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Blade Runner: A classic revisited

Our friend electric, dreaming of sheep - a classic PC adventure revisited

The world of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is too much for the eye to take in. That's its appeal - and why people watching it for the hundredth time are still finding something new in almost every frame. With each blink an entire world crashes in.
Somehow, despite being sandwiched awkwardly between the 2D and 3D eras, Westwood's graphical adventure captured it all.

For all its gaudy neon and fashions, the Los Angeles of 2019 is a great setting for a film noir. A monochrome world, fit for burned-out detectives, grey market interlopers and femme fatales. Rather than peck at Ridley Scott's epic, pinching an iconic frame here and a character there, it swallowed it whole. Nothing was left out.

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The exhaustion of the working man, the dearth of morality, the anger of the outlawed Replicants and the apathy of their assassins, the police department Blade Runners - all are vividly portrayed. Blade Runner brought together everything the studio learned while making Dune - a sprawling mess of people and places hung from a robust adventuring framework - and Dune 2, the abstract concoction of spice farming and military manoeuvring that gave birth to the RTS.

To glance at hero Ray McCoy, a marginally upbeat version of Harrison Ford's Deckard who lives identically, reports to the same boss, flies the same police issue Spinner, provides the same Chandler-esque narration and eats the same noodles, you'd have sworn this was a remake.

But it was worthier and more sophisticated than that. McCoy's pursuit of a marauding band of Replicants did tick that important box marked 'wish fulfilment', perfectly recreating clips and audio from the movie, providing familiar set-pieces and sometimes even daring to gatecrash Deckard's storyline, but only as an excuse to do some adventuring of its own. The game didn't just tick the boxes. It filled in the gaps.

Thus, across the street from nightclub owner Taffy Lewis - "Hey, Louie. The man is dry," - was installed Early Q, his downmarket competition. Eyeworks, the implant clinic, became just one of many to inhabit Animoid Row, symbol of society's desperate love of electric pets. Rooms created for the silver screen gained peripheral lobbies and corridors.

In the film's future Los Angeles, all races, religions and walks of life are arranged neatly, by order of privilege, from earth to sky. The indigent are trodden into the streets as the decadent struggle to fill their mile-high mansions - left deserted by mankind's flight to the off-world colonies.

But now you learned that street level was not rock bottom: epic furnaces and maintenance tunnels kept the corpse of a once-great city shuffling along, providing both prison and refuge during the game's closing stages. Westwood took a handful of classic scenes and, like the impossible ESPER machine, twisted and turned the pictures to reveal the world beyond.

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Bringing that place to life took more than the traditional backdrops and sprites of a SCUMM like engine. Westwood needed to push: producing brand new technology to power their vision. They rendered the entire game using voxels, extrapolating genuine 3D data without any need for rare GPUs.Ingenious, though sadly practical only for this brief period of technical transition. Even in its native 640x480 resolution, Blade Runner was a game compromised by the hardware of 1997, its characters sometimes little more than vague semblances.

Yet from a technical gamble came the essence of a visual masterpiece: when its fidelity failed, the game's palette and sheer energy sustained the illusion. It was an electric dream.

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