When Westwood’s take on the Blade Runner franchise was first released back in 1997 it was a big deal. It takes Ridley Scott’s movie and translates it to an adventure game format while using a number of technologies at the time that graphically made it quite cutting edge – Ars Technica produced an excellent interview chronicling the development of the game and it’s worth watching – and it succeeded brilliantly in getting the atmosphere right. For a fan of the movie who bought the game at release it was quite the experience to be dropped into that world and seeing it look and sound just like the movie. When Good Old Games announced they were bringing the original game to their platform I was more than happy to add it to my collection. It had been a long time since I last played the game and it leverages ScummVM (an adventure game emulator/virtual machine) which has performed miracles over the years to keep these classic games alive. Little did I know we’d also see an enhanced version too. Normally when an announcement of a classic game is being brought back with enhancements there’s excitement and appreciation from fans for the chance to play them again on modern systems that leverage better hardware. Developer Nightdive has made a name for itself in being able to bring many of these games back so that excitement was certainly justified. But in this case there’s been a lot more trepidation as the work done is through reverse engineering of the existing game and its assets, ie. no access to higher quality source material. So… is there enough in the original game to be able to enhance in a way that’s satisfactory? Judging from my first impressions, I guess not.
Blade Runner takes cues from many of the point and click adventures of the era where pixel hunting becomes part of the experience for good or worse. Playing McCoy, a “Blade Runner” (hunter of illegal “replicants”) in an LAPD of the alternate future, your game runs in parallel to many of the events of the original film while pursuing your own case. One of the selling points of the game was there’s an element of randomisation – which characters are replicants may differ in each playthrough and the game’s ending will change according to that. It’s the presentation though that that really set a high standard by leveraging many of films actors in cameos, a soundtrack that evokes Vangelis as well as a voxel engine that could render scenes in impressive detail. It looked and sounded amazing and still holds up pretty well in its pixelated glory even if the gameplay may have aged faster.
It says a lot when the original untouched version of the game is the preferred choice but after playing the first ten minutes of both it’s pretty clear to me that the “enhanced edition” comes off far worse in comparison. Cutscenes and backgrounds are blurry and lacking detail, audio is out of sync and enhancements such as subtitles and menus come across as cheap additions that have been implemented with minimal effort to fit the aesthetic. The old menus are a good example of a cohesive visual design that the enhanced edition lacks. Apart from making console versions of the game it’s hard to see any other benefit from the work done here unfortunately and that’s sad considering how much I enjoyed playing this game in ’97. Porting ScummVM to consoles and leveraging that would have been a bigger win I feel. If you’re on PC there’s no doubt playing the original GoG.com/ScummVM version is the better choice and for those people where consoles are their chosen platform, load up you PC and also get the original version too. The enhanced edition is a major disappointment… no other way to say it. I hate being that negative but it’s hard to recommend a version that doesn’t contribute anything more to a game that still holds up in its original form.
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is out now for PC and consoles. Am hoping that GoG.com will allow the original to be sold separately again…