Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
It feels like stepping into Ridley Scott’s film. Sets and touchstones are lovingly recreated. Machinery clicks, beeps, and wheezes exactly as you’d expect. The atmosphere is malevolent, and you’re quickly in over your head. But wait, I say as if the headline and screenshot haven’t made this abundantly clear, I’m talking about Blade Runner, not Alien: Isolation. Westwood’s 1997 adventure game is a bit of a mess, but it’s a special one.
We don’t play Harrison Ford’s Deckard but Ray McCoy, a rookie blade runner created for the game. His story runs parallel to the movie, briefly refers to its happenings, and visits so very, very many of the same places and people, but never has us meet Deckard. At no point does an awkward Harrison Ford soundalike tell Ray “Well done, kid. Keep it up and I’ll be able to take retirement” while winking furiously at the camera. Their worlds brushing but not merging feels good.
Ray has a simple case which becomes a tangle of murders and simulated humans. To help unravel it, he has the standard-issue blade runner tools: a long brown coat, a flying car, a photo-wizardry Esper machine and Voight-Kampff replicant-detecting quizbox (both recreated beautifully, and immensely satisfying to use), a book of questions about tortoises and pornography, and that revolver.
This gun is special. You can right-click at any point to draw it. This gun implies a world where replicants could be anywhere and you need to be ready. Drawing this gun feels dangerous and wrong. You barely ever use it, turns out, but having it right there makes everything threatening. When you do fire it, it feels like you’ve cocked up and could’ve found another way. Often you could have.
It takes a while to figure out how Blade Runner’s world works. Why do characters appear at, leave, and return to places when they do? Who’s important and who’s just there? How much authority does Ray have, and who can he trust? Most people are lying about something. Some parts are optional, and others have several solutions. Interviewing suspects and checking evidence, it feels like police work. The big question is: who’s a replicant? Skinjobs are selected semi-randomly from a few key characters and, naturally, Ray can be one too. Either way, he can sympathise with them or retire them. Killing feels terrible as they soak up hits and keep coming, just wanting more life.
It’s certainly not all roses. The plot drags out and grows silly, which is a bigger problem than the small number of words I’m devoting to it suggests. I have horrible memories of one particular puzzle involving a rat that was not only absurd but near-impossible on my slow PC. It does a lot wrong, but a lot’s still interesting, and I fondly remember how the first half feels. And crumbs, someone made Blade Runner into a game that wasn’t super-garbage: how unlikely is that?
If you have it (Blade Runner’s one of four PC games I still own on disc) or can find it, these instructions may help you get it running on a modern PC.