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volume 1, issue 29

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Off the Shelf:
Blade Runner

By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Title: Blade Runner
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Westwood

Average Price: $20


his is likely to come as no surprise what-so-ever to any regular readers of this page, but I'm a huge Blade Runner fan. Huge is perhaps a bit of an understatement…I'm a giant-freaky-big Blade Runner fan. Yes, I own the film on DVD, and yeah, I own the making of the film book…but I've also seen three different versions of the film, and pride myself on my somewhat pathetic knowledge of the lore of Blade Runner. So naturally, you can imagine how skeptical I am of any new addition to the Blade Runner mythos, let alone a new adventure game set in the Blade Runner universe.

Before I start, it should be pointed out here, that while the minimum specs for Blade Runner claim it will run on a Pentium 90, I wouldn't recommend it. For the best results, go with at least a Pentium 133 with a fairly fast CDROM. Unless you do the maximum installation, a huge amount of data is going to be coming off your CDROM at all times…so the speedy CDROM drive is pretty important here. That said, let's talk about the game.

First of all, as any true Blade Runner fan knows, Deckard, the hero in the Blade Runner film doesn't exactly do much in the way of detective work. In fact, Harrison Ford's big beef with the film is that he played, "a detective who does no detecting." As a result, in order to remain true to the Blade Runner experience, the designers were faced with the problem of how to create an effective game, while remaining true to the nature of the film. I'm pleased to report that they did an admirable job, and while traditional adventure game fans might be put off by the result, hard core Blade Runner fans should be quite pleased.

Harrison Ford seems to be the only actor from the movie who isn't here in the game, and he's missed, but not too much. Nearly everyone else is here…Sebastian (William Sanderson), Rachael (Sean Young), Leon (Brian James), Tyrell (Joseph Turkel), heck…even Chew (James Hong) is here…pretty cool. The only actor who is really missed is Edward James Olmos' Gaff, but the actor they found to replace Olmos does an admirable job nonetheless. Unfortunately while most of the original players are here, they don't have the largest parts in the world. Instead the game has a number of other characters, which make up the majority of the story. The acting is pretty good for the most part, and the characters tend to be likable, if somewhat flat. Of course, since you can say the same about much of the supporting cast of the film, I find it difficult to hold it against the games' designers.

While you don't play Deckard, you do indeed take the role of a Blade Runner. You play Ray McCoy, a rookie cop who has to prove himself. (Pure noir, that premise, huh?) In a nice twist, the game doesn't take place after the movie, but rather it takes place during the film. Expect to show up more than once just after Deckard. In fact, if you look around, you'll even find artifacts he left behind. Much of the game's "detective" work is done via your KIA (Knowledge Integration Assistant) which basically records any important conversations you have with people, as well as collecting any clues you might find. It's kinda like a Blade Runner's Palm Pilot …you can even HotSync with the main police computer, which allows you to tap into whatever information your fellow cops dig up while you're off doing your thing.

If it sounds like there's a lot going on around you, there is. The game uses a mostly AI based system for determining the outcome of the game, which is cool, because it means there are a bunch of different ways to play the game. It's still fairly limited, but there are quite a few outcomes. Each time you start the game, the game chooses who's going to be a replicant and who isn't, and it could be completely different from the first time you played it. And yes, it's possible for your character to be a replicant…something I got a big kick out of. :)

Because all the various characters have AI, they each have their own tasks to go about, and will do so whether or not you bother to find them. This means that while you're off sleeping in your apartment, another character could be conducting a potentially important interview, or hunting down a replicant. And of course, the bad guy could be getting away at the same time. There is a limit to how much stuff they'll do without you, however, so if you get stuck and find yourself wandering around aimlessly, don't worry…the game doesn't have a time limit…unlike Falcon 4.0, if you leave the game running it won't go through the entire game with zero input from you. In Blade Runner, like any real adventure game, there's work to do.

The "work" in question tends to be the "click on the hot spot" variety. You show up to a location, move your mouse around, and wait for the cursor to turn green, which indicates that you can either manipulate the object in question, or speak to a character. Character conversations can go in several directions. You can choose one of the preset moods for McCoy from the options screen, which will make it so he always goes with the polite, normal, or surly response. The other two options let you choose, "erratic" which will mean that sometimes McCoy will be pissed, and other times timid as a kitten, or "user choice" which lets you choose your response each time. I went with this one, since I wanted to know what my options were before McCoy asked anything stupid. In the end, I wound up being the nice cop, although I went back and did it as a hard-edged bastard, and was impressed by the results. I recommend playing through the game more than once so you can see the fun little differences the second time around.

The game's plot can be odd at times, and the game features a large cast of rotating characters. Because much of the game's cast is made up of original characters , the game doesn't rely on the film to tell its story (something I appreciated…I'd much rather have an original story than a bad retelling of the one I know and love). The movie is going on in the background, which adds to the game's depth, but it's not a crucial part of the game. However, I would suggest seeing the movie before playing the game (of course, I'd suggest seeing the movie period, since I'm such a fan). While there aren't any puzzles that will require you to have seen the movie, it helps to get into the mindset of Blade Runner. Also, when you use the Esper device or administer a Voight Kampf test, the whole thing will mean a lot more if you've seen the film. Both the Esper and V-K test are reproduced identically to their film counterparts, and should be real treat for any Blade Runner fans.

The V-K test, for those who haven't seen the film, is a way of determining whether or not a person is a replicant. The test works by focusing in on a person's iris, and asking a series of questions. The strains in the person's voice, and the manner in which their eye moves, all are gauged against that of a base replicant and human to determine which one the subject is. In the game, you can ask low, medium, or high intensity questions in order to get an emotional response out of the subject. A successful test is obtained only by careful balancing of the three question types. What I got a big kick out of, is that when you first are presented with the V-K screen, you have to calibrate the machine. While any good cop will have the machine calibrate itself, it's possible to actually rig the test by moving the bar manually. Be warned…killing a human will result in the game's termination, so only do this if you're sure your subject is a replicant. If you don't do this, you may find yourself unable to get a definitive answer…the V-K test can be very difficult to administer, and it took me a while before I was able to get anything in the way of an absolute answer. You'll need to administer the test a few times throughout the course of the game, so practice this skill, and save often, in case you screw up.

The Esper machine can be used either at your apartment (like Deckard does in the film) or at HQ. Either way you do it, the game's interface switches to a grid where you can click and select an area to enhance. The sounds, look, and feel of the thing are pretty much identical to the film, and this goes a long way in conveying that Blade Runner experience.

My only real beef with the game is that it's way too short. Any relatively experienced adventure game fan will be able to complete it in a matter of days. This is directly addressed by the many, many different endings, but still, I'd have appreciated a longer plot. In all fairness, however, the game does stick to the Blade Runner formula. While the game's plot might be a bit simplistic for an adventure game, it is more complicated than the "hunt down these people" plot of the movie, which would have made for an even shorter game (117 minutes, to be precise). There are a couple of interesting subplots, but they simply aren't as complex as some of the better adventure games…after playing Grim Fandango, it's difficult to get into an adventure game as short as Blade Runner can be.

But the game does offer replayability in its multiple endings, and the most accurate Blade Runner experience we're likely ever to see, so if you're looking for a good bargain, and a cool adventure game, check out Blade Runner.


- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames.


Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Bargain Bin is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and like, in poor taste, dude.