It’s time to go back to far-off, futuristic, rainy, dystopian streets of Los Angeles, November 2019 — the 1997 game adaptation of Blade Runner is now playable via ScummVM, the open-source classic adventure game loader.
Westwood’s game sees players take on the role of detective Ray McCoy as he attempts to solve a case in a world that keeps moving as you investigate it. If you don’t recognize any of it from the movie, there’s a reason — the developers had the rights to the story, but not the actors’ likenesses, the soundtrack, or even the set designs. You won’t see Harrison Ford, hear Vangelis’s iconic score, or move through Ridley Scott’s filthy vision of 2019 Los Angeles.
What you get instead is a landmark adventure game with heavy randomization of characters and narrative elements set in a world based on Sid Mead’s original production drawings for the film. Characters who are replicants on one playthrough might turn out to be human in another, entire sections of the game are locked out depending on who is what and your actions affect the ultimate outcome. There are 12 different endings, and even McCoy himself might turn out to be something other than human.
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While ScummVM has made it possible to play Blade Runner on modern machines, it’s still a challenge both legally and technically. Hooking up my external disc drive to run it off the original CD, even the act of booting up Blade Runner feels like an anachronistic vision of the future. And if you don’t have a physical copy of the game, you’re out of luck. If the rights situation around the franchise was complex when Westwood made Blade Runner, it’s thornier than ever now, with a few decades worth of studio acquisitions, sales, dissolutions, and a sequel making a re-release on modern platforms extremely unlikely.
That’s a shame, because games like Disco Elysium and The Outer Worlds show there’s a strong demand for interesting narrative-based games. And as a story about the nature of personhood set in a world of ecological disaster — the year 2019 — Blade Runner remains as relevant as ever.
Image Credits: David Austin via Duncan Harris, Dead End Thrills