Review – Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition
The Lion King from 2019 was an objectively okay movie that was made worse by everything it took off the table. There was an opportunity to interweave a slew of new lore into the movie from the additional films and the passage of time, maybe giving a different perspective or central villain. However, this was a reimagining of one of the most celebrated animated pictures to date. A film many considered top tier, was now being presented with lifelike CGI and…really not much else. A Beyoncé song and some good voice cast, but nothing really innovative or exemplary, in contrast to the contemporary versions of Aladdin and The Jungle Book (both of which, I feel, stand on their own two feet). If you want to take a classic and make it new, you need to do something truly spectacular, otherwise leave it alone.
Nightdive Studios, sadly, didn’t bother to fully consider what they were handling when they took on Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition, an “updated” version of the classic 90s point-and-click adventure game. For those who don’t know, the original Blade Runner game was an amazingly ambitious parallel story to the acclaimed movie, putting you in the shoes of Ray McCoy, a Blade Runner who is tasked with finding out the reason for a Replicant-related string of animal murders. As the story spins wildly out of control, Ray discovers corruption and deep rooted criminal activity that goes all the way to the top, leading him to getting framed for murder, needing to clear his name, and ultimately making some tough decisions that may or may not involve justifiable homicide. It’s a standard affair as far as detective stories go, but the appeal goes further than just that.
For one, Blade Runner was one of the first mainstream detective games to really focus on detective work, and not just solving puzzles and passing it off as sleuthing. You had to actually build a dossier about the guilty parties through multiple interviews and several clues that you may or may not catch in the moment due to a “real time” game clock. Although there was certainly combat that took place at certain moments in the game, it was little more than a point-and-click situation where you had to make fast decisions while also being aware of who was a potential threat and who wasn’t.
Additionally, Blade Runner was one of the bigger known games to bring in the personality aspect to your detective, which could be changed through the menu at any time. This leads to different interactions and different results in interviews, interrogations and even just offhand comments when talking to anyone. To say that this system influenced certain titles like L.A. Noire might be a bit of a stretch, but it feels ignorant to not at least acknowledge what could have been gleaned from developers who were impressionable teens at the time of release.
The biggest pull of Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is the opportunity for console players to enjoy this. In theory, this is a fantastic step forward for non-PC users. Additionally, the Enhanced Edition does pull out some interesting choices, like upgrading the menus and making the aspect ratio fixed through the use of borders. The borders themselves are pretty, if very uninteresting, and the menus are…well, they’re different.
I think if you had never played the original, the menus would make sense and be easy to understand. However, coming from a game that was ostensibly modeled for Windows 98 and targeted at people who knew DOS, the text-heavy classic menus are what I crave. The choice to make things so picturesque and borderline incomprehensible is a strong one, and one that I don’t agree with. Not to mention it’s a nightmare to navigate with a controller. Thank god for mouse support, or this would be a flaming mess on the Xbox One.
This is where the review gets tricky, because there isn’t another approach that I can parallel to another kind of medium or even another reviewable product. When you watch the remake of Total Recall with Colin Farrell, you can see glimpses of the source material, but argue, successfully, that the 2012 edition was wholly unnecessary and frankly awful. But that’s also a totally different experience, so it shares only a few traits with the original. In the same vein, Dead Man’s Pop is a total remix and rebalance of The Replacements’ Don’t Tell a Soul album, so it has more commonality while still being arguably different. Yet Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition has the game that’s known and beloved at the center of what can only be described as a non-functioning pageant dress, and it makes it a bit of a mess to assess as a result.
For my own run with the game, things mostly went well. Honestly, the biggest issue was that Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition inexplicably looks uglier than it used to. This seems like some kind of paradox, because it’s the original graphics, and it’s even intentionally fixed to make sure it doesn’t get stretched or warped. Yet somehow, the inclusion of the border and the processing of the very pixelated graphics on the Xbox One creates a truly undomesticated feeling, like this game has been running wild in the woods and I trapped it with peanut butter and a cardboard box. Side by side with my PC copy of the original, the pixels are somehow better spaced and flattened with GOG’s version, whereas the Xbox One edition feels like it could cut me if I didn’t wear gloves.
