Bladerunner - a Retrospective

   09/08/2010 at 15:00       Phil May       6 COMMENTS.
 - Bladerunner, Westwood Studios, Virgin Games, Replicant, Attack ships on fire

Back when PC Gamer was my monthly tome of choice, and Virgin still had a videogames arm that wasn’t about anything as naff as a streamed game service, I remember the creeping feeling of horror when it was announced that the 1982 science fiction film Bladerunner was going to get the videogame treatment.

PC gamer’s coverage of the upcoming film licence gave away very little, but showed some absolutely cracking CGI renders of the familiar world woven around the surreal bones of Phillip K. Dick’s meisterwork “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Making a game out of Bladerunner had been attempted once before, with an absolutely detestable Speccy / C64 game supposedly based around the film’s music, but nonetheless featuring “Deckard” running around blasting “Replicants”.

Westwood’s treatment promised a great deal. Many of the original cast members (excluding Harrison Ford and a couple of other grouches) would be drafted in to reprise their roles wherever possible. Even better news was that Syd Mead would also be brought in to produce the game’s production art and concepts. Mead basically gave the original movie its distinct look and feel, designing a whole world around Ridley Scott’s original request for a few vehicle and prop designs.

After what seemed like a ridiculously long development cycle, the game finally appeared in 1997 at just the right time, to cash in on the feverish demands for PC point and click adventures. Bladerunner promised to offer more than just a Monkey Island type of game, in fact its billing as “a playable interactive movie” was almost justified.

What Bladerunner did was to get the sense of immersion absolutely spot on. When you watch the original 1982 film you’re drawn into the futuristic film noir because it feels all encompassing and complete as a cinematic world. The game similarly drip fed you scant information at the beginning, before hooking you into a substantial and branching plot.

Replacing Deckard, the main hero was a similarly brow-beaten Bladerunner called Ray McCoy. Slightly chirpier and with less mileage than Deckard, McCoy felt like he was pitched as a greenhorn slowly realising the extent to which the morally corrupt police department he worked for had slid into nefarious practices.

The way that you played the game truly determined the final outcome and there were allegedly at least 6 different main endings to the game, and a multitude of branching storylines threaded throughout the plot. Gamers seem to put great stock in the “good vs evil” moral choices in games like Fable or Force Unleashed, but here in Bladerunner you always felt that you’d need several plays through in order to see every single scene.

McCoy starts out on an investigation into a suspected planetfall by a group of Replicants, mirroring the events in the movie. Each crime scene in the game could be interactively scanned and sifted over using the movie’s superb ESPER system – a photographic analysis tool. The game’s version of ESPER was beautifully realised, working exactly like the sequence in the movie where Deckard uses one of Leon’s photographs to uncover the identity of one of the Replicant escapees.

At the time I lost hours to the ESPER, though in hindsight the thing was pretty much a glorified point and click device with very little substance. But it felt right, it worked in the context of the game and most importantly it looked and sounded absolutely spot on, using the designs and the sound effects straight from the film.

In addition to the ESPER machine you could also use the Voigt-Kampff Detector to interview and successfully identify supposed Replicant suspects. This aspect of the game wasn’t quite as satisfying as the ESPER machine but still worked well enough to provide some genuinely chilling moments as you realised that the initial “few” Replicant refugees were more numerous than you’d been led to believe.

Westwood’s team chose to use Voxel technology to render the game’s action scenes. The aim was to make the game properly scalable, to look as good as your PC gaming rig would let it. In practice the game looked fairly rough around the edges in some scenes but thanks to some beautifully drawn backdrops and subtle use of the original movie’s soundtrack and visuals, it still managed to be involving and immersive. Shooting sequences were pretty duff, equating to little more than a glorified version of an on-rails arcade shooter, but the bulk of the game was played in deliciously drawn interactive scenes so the few shooter-centric set pieces were over and done with fairly quickly anyway.

As you picked your own path through the game, it became more difficult to stay on the right side of the law unless you were a cold-hearted bastard. Sympathising with the Replicants would lead you into direct conflict with your superiors and your shapely colleague, Crystal Steele (voiced by the eminently munchable Cuddy from TV’s House).

In an industry where attaching a film licence to a project usually means something hastily slapped together to cash in on a movie’s summer release, Bladerunner is one of the few games that gets positive mentions whenever the sticky subject comes up in conversation. It got far more right than it got wrong, and it managed to stay firmly away from dipping into first-person shooter territory just as the genre was becoming densely populated and polluted by some truly awful games.

Sadly, with the demise of point and click games, no one’s ever bothered to do anything quite as innovative or satisfyingly immersive as Bladerunner in conjunction with a movie licence since, which is a damned shame because you can imagine how amazing a game of this ilk could be given the huge strides in graphics and technology that have appeared since 1997.

For now though, it’s extremely gratifying to find that Bladerunner still works, even on fairly new PCs and operating systems – and still retains the mesmeric atmosphere and darkly twisted soul-searching I remember it having back when I first cracked the cellophane on the game 13 years ago.


Bladerunner (the video game) on IMDB

The Game intro (on YouTube)

Part 1 Walkthrough

User Comments:

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peej - on 09/08/2010 at 18:35 wrote:
As a semi-interesting side note to this, apparently Gearbox's Randy Pitchford wanted to do a Bladerunner game back in 2007. Could've been pretty interesting but I'm still waiting to see if Gearbox ever finish Aliens: Colonial Marines first.


HairyArse - on 09/08/2010 at 19:00 wrote:
I think this was the first ever CDROM game I owned. Didn't actually play it either as I don't think my PC could run it.

DDevil - on 09/08/2010 at 22:00 wrote:
I still have this... I wonder if this will work on Windows 7?

Dragul - on 09/08/2010 at 23:07 wrote:
This would be an awesome addiction to GoG... Never played it... :(

peej - on 12/08/2010 at 10:50 wrote:
This does work on Windows 7 btw but only 32-bit. You can run it quite comfortably on a virtual machine though, it's not very demanding as far as graphics go.

Should just work straight on XP 32 bit or anything older than that.

HoriZon - on 23/08/2010 at 00:41 wrote:
Still have this played it a few years ago. I had to use a program to slow the game down as it was too fast it's also only low res 680x420 or something.

Stilll great enjoyed every miniute of it again, comes on 4 CDs like games used too ;)

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