Blade Runner – “Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shores… burning with the fires of Orc. “
The year is 2019, the place is LA… but not “the” LA, but one where everything is gloomy and dirty, the sky pitch black and where it is always raining. This blackened metropolis spawns many anachronisms, a dark future built on a broad mesh of past imagery, boasting classical architecture styles and modern technologies. Old and worn-down skyscrapers that date back to the early 1900’s are filled with gigantic ad-screens, bursting noisy commercials. In the belly of the immense towers, a strange Chinatown-like underworld has formed, with oriental restaurants and night clubs announcing its promise of entertainment in glowing neon lights, dark alleys and run-down warehouses surrounding. Up, in the night sky, flying cars travel feverishly, passing by blimps that announce a perfect life in the outer Colonies. In the center of town lie two gigantic metal pyramids, surrounded by hundreds of factories with fiery chimneys, the culmination of Man’s technology and industry – the home of the Tyrell Company. This is where it all began. The soft Vangelis overture establishing the melancholic depression Mankind has immersed itself in, the eyes of a tired detective reflecting the fiery pits of hell, the sound of rain pouring down on the windshield, a flying car vanishes in the horizon – “Blade Runner”.
It’s difficult to take a movie masterpiece and make it into a game… hell, it’s difficult taking any movie and making into a game, so I guess I was a bit zealous when addressing “Blade Runner”, the videogame. Yet, after playing it, my fears revealed unfounded: it’s probably the best movie adaptation I’ve ever played. The game casts you as Detective Mccoy, a Blade Runner in everything similar to captain Deckard: the same coat, gloomy stare and sharp-wit all noir detectives share. Also like Deckard, he’s commissioned a new case which will eventually lead him on the trail of a group of Replicants bent on enhancing their life-span.
The plot, that unfolds side by side with the movie’s, borrows heavily from the it, focusing on the same moral dilemmas concerning life and death, creation and identity. Who is Det. Mccoy, a replicant or a human? Should Tyrell Company, and above all, Man, be allowed to play God, by deciding the life and death of the replicants? The questions build up as the narrative unfolds, as the player uncovers small pieces of a graphic-adventure puzzle: collecting evidence while investigating murder scenes, analyzing photos (just like in the movie) and talking to possible witnesses. Anyone who has ever played a classic “point and click” will feel right at home, except for one thing: the dynamic narrative. “Blade Runner” attempts at creating an interactive narrative, with each choice altering the events that follow, and not just the endings, as is common. Sadly, each choice is hidden and obscure to the player, thus destroying the designers’ intentions at achieving a good interactive model – if the player doesn’t know when or what he is choosing, then he will never know what to make of the said choices. I mean, how can you know that a specific line of dialogue will transform a certain human character into a replicant? How can you know that you can holster a weapon in a specific place to save a replicant’s life? It just seems silly… and random… unless you plan on repeating every little scene time and time again to find out different outcomes. The fact that there is no good FAQ out there is proof alone of some poorly thought design choices. This applies to other aspects of the interface as well: puzzles feature clues that are extremely hard to find, the player has to guess many of the clues’ meanings, dialogue lines provide impossible to predict results, and you’re never fully aware of all the possibilities each scene poses for you as a player. How on earth a player is supposed to navigate through a game with such an impregnable interface beats me. At least the writing is well done, capturing perfectly the dialectics featured in the original movie.
The sights and sounds of the movie have also been translated meticulously, allowing the game to feed on its atmosphere almost perfectly, with high quality FMVs posing as background for the action, characters featuring fully fledged voice acting and Vangelis’ scores serving as soundtrack. Unfortunately, some environments, locations, characters and musics had to be created from scratch, and while most stay true to the movie’s spirit, the artists quality is clearly under par, going as far as adding some annoying overly kitsch elements to the otherwise serious nocturne landscape.
It’s hard not to see “Blade Runner” as a missed opportunity, for it derives all of the good aspects of the movie it’s based on, the problem is just that when it comes to its interactive elements it feels flat, annoying and hard to understand, a testament to all of the reasons why the classic Adventure genre died out. But if you can cope with those elements, and are really found of “Blade Runner”, than you will probably be highly rewarded for the experience, even if only to wander the streets of that dark brooding LA once again…