game (I think I was about 11 or 12), I didn't even know there was a movie, but that didn't stop Blade Runner from becoming one of my all-time favorite adventure games. So, given that the game is too unpopular to be pirated, should you try to find it? If you're looking for a fantastically involving adventure game, I'd advise against it. However, if you're a die-hard fan of the movie, if you have an interest in a linear game with a nonlinear storyline, or you just want to see something atmospheric and really, really story-driven, then it might be worth the 6 or 7 bucks it typically goes for on eBay.

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Anthony Burch
Anthony BurchContributor   gamer profile

Lead writer of Borderlands 2, curator of  more + disclosures



Filed under... #Games Time Forgot



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