Hour Zero – Vista is such an unmitigated ball ache for retro gaming that my heart is aflutter as I put Blade Runner's first disc into my PC. Not for some daft artistic yearning – us hardy Yorkshire men don’t go in for all that tripe. No, I’m nervous because I’m getting the chance to witter on about a title that, despite being tied to a film license (and a dozen more pressing design flaws), is one of the best adventure games ever made. I'm terrified I'm going to fluff it up or that Vista is going to shoot my plans through before I even get started, because Blade Runner is a title which truly deserves a second wind...
Blade Runner plays on many of the themes that the exquisite 1980’s film explored, casting you as Blade Runner Roy McCoy in the same futuristic Los Angeles that the film brought to life so vividly.
The face that launched a thousand flying cars
Set just after the beginning of the film, McCoy is tasked with tracking down a replicant group who seem to be mercilessly slaughtering animals. One of the things the film glosses over is that animals in Blade Runner are almost extinct, making them a commodity worth more than gold. Slaughtering them is a crime almost worse than killing a human or being caught in one of those brown trenchcoats that all the Blade Runners seem to wear.
At its base, Blade Runner is a good, old fashioned point ‘n’ click title. You control McCoy solely with the mouse, clicking to move him around, and interacting with areas of interest. Away from the exploration and dialog though, that’s as close as the game comes to being anything like the classic Lucasarts titles which the adventure genre is usually associated with.
Evidence for your case is immediately correlated and set out within the Knowledge Integration System, where your case is pulled together for you. This alone elevates Blade Runner above the usual adventure game structure of ‘ask question, get item, use item, go to next area’. It puts the player into more of a passive role, focusing attention on the story rather than the puzzles.
Dogs; worth their weight in gold. And dog meat.
The changes aren’t just aesthetic either, but affect the entire tone of the game. Blade Runner isn’t a comedy pirate adventure, it’s a neo-noir detective story. You don’t have inventory and NPCs; you have clues, evidence, and leads to follow. Plus, there are no rubber chickens with pulleys in the middle in sight.
Hour One – The intro cutscene perfectly captures the feeling of the film, but when it fades and the first levels load it’s apparent just how much the ‘voxel plus’ engine has aged. It’s far less dated than I’d expected, but the future still looks creaky. The compensation comes from the cinematography and brilliance of the actual designs. The constant night, shattered by specks of glittering neon, creates an atmosphere that few games better. The world simply feels alive, but writing it down like that makes me sound terribly pretentious.