Monday, 24 February 2014

Blade Runner (PC)

Blade Runner pc title screen
I'm through with 'A' games now, so this week I'm moving up to games beginning with the letter 'B', starting with another game request: Westwood's 1997 adventure game Blade Runner.

Amazingly it took 15 years for a proper Blade Runner game to get made, though developers like Hideo Kojima had been... paying homage to it the best they could in the meantime. Well okay there is another game called Blade Runner released in 1985 for 8-bit computers, but it's actually based on the soundtrack to the movie. Seriously, it's stated to be a "video game interpretation of the film score".

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that Westwood's game came out a few months after the Director's Cut DVD of the movie, but it certainly seems like good timing. Sadly I'm not going to be able to compare the game to the film, as I've somehow neglected to ever watch it. There's two theatrical cuts, a TV cut, a workprint cut, a Director's Cut and a Final Cut, and I haven't seen any of them. I know it stars a detective called Rick Deckard who definitely is/isn't a robot and I know where the Millennium Falcon is hidden amongst the skyscrapers, but other than that...

Actually you know what, I'm not going to half-ass this for once; I'm going to use this article as an excuse to finally watch the film for the very first time before I play the game, right now! Such is my commitment to excellence and my dedication to providing insightful commentary... or maybe I'm just trying to put off having to write about the game for a bit longer. Either way this article may now also include MOVIE SPOILERS.

(Click the pictures to... see them in exactly the same res as they are now. Sorry, but this one's stuck at 640x480.)


TWO HOURS LATER.


Blade Runner opening crawl pc game
Hey the game has the same opening crawl as the film, even down to the words 'off-world' and 'Earth' having their capitalisation switched. It explains how Replicants were created by man to perform slave labour off-world, although they look and feel human. After a bloody mutiny by a top of the line Replicant combat team in one of the off-world colonies, it became open season on any Replicants trying to hide out on Earth disguised as a human. The phrases "slave labour" and "it was called retirement" pretty much give away where the movie's sympathies lie on this from the get go.

I've read that in the original novel by Philip K. Dick, the special police squads were instead bounty hunters who worked under the name of... bounty hunter. This apparently wasn't interesting enough for Ridley Scott though, who decided in the end to acquire the title of a book called The Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse, which is about a guy who... runs blades (you know, like a gunrunner, except for black market surgical equipment.) So there was a point where the title actually made sense.


LOS ANGELES. NOVEMBER, 2019.


Blade Runner pc game fire towers city
Man, Los Angeles has gone a bit downhill in five years. Don't get me wrong, I'm liking the creative skyscraper designs and it's nice to see they're moving away from rectangles there, but I can't help but wonder if surrounding them with an endless field of industrial towers continuously blasting fire into sky was a wise move. Sure they look pretty metal, but perhaps trees would've been the way to go here, for the sake of air quality if nothing else.

This sure looks like an iconic shot straight from the movie, but as far as I can tell this is actually a meticulous CGI recreation. Even the advert footage on the building is new. It's pretty amazing to me the amount of effort they've gone through to make this look just right.

Blade Runner Blu Ray screencap (click to see the uncropped original).
1997 CGI wasn't quite up to the task of matching one of the most visually impressive movies ever made, but they sure came close.

(If you're curious about where the game lies in the great scheme of visual effects, it came out during the year of the first Starship Troopers movie, Final Fantasy VII, season 3 of ReBoot and season 4 of Babylon 5.)

From a company famous for using live action cutscenes, that ain't a bad looking 3D character.

Despite being called Blade Runner it doesn't seem to be following the storyline of the movie, which kind of irritates me to be honest. Not because I wanted it to be a retread of the film, but because they didn't give it a subtitle to give it its own unique identifier. I know that would make it seem a step removed from the film, but... well, it is; it's a bloody spin-off story! Blade Runner Gaiden, there you go.

The game begins with the purple haired teenager sheepishly trying to leave the high class pet shop she works at and go home for the night, while her boss pressures her to do something she isn't comfortable with. Nothing is spelled out, but I'm not getting good vibes from this guy, that's for sure.

He's holding a bird by the way, just like Roy Batty does at the end of the film! I'm really glad I watched the movie now as it means that I can provide important insights like these. I get the feeling we're supposed to suspect that the girl is a Replicant, given her resemblance to Pris from the movie, but who knows?

This guy's definitely a Replicant though.

He invites himself into the shop, breaks the owner's wrist, snaps the bird's neck, and then starts quoting from The Tyger. I get the impression he's not too happy about something, but he doesn't feel like elaborating on that just yet. A second man with a meat cleaver approaches one of the cages and the camera cuts away to the sound of gunshots and screaming monkeys.

Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard character is nowhere to be seen, instead I'm playing as a far less reluctant cynical hard-boiled Blade Runner detective called Ray McCoy, who has a fondness for narration and even his own police spinner to drive around in. Poor Deckard was stuck driving around in a non-flying car for the film, which surprised me considering how famous the spinner is.

McCoy's boss explains that he has a job for him investigating the pet shop incident, but make it clear that he's only getting this chance because the other Blade Runners are either busy or hospitalised. He doesn't mention Deckard, but he says that Holden is sucking dinner through a straw, presumably due what happens to him at the beginning of the film. I'm reasonably sure now that this isn't a prequel.

Alright then, the intro's over and I've hit gameplay.

This was advertised as "The first real time 3D adventure game," but the only thing real time generated here on screen is the characters. They're actually created with voxels instead of polygons though, which is a rare trick often used instead for landscapes, but if that's what they had to do to get the game looking this good without a 3D accelerator card in 1997, then I can't argue with the results. It's a bit weird though how they've draw attention to the reflections in the street, as it makes it more obvious that the characters don't have one. Possible foreshadowing to the revelation that McCoy is a vampire instead of a Replicant?

I tried playing around with the mouse buttons and managed to accidentally draw my pistol. That could've gotten awkward fast, though it's proven impossible to convince McCoy to actually shoot at anything here. I'm blaming Asimov's three laws (of vampirism).

Hey I'm carrying a PDA thing around with me, called a KIA. I don't remember this thing showing up in the movie, and if it did, it definitely wasn't giving Deckard any volume or gamma options.

That row of faces seems to be a way to pre-select my character's responses in dialogue, which is... well it's innovative at least. I suppose I could click the 'surly' button and have McCoy automatically get in everyone's face, see how far that gets me, but I think I'll go with 'user choice' this time.

The 'Designer Cut' option apparently strips in game dialogue down to only the clues, to speed up second playthroughs. It's crazy that they thought of that but apparently neglected to include a subtitles option. 

Whoa, the pet shop owner survived! I am honestly surprised. Shame about his animals though.

I was expecting to have to choose the tone of my responses during conversation, Alpha Protocol style, but instead I've been clicking on the owner over and over to ask the next question automatically. This dialogue choice box you're seeing on screen right now took a while to appear.

It's definitely a point and click adventure, but there's no commands. Instead my cursor turns green when it's over something I can interact with, then I click to talk/pick it up. It's a busy screen though, with a lot of objects around, so I'm having to sweep the cursor back and forth scanning for clues I can click on.

I have found... a roll of chocolates. Great detective work there McCoy.

Oh hang on, there's a something on the floor as well, on the right of the chair. A chopstick wrapper with an address on it. If the girl had anything to do with this attack (and the owner is sure she did) then I should probably be using this to look for her.

Okay this is cool; the KIA has a database of all the clues I've collected so far. I can click on anything in the list to replay McCoy's comment about them when he picked them up. I can even replay important conversations, which is a really nice feature to have.

Damn, it gets better. I can sort clues to show only the ones that are connected to a specific suspect, and filter them further to display evidence pointing to them being a Replicant or human. The jury is still out on Lucy the fugitive pet shop assistant, but I've at least found enough now to follow up on.

Time to return to my spinner.

I've got four destinations to choose from so far: the pet shop, the police station, McCoy's apartment, and the Chinese restaurant that the chopstick was from.

I also collected a security footage disc from the shop though which I can probably read at McCoy's place, so I'm conflicted about where to head next. Do I look for the girl or do I try to get some photos printed off to ask people about first?

My stomach says... go to the restaurant.

Hey, it's the same place that Rick Deckard likes to eat at in the movie! What are the chances of that? Asking around doesn't get me very far though, so it seems like I've wasted my time coming here. It doesn't seem like the kind of game where I'll be collecting items to use later, so all I can do is scan for clues and then leave.

I guess I'll check McCoy's apartment next.

Whoa, McCoy has an actual real pet dog! Genuine animals are rare in this dystopian crapsack world and most people have to make do with robot replicas (which is where the title of the original story 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' comes from, but I'm sure you knew that already).

There's no clues here, obviously, so all I can do here really is throw a doggie treat to Maggie and scan this video disc into McCoy's computer.

Only two frames survived the destruction of the camera, so I get to examine them with the photo machine from the movie, drawing a box to zoom in on a sector of the image and then enhance the detail.

It's impressive just how closely this matches up with film. They've replicated the device in all its flickery, jerky, clicking, mechanical 80sness. It's like trying to view images in a internet browser when you have a shitty connection, waiting for the detail to load in. It's just a shame there's not much here worth enhancing.

Hang on, here we go, there was something on the girl's desk shortly before the attack.

Enhance.
Enhance.
Enhance.

