Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition Review
Even the Blade Runner version of 2019 looks like a dream compared to 2022. No pandemic, no crazy politics – just murder robots and really bad pollution. Oh, and new coke.
So visiting it in video game format for the first time in 20 years felt like it was going to be a real treat. And in many ways it was. This enhanced edition of the original PC point and click game was a labour of love for the developers at Nightdive. It shows through, because love is the only reason you’d do it.
The Blade Runner game is all kinds of crazy genius. It did things 20 years ago that a game announced today would be called innovative and original for even attempting. But it aiming so close to the sun, it sometimes had its wings burnt.
Add time and porting issues to the mix, and you have a game that is mostly aimed at hardcore fans of the film, the book, the point and click genre or this era of gaming.
But man, I am pleased that it exists.
One part detective sim, one part fan service. Mix in a pot of changing 90s tech and wishful thinking, and you have Blade Runner. Set at the same time as the film and borrowing more than a few aspects from the original book, this is a game for fans, by fans.
With that in mind, gameplay is almost irrelevant to the most important thing: the atmosphere. This is Blade Runner. The music, the neon, the characters. It’s pure aesthetic, mixed in with the gameplay of a point and click game.
Actually, calling it a point and click is technically accurate, but feels misleading. This isn’t Monkey Island. In fact, it’s more akin to the Telltale games in a roundabout way. You’re not solving puzzles involving rubber chickens. Mostly you’re just talking to people, examining crime scenes or shooting baddies.
If you get stuck, you can find your way out of it. If you’re really stuck, one of the other Blade Runner units will probably find a clue you missed and upload it to your PA. You will get stuck. The game is about as opaque as a dump truck at times.
For instance, your PA needs to be updated with clues from other cops manually. You can’t continue with the story until you’ve done that. It’s clicking one screen in a room you don’t necessarily have to go into at any other point, and it isn’t labeled or anything like that.
A dusty recess of my brain says guidance for this was in the instruction booklet for the original game. Obviously this digital release doesn’t have a booklet, so you’re left to figure it out for yourself. And the second you’ve done that, dialogue options that could have come out naturally suddenly trigger.
And that’s one of many examples.
Making It Up As You Go
Deliciously ancient internet guides might guide you in the right direction. Or maybe you’ll fall back into the old trick of running your pointer over the screen hoping to see something you can click on.
That won’t always bail you out though. You can use Esper, the much-parodied photo system that somehow turns 2D images three-dimensional. Even when you’re highlighting the right thing, it can be a bit finicky. This is a regularly used tool, and there are times where it just won’t do what you want it to. There are things I know are locked away in the game – photographs I have seen exist on the internet. But for whatever reason the computer doesn’t always accept that the licence plate you’re highlighting is a licence plate.
The Voigt-Komff test is a welcome addition to gameplay too. There’s no guidance for how it works and so long as you don’t annoy the person you’re interviewing, it seems largely automated. If it were a game released today, I’d call it underwhelming. But as fan service in the 1990s? It’s just fine, and doesn’t pop up so much to be annoying.
The story and characters are really engaging. Exploring the world of the films will never feel boring. And this is all made more surprising by an element of randomness that means you never know who’s a replicant on your next playthrough. There are numerous endings.
This fits in the film. You start the game with a viewpoint of the world and slowly come to appreciate that things aren’t how you originally saw them. This movie tie-in is far better than it deserved to be.
If you’ve read this far, you should be getting the impression of an impressive but aged game. Unfortunately, the port adds in some problems of its own.
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition?
This latest version of the Blade Runner game is playable, but messy. From the opening ten minutes you start to realise things aren’t quite working as they should be.
This is one of those early CGI games, where cutscenes are frequent, and backgrounds and characters are clearly designed a certain way. It has an old-fashioned charm. A CRT filter or similar would have gone some way towards helping.
But the current build of the Enhanced Edition has another problem. People and things you interact with are much brighter than the setting around them. Effects, such as smoke, don’t seem to render properly.
There are some speed issues too. The switch to 60FPS seems to have got some animations out of sync. The shooting range – difficult to get running even on PCs from the time of release – is broken.
In the menus of the PA, you have no idea which “tab” you’re in. This is even worse on console, because you can’t just mouse up there and click the one you want.
I’m not going to list all the flaws here. Suffice to say they’re there.
On Xbox Series X, I haven’t seen any of the worst bugs people have reported yet. Nothing like not being able to move around a location. Although my music is randomly reduced to 12 percent for no reason.
This is an imperfect port. I believe it’ll get better with time, and probably quite soon. Early adopters wouldn’t be blamed for being a bit annoyed at times.
Graphics and Sound
In the 90s, this game blew me away. It wasn’t alone. There was something about this style of game that just appealed. Today, not so much.
It’s not an ugly game by any means. There are moments when it’s unattractive, but the characters and locations looked great then and, in their own way, they look great now. They don’t compare to The Last of Us or whatever, but why would they?
The upscaling process has clearly done some damage. There are things that just don’t look right. There are animations that are too fast. It could have been better, but I appreciate it probably isn’t the easiest job in the world to clean up. You can’t just start from scratch.
This is a 25-year-old game. It looks good for its age, but not very good.
The voice work is really good, and goes a long way towards helping with the atmosphere. This isn’t on the level of the usual video game adaptation. At the time, not even original video games had this level of perfromance.
And more than that, it has a surprising cast list. Get away from the cameos where the characters were played by the original actor – and there are more than a few – and you still have Lisa Edelstein, Jeff Garlin, Warren Burton, Vincent Schiavelli, Mark Rolston and others.
The music, not by the recently deceased Vangelis but using parts of his score, is equally good. The music was a vital part of the original film, and it continues to be so here.
If you’re at all interested in this game, chances are you already have a fairly high tolerance for the kind of flaws you’ll find here. The very fact you tolerate the idea of a 25-year-old point and click game means you’ll enjoy this 25-year-old point and click game. And while I still have issues with that exact genre titling here, it stands out as one of the best. The atmosphere is top notch. The voice work and music is stellar.
New problems brought in by Night Dive are annoying but usually not game-breaking. At least that’s true in my experience. They add a clunkiness that wouldn’t have felt out of place in 1997. That’s not a good thing, but your experience will not be too much worse for it.
If you love this franchise, buy the game. If you love this style of game, buy it. Nervous about the bugs? hold off, then buy it. Stepping into a Blade Runner’s shoes is worth it – and good luck with Covid fantasy 2019ers.