Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blade Runner (video game)

Platform: PC
Developers: Westwood Studios
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: November 21, 1997

Every now and then, you'll play a game that was way ahead of it's time. Something that pushes boundaries, but may be overlooked. Something very special.

One of those games is the PC Blade Runner, released a staggering fifteen years after the movie. True to form, just like it's film counterpart, it was something special, something ahead of the times, even if it was unfortunately overlooked.

Part of the reason it may have been overlooked is an unfortunate one. Remember the Adventure genre? Yeah, I didn't think so. Neither does anyone else. This is an Adventure game through and through; and the unfortunate truth is that by the time of this games release, the genre in general was slowly circling the drain. With the advent of 3D shooters such as Quake and the Doom's, things were becoming more frenzied. Most games began to rely on 3D accelerators to provide then state of the art imagery. There wasn't much room in gamers hearts for the old point and click adventures; everything from the Leisure Suit Larry's to the cult hit Sam & Max games slowly faded away.

Then, a bit late to the party when it came to the success of it's genre, came Blade Runner.

We'll start with the visuals; which when put into context is undeniably impressive. At a time when games were being released with taxing minimum system specs for the computers of the time, Westwood went a different route. They came up with their own modifications that allowed Blade Runner to use 3D visuals without need for an upgraded computer. It's modest minimum system specs meant that this was a game most anyone could play. It also resulted in 3D models for the characters, something no longer uncommon, but outright baffling with the minimum specs the game required to run. Unfortunately, they are not the most heavily detailed as a result; the minimalist pixilated models tended to clash to some degree with the flashy environments the characters found themselves in. Irregardless, it was remarkable technology that was ahead of it's time.

Thankfully, these models don't detract from what are some of the most stunning pre-rendered backgrounds for the time. When I went into this old game, I wasn't quite expecting what I got. Many locales recognizable from the film are recreated with loving detail, everything rain slicked and awash in blue light. Blimps will sail by in the sky, advertising the off-world colonies like in the movie, spinners soar by as you talk to the people on the ground. It's spectacular work; it's not everyday that an old game from a long time ago will impress irregardless of the amount of time that has passed.

In speaking of things being recreated with loving detail in the spirit of the movie, that extends to the characters. If you've ever watched the movie, some very recognizable faces will show up and converse with you. That's great enough on it's own, but it's a real treat when you realize that Westwood went out and got most of the original actors to voice their old roles. It helps with the immersion, helping you truly believe you are in the world the film introduced us to.

The story itself is strong as well; very strong. In this game, you do not play as the star of the movie as so many other movie licensed games do. In fact, this game's story runs parallel to the story of the movie in order not to mess with established cannon. This means that while you will not be playing as Deckard, the replicant hunting Blade Runner from the film, you might just catch a glimpse of him here or there if you're really looking, not to mention hear NPC's speak of his recent activities. All this is a nice treat, allowing the game to skirt around during the time the movie takes place in without ever disrupting it.

So with Deckard out, this leaves us with a new protagonist. A relatively new Blade Runner himself, Ray McCoy has been on the job a short time when the case that will change his life crops up. There has been a slaying at a pet shop; a group of replicants have slain all the pets in the store, which is as much of a travesty as killing a human in 2019 Los Angeles, where real animals are terribly rare and expensive compared to the artificials. Deckard has already set out on his task, Holden is in the hospital and Captain Bryant is away, leaving the investigation to you. From there, it's a hunt to discover if these people are truly replicants, who is a replicant and to track them down through the events of the game. Depending on how you play, Ray might find that he himself is not quite what he believes himself to be.

That's right, I said "depending on your actions". Based on how you approach situations, the lines of questioning you perform and the overall way you progress, the game will give you one of up to thirteen different endings. This was downright unheard of at the time; most games gave you a straight quest line from start to finish in this era, making it unique; as if a new adventure game in 1997 wasn't unique enough.

The gameplay itself is tried and true Adventure genre fare. Point and click; your character goes to that spot. Click on something, your character investigates. You gather clues as you go that help you progress through the storyline; depending on what you find and do, this can help determine your ending. There are also nice nods to the film in the gameplay, such as the Voight-Kampf machine used to detect replicants; you'll be using that in your quest just like old Deckard.

Combat also plays a role. It's not horribly varied, but it doesn't need to be. Combat is not a horribly large facet of the game in itself; there will be times when it is needed. Often, this will be how you take down a replicant; they simply do not go down without a fight and can kill you if you're not careful. It's a simple matter as well; you simply right click on your mouse to draw your gun, point at the target and shoot. On the plus side, if you need something with a bit more kick, you can buy stronger ammo not long into the game.

The sound is classic Blade Runner. The game replicates some of the spellbinding music Vangelis composed for the film, popping in at opportune times. It's not the full sound however; it was songs from the film generated through typical video game music formats of the time. Go out on the balcony of your apartment and you'll hear the unforgettable Blade Runner Blues. When the end titles crop up, the end titles theme of the film suitably flares through your speakers. Others will pop up from time to time as well. It's a comforting addition to the atmosphere on the whole; coupled with the voice acting, the games sound is top notch, especially for the time. Together this all makes one hell of a package with surprising replay value.

My Opinion: Play It

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