Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition
Nightdive Studios are my boys when it comes to remasters of cult classics. The passionate bunch led by Stephen Kick has brought back to life classics like System Shock, Turok, Shadow Man, DOOM 64, PowerSlave, Quake and more. Aside from Blood: Fresh Supply, which suffered from a messy launch, all their products has had an invisible seal of quality. Announced a good two years ago, Nightdive’s remaster of the 1997 cult hit Blade Runner, originally developed by Westwood has finally seen a quiet release after a hush development cycle and a year-long delay. Judging by Nightdive’s track record, the Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition should not be any less than a stellar, polished product. Right? Right???
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is a remaster of the 1997 point & click adventure game originally developed by Westwood Studios and published by Virgin Interactive. The remaster is developed by Nightdive Studios in association with IP holder Alcon Interactive and was released for PC and modern consoles on June 24, 2022.
The Cult Classic Returns
If it isn’t clear already from my abundant usage of the terms ‘cult’ and ‘classic’ this early into the review, Blade Runner is widely considered to be a groundbreaking adventure title, even though it doesn’t share the same popularity as Lucas Arts classics. Unlike the name suggests, the game is not a direct adaptation of the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick or the 1982 Cyberpunk film of the same name by Ridley Scott. Instead, the game tells an original story that runs parallel to the one in the film. Sharing the same world as the source material, the game is set in Los Angeles in the far dystopian future of 2019. Synthetic humans engineered by the Tyrell corporation to carry out various labor in off-world colonies have gone rogue and it is up to titular Blade Runners to track them down and ‘retire’ them.
The game puts you in the soaked shoes of newbie Blade Runner/detective Ray McCoy who is charged with tracking down a group of rogue replicants. What starts out as an investigation into animal murder and aggravated assault transforms into a rabbit hole of lies, conspiracy and dire existential philosophical themes. The game was lauded for its brutalist neon-lit aesthetics, quality voice acting, choice-driven narrative and replayability.
Nightdive has gone into the arduous process of bringing the nearly-forgotten game to the modern gaming forefront. You can learn more about how the Enhanced Edition came into being straight from the mouth of the head of Nightdive here. The unavailability of the source code meant that Nightdive had to reverse engineer the code, similar to what they did for Blood: Fresh Supply. This and other programming troubles plagued the development of the remaster. When it launched yesterday, the Enhanced Edition promised AI-upscaled 60 fps cutscenes, modern HD display, gamepad support, SMAA anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering and more. It all sounds pretty good but I have to ask – what the heck happened Nightdive???
Enhanced in Name Only
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition is enhanced in name only. Why do I say that? Because literally, nothing in this remaster is enhanced enough to prefer it over the original release. For starters, the whole game is a blurry mess. The AI-upscaled (I’m assuming) pre-rendered backgrounds are so much soothed out that they lose tonnes of detail that made the original art so striking. Ambient effects like rain, smoke, shadows etc blend in too much with the backgrounds. There’s no option to disable anisotropic filtering or anti-aliasing. Moreover, the pixellated 3D models look so out of place in the smoothed environments that it feels like an uncanny valley. The smoothing effects seem hard-coded as there is no option to turn off the filters. Jesus man, just take a look at the opening levels of both the original and the “Enhanced Edition”.
Then there are the upscaled cutscenes. The original’s cutscenes were rendered in 15 fps and while they looked choppy, they fit into the overall aesthetic. Nightdive has upscaled the cutscenes and they now play in 60 fps. Sadly, they feel so awkward in motion and the characters look like clay models.
Nightdive also claims that they have enhanced the“Knowledge Integration Assistant” (KIA) and clue user interface. But the end result is that they feel too simplified and somewhat bland. Even the main menu looks so meh. I also do not get why they removed the ability of Ray to walk on all clickable surfaces. Instead, the movement is now more or less limited to interactable objects. Then there are the numerous glitches like the shooting range not working, FMVs glitching out and more.
Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition has managed to ruin the unique aesthetic and feel of the original largely thanks to an inaccurate AI-upscaling method and some questionable design choices. To be honest, the only ‘upgrade’ in the remaster over the original is the addition of cutscenes and controller support. The decision to de-list the original from GOG was also a crappy move. But, as an apology, Nightdive is giving away the original, titled Blade Runner Classic when you purchase the Enhanced Edition on Steam (it was limited to GOG at launch). Both of these classic versions are powered by the ScummVM project and there is even an option to play a version with cut content. If you ask me, you’re better off playing the original than this so-called “Enhanced Edition”. But, if the only selling point of your remaster is the ability to play the unaltered version, then what’s the point of remastering it in the first place? That being said, Nightdive has a good record of patching their remasters until they’re in an acceptable state (reference: Blood: Fresh Supply). I do not know how much they can salvage from this messy launch but until then, it’s better to stay away from Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition. But if you’re desperately itching to revisit the classic, you can buy it for a reasonable $9.99 and play the original with ScummVM.
FINAL RATING: AVOID