LICENSE TO THRILL?: Blade Runner (1997)

Is Westwood’s fondly-remembered adaptation of Ridley Scott’s classic worth another look or should it be retired? 

Who made it?: Westwood Studios (Developer), Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Publisher).

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure.

Platform: PC.

Format: 4 CD-ROMs.

Released: November 21, 1997.

Blade Runner is now over thirty-years-old. It feels like its always been there, going from that typical feeling of indifference (a familiar reaction for first-timers) to outright adoration. It is a film that rewards you deeply with each revisit. 2007′s “Final Cut” only solidified my opinion. As filtered through the staggering visual language of Sir Ridley Scott, director of Alien (1979), it was – and remains – a masterpiece of cerebral artistry. It was the world envisioned by Philip K. Dick while writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, if not the story.

Blade Runner is the film that keeps on giving. It has been oddly productive in that thirty-plus years since it flopped at the box office. There was a greatly-received “Director’s Cut” in 1992 that wasn’t actually supervised by Scott, and a growing appreciation for the film’s many merits. But did you know that Westwood, the company responsible for Command & Conquer, developed a point-and-click adventure game based on it? Believe it or not, I had this forgotten classic on PC back in the day, and I’m here to tell Blade Runner fans to hunt down a copy. If this isn’t one of the greatest licensed games ever, then I don’t know what is.

Westwood’s Blade Runner is a pretty uncanny recreation of the film. Once again, we find ourselves in 2019 Los Angeles, a place of perpetual darkness and rain. It opens just like the motion picture, even with that handy dictionary definition of a Replicant; renegade cyborgs who must be “retired” by specialised detectives, or Blade Runners. The movie had Deckard (Harrison Ford), a tortured soul who took his work a little too seriously. Naturally, he’s nowhere to be found here. In one of the game’s smarter moves, the plot runs parallel to that of the film. We follow rookie protagonist Ray McCoy (voiced by Mark Benninghofen), a wise cracking and good-natured hero. He’s has none of Deckard’s broodiness, which was a wise move. McCoy is tasked with retiring a group of “skin-jobs” who are suspected of murdering animals. Because most species are now extinct in this dystopian future, real creatures are a desirable commodity (a key plot-point in the novel that was only hinted at by Scott). The player controls McCoy as he makes his investigations and gets ever closer to putting those walking toasters down.

The game gets almost everything right from the opening cutscene, one of the many outstanding “movie moments” to be seen in Blade Runner. Not only do they ape Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography to a tee, but composer Frank Klepacki weaves in the familiar Vangelis themes to appreciative effect. Coupled with exacting recreations of locations from the movie, including the vast Tyrell Corporation and the familiar police station, Westwood more than met the challenge of bringing this universe to your desktop. The game excels at capturing its source’s atmosphere, and for that we must applaud it.

Characterisation is smartly defined and is perhaps a little stronger than the story itself, which occasionally makes the mistake of mimicking the movie too closely. McCoy can be considered more archetypal than Deckard, but he’s just different enough to interest. He also has great interplay with other characters in the story, including his pink-haired colleague Crystal Steele (House‘s Lisa Edelstein). The main antagonist is also interesting. Voiced by Drake from Aliens, Mark Rolston, Clovis is the game’s equivalent of Nexus 6 Replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). He’s eloquent as well as being a cold-blooded killer, providing a formidable opponent when McCoy finally catches up to him.

Although Ford isn’t present, the developers were able to entice several actors to reprise their roles; Sean Young as Rachael, the late Brion James as Leon Kowalski, James Hong as Hannibal Chew, Joe Turkel as Eldon Tyrell, and William Sanderson as J.F. Sebastian. You’ll also see Deckard’s fellow origami-obsessed Blade Runner, Gaff, who is sadly voiced by no-name Victor Gardel and not Battlestar Galactica‘s Edward James Olmos. That’s a forgivable omission, since you can’t dispute Westwood’s commitment to getting the film’s fans what they want.

But enough about superficiality, this is an interactive experience, right? Gameplay in Blade Runner boils down to the usual point-and-click clichés, and like The X-Files Game a year later, it’s very much about detective skills and uncovering clues. You’ll always find your way through trial and error, but thought and common sense is often needed to progress, which is a noble trait in any game. Westwood use the formula exceedingly well. You never feel bored rooting for a lead, especially when the developer throws in movie iconography like the famous ESPER system. Yes, that’s right, you can scan photographs in minute detail just like Deckard, one of the many things that got the geek in me excited way back when. If that wasn’t enough, you can even use the Voight-Kampff test to determine human from Replicant. These additions are more than just fan service – in the latter’s case, it even leads to a few moments of genuine tension.

The actual action in Blade Runner isn’t substantial but what is there makes the experience complete. All you have at your disposal is a standard-issue police pistol, and while the point-and-click dynamic makes aiming a cross-hair relatively easy, enemies can often take you by surprise. Westwood actually handle this aspect of the game gracefully, with enough “set-pieces” to make the search for clues worthwhile.

Graphically, the game has dated better than you have any right to expect if still clearly a product of its time. Billed as the “first real-time 3D adventure game” in 1997, the environments are beautifully-realised and the cutscenes are still well above-average, if showing their vintage. If anything falters to modern eyes, it would the 3D character models. They do stand-out from the background and aren’t as refined as more recent alternatives. That, however, is to be expected and Blade Runner is still very much a visually appealing title.

In summation, Blade Runner must rank as one of the best point-and-click adventure games ever released on the PC, not to mention a contender for the most underrated movie tie-in on CD-ROM. And just like the film, one playthrough isn’t enough. Your choices and the clues you discover can radically alter the plot, and there are no less than thirteen possible endings. That right there is the cherry on top of what is a hugely enjoyable game all these years later. Fervent Ridley Scott fans should definitely give it a spin.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • There are several references to Harrison Ford’s character. When the game begins, Deckard has already been sent off on his own assignment, and the player will encounter numerous references to his activities, although McCoy and Deckard never actually meet, so as to remain consistent with the film’s plot.
  • When visiting the Tyrell building, Rachael mentions that she has already spoken to another Blade Runner and Tyrell himself tells McCoy that “as I explained to Mr. Deckard earlier, I’ve given the Nexus 6 a past.”
  • One of Izo’s pictures, taken at Animoid Row, shows Deckard in the background. While searching the Yukon hotel McCoy discovers Det. Holden’s badge and Guzza questions how Deckard missed it, going on to say, “Deckard, he feels too much, ya’ know? He’s too far along that curve.”
  • NCIS‘s goth crime scene analyst Pauley Perrette plays Lucy Devlin, who witnesses the Replicant’s activities.
  • Sales of the game were in excess of one million.
  • The game was nominated for “Best Adventure Game” of 1997 in the PC Gamer awards in 1998, but lost out to The Curse of Monkey Island. It did however win “Best Adventure Game” of 1998 by the Interactive Achievement Awards.

Dave James

Editor-in-Chief at SquabbleBox.co.uk. Film freak, music minion, professional procrastinator, podcaster, video-maker, all around talented git.

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