Ruminating on Blade Runner, One of Gaming's Greatest Influences

Ruminating on Blade Runner, One of Gaming's Greatest Influences

Ahead of the highly-anticipated sequel Blade Runner 2049, we look back on Blade Runner's influence on games.

Do you ever watch a movie, and automatically know it's your favorite movie? That's how I felt the first time I sat down to watch Blade Runner on a chunky CRT television. The quality was bad. It wasn't its best version. I was young at the time—who knows what age—but what I saw stuck with me.

We live in an age where because of technology, things seem to age all the quicker. Movies from the early 2000s with CGI look worse, where upon release they were maybe astounding. Years ago, the original Star Wars trilogy was tweaked for a modern re-release, inserting CGI alongside its practical effects (hello, ghost Hayden Christensen). Even as props age, at the very least, they don't look as phony as something generated on a computer. Computers always get better. Props stand the test of time.

The latter is part of what's made Ridley Scott's cyberpunk fever dream Blade Runner sorta timeless, and even prescient. Blade Runner's dizzying cityscapes, neo-noir mood lighting, and haunting Vangelis-composed score only seem to age better with time. The only thing about it that has aged is an uncomfortable "love" scene. As one of my favorite films, I've experienced Blade Runner in all its many forms—from versions that slot in unicorn-showing deleted scenes to a seemingly hungover Harrison Ford doling out narration. I've watched it in 35mm on the Big Screen. I've seen it on an old CRT television, enamored by it all the same. Most recently I watched it in 4K, astounded by how crisp and lifelike its sets still looked over three decades later. It felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

A captivating image from the long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049, out today.

Even for a movie I've seen probably a hundred times, I manage to find new things to love about it with every viewing. The way the rain pours during Roy Batty's final monologue. The way the light perfectly shines through anti-hero Rick Deckard's blinds. The way his apartment is perfectly messy; illustrating what a slob he is in and out of his makeshift workplace. How sympathetic its "villains" are for daring to want to live their lives normally, and how they're hardly villains at all.

I think Blade Runner was a major tipping point for some of my favorite works of art—art with a sense of direction, authorship, tone, mood. Blade Runner made me love art that feels focused and singular, like no other person could dream it up. I was never alone in my pure love for the film, and boy, I never felt alone either. Growing up, it seemed like Blade Runner had a profound effect on everything else I enjoyed too. Video games especially.

There's a host of games (and series) that deliberately name check Blade Runner as an inspiration. Syndicate. Shadowrun. Deus Ex. Snatcher (from probable Ridley Scott-fanboy Hideo "Look at my Criterion Collection" Kojima). There are a few that are more subtle in their inspirational leanings, as seen in Mega Man X's replicant-like "Reploids." Blade Runner's influence has seeped into almost any game with science fiction leanings it sometimes feels, especially ones that live and die by the "cyberpunk" mantra. For those, Blade Runner is practically its bible.

Blade Runner was also adapted as a point-and-click adventure game in 1997.

When I set out to write this would-be cliched list of games with Blade Runner influences, I realised my list would be too long. Impossible to dwindle down. Titles from the LucasArts-like point-and-click adventure Beneath a Steel Sky to this year's brutal action-shooter Ruiner would find themselves slotted in, but they'd have to fight for their spots. I realized it'd be a fruitless effort; the comments section would be a nightmare of realizing the games I'd glossed over in the frenzy.

The problem is, there is no shortage of games that point to Blade Runner as an inspiration. You can see its neon-accentuated cityscapes in the likes of futuristic Paris in Remember Me. You see its very livelihood of a diverse city surviving in drab circumstances come to life in the bar simulator VA-11 Hall-A. Gemini Rue borrows thematic and tonal similarities from Blade Runner, almost wholesale.

Blade Runner expanded and breathed life into a genre that was once confined to only literature, giving it a visual beacon for others to look up to. Games rose to the challenge over the years. Some looking to Blade Runner's environments for inspiration, others its mood, others its characters.

Possessioner is an adult PC-98 game I stumbled upon in my research. Be careful when Googling it though—it earns its eroge genre title.

Everything culminated in 1997's own point-and-click adventure adaptation of the movie (and just a tiny bit, the Philip K. Dick novel the film is based on). It's game that doesn't star Deckard, but expertly renders the grimy city he calls home. Even by today's graphical standards, the game's strong art direction mirrors what made the film resonate with so many viewers. (If only there were an easy way to play it, without making a trip to Ebay.) With technology advancing, visions of Blade Runner's troublesome future have only come to life in grander ways. Eventually, the creators of one of the greatest open world games of all-time will offer their own vision of a cyberpunk society in Cyberpunk 2077, based on the tabletop series of the same name.

Last night, like so many others, I made my way to a pitch black theater to watch my most anticipated movie in forever, Blade Runner 2049. With Ridley Scott producing, the promising Denis Villeneuve directing (his other films Prisoners, Arrival, and Sicario are all solid), and excellent-brooder Ryan Gosling as another anti-hero, the stars aligned for the sequel we've waited decades for. I'm happy to report that it's as good as I hoped, and I'll leave it at that.

But no matter how Blade Runner 2049 is widely received, it changes nothing about the original and the hundreds of things that it's inspired in its wake. If there's any landmark piece of fiction that's inspired video games as a whole, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something more influential than Blade Runner. In many ways, Blade Runner feels like it's everywhere I look. In neon-lit alleyways in games; in science fiction with a neo-noir hinge; in android versus humans narratives. Blade Runner is a film that will never be lost in time, like Roy Batty's tears in the rain.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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