The news that Sir Ridley Scott is to return to the world of Blade Runner in at least some creative capacity has certainly generated a cloud of mystery equal to that of the still unknown quantity that has surrounded Prometheus and its relation to the Alien films since its original announcement. A return to science fiction by the man responsible for two of the shining examples of the genre is an exciting prospect, but one to be approached with caution based on recent patchier efforts and the whole getting it right first time scenario (okay, maybe after the Director’s Cut or Final Cut version – take your pick).
Questions abound – is it a sequel, prequel or side story? Will Harrison Ford return – and will that not give an unwanted conclusion to the Deckard-replicant issue which, despite the varying opinions from all the talking heads in Blade Runner documentaries, remains beautifully ambiguous? Will it address the fact that it’s unlikely Los Angeles will have transformed into a rain-sodden pseudo-East Asian megalopolis eight years from now? With flying cars?
It may still be a very long time before we have any answers as to what shape or form a new Blade Runner may take, and there are certainly a fair few sequel novels and spin-offs he can draw from should he wish. But if there’s one book he should take a leaf out of, it’s not a book at all. It would be that really good videogame released in 1997 that was based on a movie that wasn’t GoldenEye 007.
Blade Runner was developed by Westwood Studios (more famous for the Command & Conquer series of strategy games) for the PC. A point-and-click detective adventure, it smartly avoided positioning players in the Rick Deckard role, but instead you took charge of rookie Blade Runner Ray McCoy, tracking down his own set of renegade replicants during the events of the film.
By giving you the chance to visit locations and interact with characters featured in the movie, the game has enough in common with the original source material to please the fans, but with a different yet parallel plot for you to explore. Or several plots depending on how you play, as the game cleverly addresses the “is he a replicant or not?” question – based on your decisions, you can end up fulfilling your duties or siding with the skinjobs you were ordered to kill. It’s a mature and genuinely interesting story, one in which the decisions you make and the evidence you dig up actually impacted in a way that so many games today promise, but few convincingly achieve.
Being that the game is set during Deckard’s own case, you invariably encounter characters from the film too, and in a nice touch, many of the actors reprised their roles, including Sean Young, James Hong and Brion James. But the voice cast here is equally good, with McCoy a winningly sarcastic yet engaging narrator/lead character, and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin as your acting chief in command.
The attention to detail was also hugely impressive- gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds provide the backdrop for both familiar locales (such as the Bradbury Building, Tyrell Corporation HQ, and Animoid Row) and game-only areas that keep very much to the look of the film, so lots of neon, rain and steam, then. As you travel from place to place in your Spinner, looking for clues and analysing photographs with the aid of your ESPER, and interrogating suspects with your Voight-Kampff device, everything does a fine job in making you feel like a genuine Blade Runner.
As the point-and-click adventure makes something of a tentative comeback, with L.A. Noire effectively a mega-budget version of the genre in everything but method of control, Blade Runner the game is certainly worth a reappraisal and here’s hoping that today’s announcement may pave the way for a HD re-release (though the licensing issues that had up until recently stopped any follow-up film being made may be equally tangled on the game front too).
So if we are to make a return to the Runnerverse, let it follow the lead of the game, leave Deckard behind and focus on something new. It’s a world that is so beautifully drawn, rich and evocative, one that Scott was key in creating, that to limit it to just one principal character’s story would deny the opportunity to explore the many thousands of potential tales that could be told, and potentially undo all that was so fascinating the first time around.