Blade Runner

Developer/Publisher:  Westwood Studios
Year Released:  1997

Review by Rosemary Young (December, 1997)
brun.jpgFirst came the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, then came the movie Blade Runner, and now we have the computer game of the same name. In case you are unfamiliar with the general theme, very simply it's set in a future dystopia where Replicants (androids) are running amok (or fighting for their freedom) and it ponders the question of the rights of Replicants to exist, especially as they are being hounded and 'retired' by professional Blade Runners.

I haven't read the book, but I remember the movie well. It's dark, and forbidding, terrifying might be a better word, and contains some extremely graphic and emotional scenes between hunter and prey, each fighting for their life. Blade Runner the computer game captures the dark atmosphere precisely with the incessant rain; gloomy, mist-clogged streets; stark, flashing neon signs and an overwhelming presence of decay. If you have seen the movie then many of the game locations will be familiar, and so will some of the characters. Still, even though the game successfully creates that feeling of menace, it isn't as graphically violent as the movie . Although there are scenes of mayhem and murder, the muted graphics are such that they aren't too shocking to the senses.

Getting started
The setting of this story is contemporary with the movie. Deckard (Harrison Ford in the movie) is around somewhere, there's evidence of this, but you never see him. Unlike Deckard the main character of Ray McCoy is a rookie Blade Runner, yet to 'retire' his first Replicant. You meet with McCoy as he receives a message to investigate an animal murder in a 'pet shop'. It must have been the work of Replicants because no human would commit such a heinous crime on real-live animals in a world where most cats and dogs are mere Replicants.

Pointedly, this isn't a movie, and Harrison Ford has nothing to do with it. No matter how high the fee, I simply can't imagine him coping with the posturing, juvenile dialogue in the opening sequence. Fortunately this attitude isn't sustained throughout the game, though it does crop up occasionally to taunt you. The whole sequence stamps the game as brimming with 'attitude', written solely for teenagers, when this isn't necessarily the case. Although McCoy is a Blade Runner, and has a gun to prove it, the game need not be about shooting everything in sight. You don't even have to 'retire' Replicants, this is your choice as you can play as a Replicant sympathiser. I played the game through with only one 'retirement' and I didn't even frequent the shooting-range.

The Real McCoy?
Essentially, Blade Runner is an adventure game, not an action game. It is a great asset to be able to play McCoy and to influence his role as the story changes depending on your actions and there are many different endings. Also, various game characters are randomly cast as Replicants or not, and this provides variation with each new game. Ideally, this should mean that you can play the game over and over, although the basic structure doesn't change and many actions will just be repeats.

This game is a third-person perspective adventure and plays more or less like a detective story, and a quite entertaining one at that. As McCoy you must visit various crime scenes, check them out for evidence, and interview suspects. You control the character by pointing and clicking and the cursor will highlight when there is something to be found, which means that you need to run it carefully over the screen to pick up all the clues. As you gather information, more locations become available and so your investigations progress. Blade Runner is promoted as a real-time game, meaning that different things will happen, depending on your actions. However, there is no ticking clock behind the scenes as time progression, as far as I could tell, is triggered by specific actions.

Keeping Track
There's a lot of evidence to collect and a lot of information to organise and for this McCoy will need to use his KIA (Knowledge Integration Assistant). The KIA is particularly useful as it organises everything for you according to crime scene, clues and suspects. It also provides access to game controls and saving and loading functions. There are no subtitles for dialogue (pity) but you can control the sound level to be sure that you hear everything, and you can save as many games as you like.

There are a couple of other options to note, one for level of difficulty which affects the amount of ammunition and cash available, and another option allows control of McCoy's attitude. That is, you can choose polite, normal, surly or erratic and he will automatically ask questions and adopt the chosen attitude. There is also an option for you to manually choose questions.

The gameplay
There is a good deal of interrogation in this game and though you can take the option of asking your own questions, really, there is little choice as you only select from a short list of relevant questions. In this respect you don't actually control conversations and work out the logic for yourself. For instance, if person X has information about a suspect or piece of evidence, then the relevant question will appear, you don't have to deduce for yourself what to ask. Probably very welcome for players who don't like long conversations, but I found it limiting.

Although there a few 'traditional' adventuring problems such as searching crime scenes and getting past an immovable doorman, most of the interest in this game is in listening carefully and deciding where to go, and what to do next. Of course there's also the shooting gallery and there's a number of photos to enhance to find more information. I enjoyed the latter and I wished that a few more locations had security cameras so that I could play around with the enhancer some more.

After a shaky start I quite got into the swing of this game. The story develops with several conspiracies to unravel and the graphics are particularly atmospheric even though the characters are at times quite pixelated. I must admit I found the nightclub location a bit jaded (something especially for the boys) and I question the idea of a 14 year-old girl as a possible 'love interest' for McCoy.

Though some aspects of Blade Runner aren't all that sophisticated, it is worth considering for fans of 'hard-edged' crime/science fiction. It's a 'tough' game in the sense that it's dark and threatening, but it isn't incredibly difficult. It has appeal both for players who are comfortable with a gun in their hand and for those who are not, though it is disappointing that your gun and ammunition are essentially the only inventory 'tools' that you can use.

You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Pentium 90, 16MB RAM, 150MB hard drive space, SVGA graphics card with 2MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, Windows 95 or DOS 5.0 or higher; Windows 95 compatible sound card