The Blade Runner effect: the best eight video games that were influenced by the original film
The epitome of cyberpunk, Blade Runner’s influence on the entertainment world has been huge. Here are eight games that reference the sci-fi classic
Blade Runner’s influence is without parallel. The cult film, a critical and commercial flop on its initial release, is now seen as a masterpiece of sci-fi cinema, an ahead-of-its-time classic that inspired an entire legion of filmmakers.
But its inspiration isn’t limited to the film world: novelists have used it as the basis for the cyberpunk subgenre, Vangelis’ score influenced a host of electronic music producers, and everything from comic books to anime, TV shows to modern technology have paid homage to it. .
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Perhaps its biggest influence has been on video games. Its neon-lit, gritty aesthetic lends itself perfectly to immersive experiences, while the central storyline – a futuristic film noir about a detective hunting down androids – has been adapted into multiple genres: first-person shooters, role-playing games, action-adventure, survival horror, even basic platform side-scrollers.
With its long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049 in cinemas tomorrow – 35 years after the initial film’s release – and with hundreds of games taking inspiration from the original, let’s revisit the games that have borrowed from Blade Runner.
Here are the best eight.
Long before Metal Gear developer Hideo Kojima borrowed from Escape from New York, the game developer was clearly inspired by a different pair of cult ’80s films. Snatcher is blatant in its influences, with the game’s namesake enemies unashamedly taken from The Terminator, while its detective protagonist bears an incredible resemblance to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Like the film, Snatcher wasn’t well received on release, but has became a cult classic, with a number of remakes and ports over the years.
A revolutionary game when it was released, a record-breaker in the sales charts and still hypnotically beautiful in its rotoscoped 16-bit animation, Flashback takes Blade Runner’s concept and breaks it down to bare bones gameplay.
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You journey through futuristic levels with nothing but your gun and your wits, blasting androids and aliens, and uh, rolling around on screen. Describing its charms isn’t easy, but its cinematic qualities still make it appealing. Just don’t bother with the 2013 remake.
You might have heard of the 2012 reboot, which nonsensically changed the top-down view to first-person, but the 1993 original truly broke fresh ground. Taking Blade Runner’s replicants-run-amok concept and putting the player in charge of cyber agents given various quests, the expansive cyberpunk world and corrupt aesthetic were heavily influenced by the film. Its inventive mission structure and sheer interactivity made the game feel unlike anything else in the industry. Both official sequel Syndicate Wars and crowdfunded “spiritual sequel” Satellite Reign are also worth checking out.
Beneath a Steel Sky (1994)
“Blade Runner in a LucasArts adventure game” is how most describe Beneath a Steel Sky, a game just as indebted to Ridley Scott’s film as it is to George Lucas’ gaming division. Designed by Watchmen comic-book artist Dave Gibbons, it was a failure on its release and playing the game now reveals a fascinating mess. The story is set in a bleak Australian post-apocalyptic world, but its dark setting is contrasted against humour straight out of Monkey Island. That doesn’t make it bad, just a bit of an acquired taste, kind of like Blade Runner.
Obviously, right? But there have actually been two official games based on the film. The first was in 1985 for Commodore 64-era systems and was a basic eight-bit side-scrolling shooter.
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The second, capitalising on fresh interest following the release of the director’s cut of the film, was a fascinating point-and-click adventure game that sent you deep into its paranoid world of replicants. Designed by the original team and voiced by the film’s secondary actors, it was gorgeously conceived and almost as brilliant today as it was 20 years ago.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
The first few Deus Ex games were good, if not exceptional, standard action and stealth-based RPGs in a standard futuristic world. But when Human Revolution was released, a prequel to the series, the game stood out mostly because it was unofficially set in the Blade Runner world. The dark, dishevelled settings, with promises to live on off-world colonies are obvious signs, but just as impressive is the gameplay. You can shoot your way through Deckard-style, or be stealthy and investigate like a true futuristic detective. The sequel, Mankind Divided, follows a similar path and is just as good.
This is where things came full circle. Our city’s own influence on Blade Runner created its bleak, lived-in aesthetic, which in turn led to this game, set in a dystopian version of Hong Kong where the Kowloon Walled City still stands. As an RPG, Shadowrun: Hong Kong borrows not only from the film, but the entire cyberpunk world it spawned, with hackers, samurais and other geeky-cool characters standing alongside the standard set of elves and dwarves. The balance between action and characters is a large part of its appeal, not to mention for local gamers looking for a setting that’s close to home.
The most recent release on this list, and obviously released to capitalise on the sequel’s hype, Observer is a surprisingly deep first-person adventure game, and possibly the most influenced by the film without being based on it.
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With a lead detective voiced by Blade Runner villain Rutger Hauer, a surprisingly familiar dystopian setting and a number of crackly technologies that delve deep into the mind, this looks and feels like a Blade Runner game. It’s only later, when the plot unravels itself, does it end up more like a David Cronenberg film.