In early 2020, it was confirmed that Blade Runner (originally released for PC back in 1997) was officially getting a remaster. And for me personally, this was huge news. I was not just excited, but I was 100% all over this when it eventually arrived!
Now, if you didn’t know that Blade Runner actually had a PC gaming release, then I wouldn’t blame you. Firstly, 1997 was a long time ago and I daresay that some of you were possibly not even born then. And even if you were, that didn’t necessarily mean that this would’ve pinged on your radar. While perfectly replicating the somewhat dystopian world of Los Angeles in the once far-off land of 2019, the game actually managed to pay homage to the original 1982 film in more ways than one. – Namely, despite receiving critical acclaim from both fans and critics, it was mostly a commercial flop.
Still, back in 1997 I still vividly recall being impressed by the screenshots in gaming magazines and going out to buy it. It was in my local Dixons (a long-defunct retailer), and, if I remember correctly, my nice fancy big-box copy (containing a whopping 4 CD-ROMS) cost me £30. Not an insubstantial amount of money at the time and especially so for someone purely subsisting off their pocket money.
Ever since I first played Blade Runner though (after a good few hours of trying to get my graphics card drivers to successfully work with DirectX 5) it has since become one of my most beloved gaming titles ever. – I’m still mildly amazed at how this game, for as hugely groundbreaking as it was at the time, was capable of running on systems that didn’t require a ‘3D Accelerator’.
Putting all this nostalgia to one side though, with the release of this new Blade Runner Enhanced Edition, I should be over the moon, right? Well, the short answer is I’m not. I’m actually bloody fuming! – So in a little bit of venting, let me tell you why!
Blade Runner Enhanced Edition
It’s no secret that the development of Blade Runner Enhanced Edition has been more than a little troubled. In fact, until very recently, it was unclear if was ever going to be released at all. With it being placed in the somewhat worrying realms of ‘indefinitely delayed’ back in October 2020, however, earlier this month it was confirmed, with not much fanfare I should add, that it would be arriving on PC (and gaming consoles) on June 23rd.
So, June 23rd came, I bought my copy, and to quote Hank Hill “I don’t know whether to laugh or vomit.”
There’s no polite way to put this, so I’m just going to blurt it out. It’s bad. So bad, in fact, that I wish they hadn’t bothered!
‘Enhanced’ Might Be A Stretch!
So, what do we have here? Well, firstly, let me make it abundantly clear that this is not a remake, and it’s certainly not a remaster either. – It is, essentially, exactly the same game that was released in 1997 with a ‘few’ graphical enhancements that, at least according to the developers, were supposed to bring this more in line with modern standards.
Now, giving NightDive Studios as much leeway as I can allow, a Blade Runner remaster was always practically impossible. Like many games of this era, the original source code has been long lost and what they’ve effectively had to do here is to reverse engineer the original release version into a state that could then be modified and ‘improved’.
What’s so ‘enhanced’ about this new version though? Well, officially speaking, this includes the following ‘improvements’:
- Reconstruction and upressing of original Westwood VQA Videos
- Cinematic Video frame rates updated from 15fps to 60fps
- Modern HD Display
- Enhanced “Knowledge Integration Assistant” (KIA) and clue user interface
- Enhanced Subtitle support
- Modern gamepad support
- SMAA Anti Aliasing
- Anisotropic texture filtering
So, on the whole, sounds good right? Well, yes and (mostly) no. You see, pretty much all of the graphical improvements are only seen within cutscenes. And even then, it seems pretty clear that upping the framerate and resolution required them to get a little creative to make it work. Rather than a little dap of motion blur/smoothing, this has had a whole bucket of paint thrown at it!
While the cutscene visuals are notably sharper when compared to the original version, they don’t really look that much better. And the promotional image they’re using for this (see below) is about as accurate a representation of Blade Runner: Enhanced Edition as one of those mobile games you see advertised all over the place on YouTube.
And On Top of That…
So, overall, it’s the original game with a few moderate visual improvements, right? Well, if that was the case I wouldn’t be here complaining about it. Would I be disappointed that it wasn’t something more impressive? Sure, but on the whole, I think I would be more philosophical about it. It would at least be something new to bring fresh interest to a franchise that, in practically every form, has been used too infrequently over the years.
No, to make matters worse, this version is absolutely jam-packed full of bugs and other annoying glitches and problems. A factor annoyingly compounded by the fact that the original release (the one I have installed), despite being over 25 years old now, is pretty much problem-free! Even on hardware that vastly exceeds the original requirements.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Here’s a sample of the current Steam reviews, which, at the time of writing, have ‘Blade Runner Enhanced Edition’ in the overall ‘Mostly Negative’ category.
“This is not an “Enhanced” edition of that game, it’s actually a lot worse and missing several minor touches the original has. DO NOT buy this version. GoG has the original version available and their version runs without any trouble.
The problems start with the first game menu that looks straight out of Microsoft Visual Studio. The KIA, Esper Machine and other interaction screens have received an upscale and that’s about it for the enhancements. The graphics are the same voxels that were there before. They make you think they’ve up-scaled the FMV’s in the trailer and they probably did but it’s barely noticeable when compared to the original.”
“Buggy, Low effort, No director’s cut content, New UI and art straight up from fiverr”
“This version cannot be call an “Enhanced Edition”. First off the upscaled AI video is some of the worst I have ever seen. It blurry and stutters. Otherwise the game seems to run more or less the same, but not as well as the original.”
“Overall not a very good port. Poorly upscaled visuals, some of which weren’t upscaled at all. Gameplay bugs, like for example I wasn’t able to actually shoot most of the targets in the target practice, it just wouldn’t register.”
“Of course the game itself is great. – However, some issues with controls, resolution, crashing, bad jumpy transitions, etc… currently ruining the fun.”
“This is a game that deserves preservation but all Nightdive has done is re-wrapped the original in an emulator and said good enough. At least it’s on consoles now for a new audience to discover but DO NOT BUY THE PC VERSION.”
And in regards to that last comment, although I have not played any of the console versions, I hear the overall reception to them has been mostly tepid at best.
The Damning Verdict!
Blade Runner Enhanced Edition is available to purchase on Steam right now for £7.19. And for that price, you might be tempted into checking this out. My advice to you in that regard, however, is don’t! – Blade Runner Enhanced Edition is only the 3rd title in my circa 20-year Steam account history that I’ve ever gone to the effort of requesting a refund. I was that heartbroken by it!
It was released to practically zero fanfare, and from my circa 90 minutes playing it, I can see why. I suspect that somewhere, deep down, NightDive Studios is probably a bit ashamed of this one! (And if they’re not, then they should be!).
Let me reiterate though that the original 1997 release of this game, while admittedly having aged quite poorly, is still an exceptionally impressive game and if you want to check it out, I have a great solution for you. – While GOG.COM has unfortunately updated their website to now only list this ‘Enhanced Edition’, by purchasing it (for 20p less than on Steam I might add) you also get the original version thrown in with it for free! – And trust me when I say that if you are going to play this, for the love of God play the original version and not this so-called ‘Enhanced’ edition.
In conclusion, if you missed this one when it was originally released, ignore this new ‘Enhanced Edition’ and get the original (via the link here!) – And get it on GOG so you have both versions to look at and decide if I’m right or not!
I’m not going to lie though, I’m so disappointed with this that even after that rant, I’m still not sure I’ve completely got this off my chest!
What do you think? – Let us know in the comments!