Oh, it's a fucking menu to that same Chinese restaurant again. Well there goes all my leads then. The last place on my map I haven't been to yet is the precinct, so I'll fly over and see if anyone there can send me back on track.

Oh right, I forgot that McCoy's precinct looks like something out of Star Wars. I guess when architects realised that they were living in a futuristic dystopian hellhole trapped in eternal twilight, they decided to just go wild. Who cares if your police station turns out to look like an oppressive black sci-fi monolith, that's what every skyscraper looks like these days! Plus the smog is so bad that it has to be covered in random lights or else things would be forever crashing into it.

In fact the air's so bad in this city that you're lucky if you can see the other side of a room.

Also look, I'm in another place from the movie! No it's not Union Station, it's actually the ground floor of the police precinct, viewed from pretty much the same angle as in the film. Don't ask how there can be windows on either side of this room when the building is clearly much wider than this on the outside, there's probably just a big light on the other side of them. I mean what's out there to look at anyway?

Man, they've put a crazy amount of detail into Captain Bryant's office, even down to his microphone collection and scenic lampshade. A whole lot of foreground objects I can't interact with. Though Bryant himself is absent, with another officer standing in for him while he's off being too expensive for the game.

Lieutenant Guzza basically just tells me to piss off and file my clues into the computer upstairs if I've collected anything of value, so coming here wasn't much help. Wandering around the building I also found a shooting gallery and a lab upstairs, so I made sure to get everything I had on me analysed. By that I mean I kept clicking on the lab guy until he ran out of new dialogue.

Down in the basement I came across these cosy looking holding cells, though it must have been a quiet night as the only prisoner here is a pro-Replicant protester. He's part of someone else's case, but I thought I'd harass him anyway seeing as I had nothing better to do. I didn't see much point in bothering with the Voight-Kampff test though, as I already know he's a confirmed human. I'd rather save that until I come across a real suspect.

Actually speaking of suspects, I've just noticed that the chef at the restaurant has appeared in my KIA, suspected of being pet-murderer #2 from the intro. Apparently the clues all lined up while I wasn't paying attention. Alright then, I suppose I'll get to try out the Voight-Kampff test sooner than I thought.

Hey there, have you ever been a Rep... fuck, he poured his boiling soup on me! Man that's going to be uncomfortable when the scolding liquid starts soaking into his clothes. I managed to spill boiling water on my foot five minutes ago so I'm finding it very easy to relate right now.

Oh no, the presumed Replicant is getting away! This is bad news for me, because I can't just shoot him in the back until he's a confirmed Replicant. I'd shoot him in the legs and force him to take the test lying in the alleyway, but I think agony might affect the results.

Well I chased the chef down the streets for a bit, but I think I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere as I've lost him. Still, I did find a license plate from his car in a dumpster. Yay.

Alright I've heard that the game has multiple outcomes, so I've decided to load up a save and try things another way. This time I've chosen to harass the poor protester at the precinct some more and make him take the Voight-Kampff test. This device measures his body's responses to my questions to determine if he's a real sapient flesh and blood organism, or a real sapient flesh and blood organism that was made in a lab (if he's human-built I get to shoot him!)

To carry out the test I apparently click the three buttons on the right, each selects a question with a different level of intensity. I have no idea how I'm supposed to know which to press, so I'm just hitting them at random.

It's funny how this Replicant test is built up to be important in the movie and then is pretty much forgotten about 20 minutes in as Deckard is just given photographs of all the Replicants! I don't get photos however so I'm left to do this the hard way.

And the protester is... human. Aww. Guess I'll go back to the Chinese Restaurant to have a second go at catching that guy then.

This time around I was quick enough to dodge Chef Replicant's surprise special and give chase earlier.

Sorry man, but if you come at me with a meat clever I'm going to gun you down, robot or not. Though by the way he keeps soaking up bullets and asking for more, I'm going to guess this one really is a Replicant.

You know, as Blade Runner inspired adventure game shooting sequences go, this doesn't seem so terrible. I just click on the enemy over and over until he stays down. I'm liking it more than Snatcher's grid-based shooting minigame at least.

On his corpse I find my next clue: a picture... of himself. Well crap, I'm back at a dead end again. I honestly have no idea what I can do now, as I kinda just gunned down my last hope for getting me another lead. I guess all I can do is to go back to everywhere I've been and scan the screen with the cursor to check if I've missed anything.

Actually wait, I think I read somewhere that the game is on some kind of a timer. Maybe if I go to bed that will advance the clock until something new happens!

Oh wow, it's rival Blade Runner Gaff himself, waiting on the roof of my apartment building to chat with me about the Replicant I just retired.

What do you mean you can't see him, he's standing right there next to my spinner!

