With its assets and original source code gone, the 1997 award-winning cult classic Blade Runner, from Westwood Studios, once seemed like a moment in time that was lost, like tears in rain. If there was ever a studio to bring it back for modern consoles, it would be restoration specialists Nightdive Studios. Unlike Deckard zooming in on crime scene photographs, however, the process of creating this Enhanced Edition wasn’t just a case of asking a fancy computer to “Enhance”.
Now, around the 40th anniversary of the 1982 film, and two years after we originally spoke to the developer about the difficulties of reverse-engineering the title, Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition has finally arrived on Switch. While the game itself is still a must-play for fans, and Nightdive deserves credit for their dedication to creating a lifelike copy, it’s not exactly Nexus-6 quality.
For those unfamiliar with it, Blade Runner is a clue-solving, detective point-and-click adventure game that pits you as Ray McCoy, a Blade Runner working for the LAPD to track down and eliminate rogue replicants. Much like the stunning visual effects of the 1982 film itself, Blade Runner’s technical achievements for the time are still admirable to this day, and I struggle to think of a licensed game that captures the essence of its source material as well as this one.
Studying crime scenes and making the most of the iconic ESPER computer and Voight-Kampff machines from the film, the gameplay really makes you feel like you’re part of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir world. Plus, with the game randomising which NPCs are replicants for each playthrough, its AI keeps you on your toes with the same sense of underlying tension between hunter and hunted.
These core elements are helped along by returning cameo appearances from some of the original cast members, as well as collaboration with visionary Syd Mead who provided his stunning conceptual art.
With the same fashion sense and taste in interior design, Ray McCoy is almost a bit too much like Deckard in many respects, but he provides an easy in for players as an avatar, with multiple ‘moods’ for responses that change the outcomes of suspect interrogations, depending on whether you feel like playing ‘good cop’ or ‘bad cop’. Plus, when you think about the themes of the series and the question of Deckard’s potential origin, Ray’s close resemblance starts to make a lot of sense.
Between this ‘sidequel’ and the more recent Blade Runner 2019 comic book, it’s cool to have different interweaving stories that run alongside one another, similar to the original Half-Life expansions that all revolved around the same ‘Resonance Cascade’ event.
The specific enhancements made in Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition are polarising, and for a game that’s steeped in that gritty, cyberpunk aesthetic, it’s debatable if many of them actually make the experience better. While frame rate improvements are a welcome boost for the nostalgic cut scenes and transition animations, some areas feel smoothed over and difficult to focus in on, like smears in rain.
This upscaled smoothing technique works well in some areas but not in others. Scenes in warehouses and back alleys, for instance, suffer from the noise reduction that previously added grit and detailing to brickwork and road pavings, making it occasionally difficult to see what’s going on when moving around in a fixed perspective.
Nightdive also struggled when crunching the game’s character models; their animations are still good, but with the surrounding visual improvements, they stick out massively, like moving furniture in an old hand-drawn cartoon.
It’s less ‘night and day’ and more ‘night and grittier night’, then, but a lot of these visual improvements come down to personal preference, and shouldn’t affect the average person from enjoying Blade Runner on Switch. Niggling bugs and performance issues, on the other hand, are enough to move the dial of the Voight-Kampff test a bit further.
Stutters between areas, audio troubles, and crashes are apparent, and it also seems like the LAPD has issued Ray with a dodgy pistol, too, as shooting in the game is broken. Aiming at escaping criminals is difficult enough when you’re dragging the cursor across the screen with the analogue stick, so it’s certainly frustrating when the trigger jams at a crucial moment. At least the pistol that comes with Limited Run’s Ultimate Edition of the game is a display piece to begin with.
Other elements of polish — such as an autosaving feature — could have helped it to better live up to its name, and with the Switch version specifically in mind, touch-screen functionality would have suited the point-and-click gameplay perfectly in handheld mode.
Overall, given the technical challenge involved, Nightdive has done well to capture the essence of Blade Runner, making it accessible and enjoyable on modern consoles. At less than a tenner on the eShop, I’d recommend it to any cyberpunk fan, and it’s amazing to see the game on a Nintendo platform, but it’s difficult to truly call it an Enhanced Edition.
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition £8.39
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is a replicant of the cult classic adventure game, painstakingly created by Nightdive, and still an enthralling experience today. Changes will alert the keen-eyed detective, however, and it’s debatable whether this new version is ultimately any more ‘enhanced’ than the original.