Blade Runner Review

Blade Runner is an interesting mood piece, but somewhere along the production line, someone forgot to include a game.

Westwood Studios has been extremely vocal about how its adaptation of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner would revolutionize the adventure genre. Touting it as "the first real-time adventure game" and promising a "constantly changing plot," the designers have made numerous claims about how the game's characters and story would be unpredictable, creating an entirely new experience. Unfortunately, almost none of the claims are true. Blade Runner is an interesting mood piece, built upon some very detailed graphic work and an interesting premise - but somewhere along the production line, someone forgot to include a game.

The events of Blade Runner, the game, take place in November 2019, precisely the time of Blade Runner, the film. The storyline itself is strikingly similar: You assume the role of Ray McCoy, a Blade Runner who hunts down a scourge of replicants hiding out in Los Angeles. The leader of this gang is a philosophical, brooding sort named Clovis who wants to find a way to extend his factory-provided four-year life span and sulks around, pointlessly quoting William Blake and steadfastly protecting his "family," a motley assortment of other replicants. One of Blade Runner's "constantly changing plot" elements is that, with repeated playings, different characters will be replicants. And McCoy may or may not be a replicant himself (a plot element that was subtly hinted at in Scott's film), and every character seems to say "What about you, McCoy?" at some point or another.

The story itself is relatively static, though the course of events is slightly altered by the choices you make throughout. Most of the major events will take place no matter how you play, though the ending and the last few scenes of the game will be different (there are over a dozen different endings, but they are slight variations on three major themes). The designers have chosen a strange way to affect the plot - your behavior in the game actually affects your fate. Sympathize with the replicants, and you will turn out to be one. Kill 'em all, and you'll find commendations from your superiors at the end (a strange sort of anti-Calvinist fatalism that can send the mind reeling if pondered too long). The strange thing about Blade Runner is that there's no real way to lose, just as long as you finish the game. Although it's an interesting structure, it has its inherent problems. To justify the number of wildly different endings, the designers have tried to keep some elements of the story very vague for the bulk of the story. But even with these safeguards, there are always a number of confusing contradictions and loose ends no matter how the story winds up.

Despite the claims to the contrary, Blade Runner does not take place in real time (and even if it did, it wouldn't be the first - Broderbund's The Last Express came before it and actually lived up to the claim). The passage of time has no impact on the game; as in most adventure games, all events are triggered by key actions. If there's a bomb in a lab, detonation isn't an issue until you actually enter the room. If a character tells you to meet him somewhere in the game, he will immediately be at the agreed upon location and won't leave until you get there. The only actions that don't follow this trend are some random character locations, which aren't even really random. Some characters are either in one location or they aren't anywhere at all. Simply walking offscreen and returning a few times is all it takes to make them appear.

Technically the game is a mixed bag, combining well-rendered backgrounds with incredibly pixelated sprite-based characters. The ambient music fits comfortably with the moody environments, while the voice acting ranges from competent to downright uncomfortable (and the characters have a strange habit of repeating awkward gestures over and over again at inappropriate times).

Perhaps Blade Runner's biggest flaw, though, is its most glaring: It's simply not much of a game. There are only a few honest-to-goodness puzzles, and not very interesting ones at that. You get to assemble all sorts of clues and information, but, because of the automated nature of the game, it never comes into play. There's no real interface, just a cursor that indicates possible movement paths and changes color when you can interact with an object or character. Simply clicking on everything will take you from the opening scene to the end, with only one or two possible stumbling blocks along the way. The most interesting aspect of the gameplay is that you can use the tools of the Blade Runner trade - the Voigt-Kampff test ("you see a tortoise...") to interrogate suspected replicants and the Esper device to enhance photographic images. And while this could have led to an interesting "work is fun" structure, a la Spycraft, these elements aren't utilized enough. Finally, the game is only a few hours in length. The first run through the game's four CDs won't take even the most inept gamer more than a dozen hours, and subsequent plays will last less than a quarter of that.

The designers have managed to invoke the mood of the film, re-creating a neon-lit Los Angeles constantly bombarded by rain. The perennial Blade Runner images are here, including the winking woman in the Coca-Cola billboard and vehicles flying over the flaming smokestacks of the industrial outskirts. Unfortunately, most of what's interesting about the game is exactly what was interesting about the film, and not much was done to extend the concepts or explore them any further. Fans of the film will undoubtedly overlook the game's flaws and enjoy living the life of the Blade Runner, even if it only lasts a few hours. But those who are awaiting the next generation of adventure games are advised to keep waiting.

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