Additionally, the audio sync when cutscenes happen is off almost every time. It should be the simplest thing in the world to make sure one of the most powerful home consoles ever made can match up audio and video, and yet I feel like I’m using Real Player to watch a goddamn anime dub of Fushigi Yuugi in the early 2000s and trying not to care because I can’t speak Japanese anyways. Seeing Ray flap his gums for upwards of two seconds before his words want to come and join the party is borderline upsetting, especially for a game that should have been easier to emulate than a Game Boy Advance title.
Yet at the core of everything is what I love about the game, and, theoretically, that’s still intact. The script is still word for word with the original, and the voice acting is still top notch, including very notable appearances by Sean Young and James Hong. When you isolate frame by frame, Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is visually better, it’s just the use of frames that actually throws off your perception. The subtle, nuanced version of Frank Klepacki’s Vangelis inspired score is still excellent, if inauthentic. This is still an unbelievably honest movie tie-in game that takes away nothing from the source material and doesn’t ask the players to need to know Blade Runner in order to appreciate this game. Keep in mind, this was an era where if you didn’t watch The Crow: City of Angels or The Lost World: Jurassic Park, then the games would be utter nonsense (and Yoda Stories can’t stand on its own with three Viagra and a necromancer).
That’s not to say the original game isn’t without its flaws, either. Despite the game’s proclamation of real time gaming, the game simply doesn’t exist when you aren’t running it, so don’t bother treating Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition as some kind of cyberpunk Animal Crossing. It just means that, if you miss a window for when an AI or a clue is available, you have to circle back and try again, sometimes multiple times, until it’s ready to be found.
Additionally, the changes in difficulty have been rebalanced, but they still don’t mean much if you aren’t super into the combat. All three levels just focus on what you do with your gun, not obfuscating the clues or anything like that. It makes sense in the fact that you can play again and again to challenge yourself better on shooting technique, but not really on “detecting” anything. Updated or not, the odd choices still exist, both making the port endearing and frustrating.
So what does this mean? It means that a game exists and players are held at the mercy of whatever choices they’ve made in gaming, which is a shame. If you’ve got a console, then the best and only choice is to enjoy Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition. Just because your friend has the most hideous quinceanera dress you’ve ever seen doesn’t mean you ignore her party, because she’s still a beautiful person inside. Additionally, I didn’t experience any crashes or major glitches, which apparently makes me a unicorn in a sea of reviewers ready to burn down new Los Angeles with their reviews. I can’t pretend the game isn’t a terrible experience for others, but I was able to craft the best experience for myself in this playthrough of a game that seems so much shorter than it used to (you’re looking at eight hours, definitely less if you remember certain beats).
For people interested in the original game, it sits, mostly untouched, on the shelves of GOG as we speak, and purists/retro gamers will certainly want to grab it. It runs beautifully, looks great, and maintains all the integrity of the original release. If you own a computer that was put together after the start of The Wire, you can run the classic version, and that seems to be the right choice (even if Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is the same price). If you only can game on a console or love the idea of a portable version (Switch users are eating well this year!) then Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition isn’t a godawful choice for something really awesome.
The story, the music, and the interface are all great. You can spend way too long trying to work out the details yourself, or find a fast track to solving the crimes and getting the best ending possible. Again, I have to stress this, I didn’t get a crash, just general disappointment over the terrible menus and the janky performance. But I can’t promise you won’t, and I don’t want anyone to be disappointed in this game. Sadly, a lackluster review that neither vilifies or exonerates Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is merely a stone in the ocean. Small ripples, but no major effects. And yes, my words will be lost…like tears, in rain.
While maintaining the original graphics was a good choice, the light touch of smoothing contrasted with the overworked menus makes everything fairly terrible.
As long as you have access to a mouse or a touchscreen, the interface remains strong and there is no better way to present such a game.
A very immersive soundtrack, coupled with a strong voice acting performance from all contenders, is ultimately hamstrung by sync and pacing issues.
It reminded me of the game that I loved, not the game that was before me. A pale imitation, the fun is only found in the possibility that this might be someone’s first foray.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition was provided by the publisher.