Note: This review was originally published September 17, 2003
Release Date: November 1997
Early in the 21st Century, the Tyrell Corporation advanced robot evolution into the Nexus Phase C a being virtually identical to a human C known as a Replicant. The Nexus 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers that created them. Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a Nexus 6 team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth C under penalty of death.
Special police squads C Blade Runner Units C had orders to shoot and kill, upon detection, any trespassing replicant. This was not called execution. It was called retirement.
Based loosely upon the film of the same name, Blade Runner takes you on a journey through futuristic Los Angeles in the year 2019. You, Ray McCoy, are a rookie Blade Runner, a specially trained police officer with one purpose: to detect and dispose of rogue replicants. As a rookie, this is your first real case: an animal murder, a crime second only to the murder of humans and if investigating an animal murder as your first case wasn't enough tension, you soon become embroiled in a tangled web of crimes, some less serious - smuggling contraband cheese - and some very serious (like bombing Tyrell-employed geneticists). It becomes your job to connect the dots and figure out how all of these cases are connected, and, more importantly, how they relate to you.
You live and work in Los Angeles, but not the L.A. that we know today. This L.A. is far from Sunny Southern California. After the Terran wars the world was plunged into darkness. Nearly all plant life and animal life other than humans was obliterated. While L.A. is still a thriving metropolis, its streets have taken on an eerie quality. Misty and neon-lit, the streets are littered with reminders of the violent, not-so-distant past. Times seem more desperate, and so do many people. Cars – known as spinners - fly and neon billboards boast of off-world vacation destinations. Each setting has its own unique qualities while still retaining the same basic qualities as the rest of the scenes. Every setting (with the exception of the Tyrell Corporation Building) is dark, dank, and dreary and each scene fits in well with all the others.
The plot of Blade Runner is easy to follow: you are a rookie officer learning the ropes, and your new job takes you down roads you have never before traveled. Well, that's the plot in a nutshell and while it may at first seem drab, rest assured it is not. Every time you play Blade Runner certain circumstances in the game change on their own, and you change others yourself. Every time you encounter a possible replicant you have the choice to VK (Voigt-Kampf, it shall be explained in the next paragraph) them, kill them, or let them walk. Your decisions affect the outcome of the game and, therefore, the game is re-playable. But you must be careful in your explorations of different outcomes, as who's who and what's what also changes with each new game that is started. Someone who you can safely retire in one game could cost you your badge if you shoot them in the next.
Blade Runner is a very straightforward point-n-click game. The icon of choice is the arrow. When Ray encounters an interesting piece of evidence or a witness who may prove to be useful, the arrow turns green. Whenever Ray comes to a place which he can enter or walk to, the arrow moves and turns blue. Ray can also be moved aside to get a better view of objects by clicking on the ground somewhere near where Ray is standing. This is important as Ray sometimes blocks the player's view of a possible clue. By right clicking or pressing your spacebar you can have Ray draw his pistol. (Sorry adventure fans, there's shooting involved.) With pistol drawn, the single arrow turns into a crosshair formed by three arrows. When the crosshair moves over a target, it turns red and rotates.
Whenever a new clue is discovered, it is logged into Ray's KIA (Knowledge Integration Assistant) which can be accessed by clicking on Ray. Images retrieved from video discs or photos are enhanced using the Esper system, which can be found at the police station or at Ray's apartment. The Mainframe Computer System, located in the Esper room at the police station, allows Blade Runners to pool their resources. Any clues that need examined further are left in the very capable hands of Dino in the laboratory at Police HQ. When you have the time and opportunity, it's not a bad idea to determine if the person with whom you're speaking is a replicant. To achieve this goal one would use the Voigt-Kampf test. The Voigt-Kampf is very easy to use, all you have to do is press the buttons in order to ask questions and calibrate reaction time, thus uncovering your suspect's true identity. Just remember to evenly distribute your questions as easy, medium and hard. If you don't, the test results could be incorrect or your suspect could bolt before the results are final.
Then there is the issue of transportation: luckily Ray is an excellent spinner driver. All you need do is click on your destination on the built-in map in your spinner and Ray does all the work for you. All in all I've found that the game is very easy to manipulate. The Esper system can be a bit difficult for some people, but with practice it can be mastered. Also, the options menu can get a bit tricky, but it too can be conquered.
Despite the limited close-ups due to the inadequate technologies of the day, the characters each display their own personality. Interaction allows each character to showcase their individuality through body language and excellent voice acting. Each character also has his own AI system and therefore, own agenda. The game developers did a wonderful job of creating distinct characters with interesting personalities and unique mannerisms; especially given their limited technical capabilities.
For its day Blade Runner had cutting edge graphics. It is the only American-made game in 1997, that I'm aware of, which was completely 3D rendered. The first time I played Blade Runner I was amazed at the realism, and it's still pretty good looking, even by today's standards. However, there are still a few problems with the graphics. The first problem is the characters' faces. During regular game play the characters' faces are indiscernible so that even if their faces had been animated (which they don't appear to have been) you wouldn't be able to recognize their facial expressions anyway. Another problem is that when one character interacts with another, one acts but the other does not react. For example, when Ray is speaking to Mr. Runciter and asks him for the video disc from his security camera, Runciter holds the disc out, but Ray does not reach out to take it. There are also a few areas in the game where it is obvious that Ray is separate from his 3D environment.
There are many sounds that went into the making of Blade Runner, giving it a very rich quality. There is no scene in the game that is soundless. From the seemingly ever-constant rain on the streets, to the Caribbean music at the Kingston Kitchen stand, to the original music found elsewhere in the game, the sounds all fit into and enhance the setting that they accompany. Also, as mentioned previously, the voice acting is excellent. As some of the characters from the Blade Runner movie were used in the game, so too were the original voice actors. The level of the voice acting is superb considering that this is, after all, a computer game. One does not exactly expect award-winning voice acting in a pc game, so the professionalism of the actors was a pleasant surprise.
Overall I found Blade Runner to be one of the most enjoyable games that I've ever played. It had mystery, suspense, ambiance, attitude, and the ability to keep me entertained for hours on end. Every now and again I still get a hankering to play again to see a different ending. Blade Runner is a game which was truly made to withstand the tests of time. If you ever find yourself in a position of decision making involvingBlade Runner, my only advice is to buy it and play it, because you are sure to love it. Now the moment you've all been waiting for (insert drum roll here)...
Final Grade: A