It's pretty cool of Edward James Olmos to let them use his likeness like this, though that don't sound quite like his voice to me.

The developers have done a pretty good job of making the game accessible to people who have never seen the movie, but they seem to have forgotten to give Gaff an introduction, so I can imagine a lot of players were left wondering who this guy even is. More so than you're supposed to.

Then I get automatically dragged to Ray's balcony so that he can narrate a bit about how his day's been so far. I'm not feeling any great desire to skip it, but it's nice to know that I could if I wanted to (cutscenes as well). The transitions in this are fantastic and very much like the travelling scenes in the movie, but after seeing something 10 times over I kinda feel like I'm done with it.

Oh by the way, I should mention that the game does not use the original Vangelis soundtrack, though it does have Command and Conquer composer Frank Klepacki imitating the style, which seems fair enough to me. I just have to come to terms with the fact that it's not likely that any version of Hell March is going to start playing at any point.

Hey I was right, going to bed triggered a cutscene showing another Replicant attack for me to investigate! I'm back on the right track, or at least I would be if I wasn't turning this off now.


CONCLUSION

Blade Runner... hasn't been a typical point and click adventure game so far; it hasn't involved puzzles, using items on other items, long dialogue trees, or trial and error. It sure involved a lot of sweeping the mouse across the screen trying to figure out what I'm allowed to interact with though.

There seems to be a bit of reactivity to the game, with multiple outcomes, though I'm not sure I like how my mistakes rather than my choices are being used to determine the path I'm on in an adventure game. For all I know I've missed some tiny pixel sized clue already that'll make it impossible for me to get the good ending and I hate that kind of uncertainty. Then again fucking up at every turn and barely scraping together some kind of minor victory at the end would be pretty true to the film now that I think about it.

I gotta say though, they have absolutely nailed the atmosphere and design of this thing. This isn't a shameless crappy movie tie-in, it's a quality piece of work made with a great deal of respect for the source material. It helps that their chosen genre suits the detective story perfectly, as Blade Runner: The First Person Shooter would've probably been a lost cause from the start.

I'm not entirely sold on it yet to be honest, but it hasn't put me off either and I'm curious to see where it's going, so I have to award it a shiny star.


If you have opinions about the game, the film, the novel, my article, this site, or anything else you'd like to say, then feel free to leave a comment in the message box underneath.

Next time on Super Adventures: another game beginning with B. Huge shock.

6 comments:

  1. Wow, totally loved this. I'd always assumed that the game was some half assed shooter that didn't make any sense, for some reason, but now I really want to play it.
    Great article man, really took my mind off things at the sec! Keep them coming :D!!

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  2. Ah, Blade Runner! You bring back sweet memories, Ray.

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  3. There is a savegame compilation floating around if you want to see all the endings without replaying lots and lots (since some elements are actually random).

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  4. You really ought to try and finish this one-of-a-kind adventure game. There was a serious amount of technical work they worked into the game, as well as cameos from the actors of the original film. You can read about some of the technical breakthroughs they had to achieve just to make this game here:

    http://deadendthrills.com/future-imperfect-the-lost-art-of-westwoods-blade-runner/

    A wonderfully-atmospheric and well-made licensed game of a film? And all this back in 1997? "Inconceivable!"

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    1. Well that explains why they had to go to the trouble of recreating all the footage from the film in 3D. Man, the production on that movie really was a mess. Good article though.

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    2. It really gives you an appreciation of all the roadblocks, legal and hardware- or software-related, they had to overcome to make this game, doesn't it? Finishing the game would also show you just how much they managed to cram into the game, including the cameos from the film's original actors (such as Joe Turkel, Sean Young, the late Brion James, William Sanderson, etc.).

      There's a number of interesting themes/issues in the game too. Here's a well-written mini-analysis of the discrepancy between the ethics of the Blade Runner unit and the near-religious focus on having real animals in the BR-verse:

      What we're starting to get into here is the moral ambiguity of a Blade Runner. These Replicants - NEXUS-6 models - they're physically and psychologically almost indistinguishable from normal humans. They've been implanted with false memories, so in their own minds, they're not doing anything wrong. "More Human than Human" is their creator's motto.

      So at what point does an android that walks and talks like a human, started being considered a human?

      Instead, what they have is a police unit dedicated to finding these people and shooting them down in cold blood. At the same time, killing an animal, any animal, is considered monstrous and unthinkable, and warrants the strongest police response. This is a society that has put animal life above that of a near-human, which is where the irony comes in when a couple of Replicants slaughter a pet store at the beginning of the game.


      The original website for that follows below:

      http://lparchive.org/Blade-Runner/Update%207/

      You'll see more stuff like that if you complete the game (perhaps several times since a few plot elements, such as who is actually a replicant or not within the game).

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