When I got my first 4K TV, the first movie to grace the lovely new screen was Blade Runner 2049. It's a looker at any resolution, but I had high expectations—high expectations that were cruelly stomped on straight away. It looked awful. Cheap and artificial, like I was watching from the edge of a budget drama set. I thought maybe I just needed to get used to it and my eyes would eventually adjust. And it did look fantastic when nothing was moving. I was lying to myself.
After a lot of self-deception, I had a moment of clarity and finally checked the settings, where of course I discovered that I had become the latest victim of motion smoothing. The villain who decided to have it on by default must truly hate movies and everyone who watches them. But the moment I turned it off I had a nice TV and I could enjoy Ryan Gosling the way he was meant to be enjoyed—at a slightly slower frame rate.
God, I wish it was that easy to fix all the issues with Blade Runner Enhanced Edition.
Nightdive's remaster immediately feels off in exactly the same way as a movie that's been brutalised by motion smoothing. The cutscenes have all been bumped up to 60fps, and the result is jarring, evoking a soap opera instead of cinematic sci-fi.
Like the rest of the game they've also been upscaled, but rather than enhancing Blade Runner it ends up smudging all the smaller details and cleaning up the grime. What's left is a recollection of the look and atmosphere of the original, blurred through time.
Nightdive didn't have access to the source code, which delayed the remaster while the team reverse-engineered the original. This massively limited what Nightdive could do, but not doing anything would have been better than what we've ended up with. Artistic intent has been completely overlooked, which does a huge amount of damage and undermines every scene.
When Ray McCoy steps out of his car in front of his first crime scene of the night, the neon sign above the pet shop glows with such ferocity that you can hardly make out the name, though admittedly it was always pretty garish. The police cordon, meanwhile, is utterly illegible for a different reason—the red letters now smeared across the black background by a child's chubby fingers. Something has gone terribly wrong here. Maybe that's what Ray should be investigating.
The android-hunting gumshoe, meanwhile, looks entirely out of place, lit up by his own personal sun, starkly juxtaposed with the gloomy noir backdrop. I'm impressed that Ray can pull off miracles now, but it's a little bit distracting.
Ray and the interactive NPCs have always looked distinct from the background characters, and this serves a function: it's easy to tell who you should be clicking on. But now they look like they've been superimposed onto the scene, completely separate from the rest of the world. And lit up like this, there are so many imperfections that I would never have been able to spot otherwise.
This is especially noticeable when Ray hits up Chinatown, a previously striking location that now looks hideous thanks to the unnatural vibrancy of the character models, which are also untouched by the scene's dramatic lighting and ever-present fog.
While Blade Runner always had some ugly visual quirks, they gave it some rough character that I now find myself missing. And for the most part, it was one of those rare games that, upon playing it many, many years after I first tried to hunt down some replicants, still managed to impress. Its singular style—at least for a game—kept it looking fresh and eye-catching for decades. Now that's gone.
Look at what they've done to poor Ray's lovely apartment.
It's been etched in my memory for decades, but now you can hardly even make out the Mesoamerican tiles that elevate it beyond a dingy art-deco bachelor's pad. In this screenshot you'll also notice one of the few things that can really be considered an 'enhancement': subtitles. This immediately makes Blade Runner more accessible, but why oh why did they have to look so dang ugly?
The existing font has also been pushed aside, so now the interface looks off as well. It's a reminder that fonts are just as much part of the art direction as the lighting, and again we see the original artistic intent being completely ignored. The menus are more functional now, sure, but it shouldn't come at the cost of form; they should be working together.
New bugs have also been introduced. In the first crime scene, Ray won't move when you click on a destination, unless the destination is something he can interact with. Audio also occasionally cuts out during conversations. When you pick up an item, it's meant to linger on the screen so you can get a better look at your haul, but now it vanishes in a millisecond. You can still inspect them in your list of clues, at least. None of this is too egregious, but when piled on top of all the other problems, it's much harder to overlook.
I was excited to play through one of my favourite adventure games again, but I'm done—it's all too disappointing. This is an inferior version by a significant margin, and should be avoided unless you desperately want to play it on consoles where it now appears for the first time. The ScummVM version that was previously on GOG has been removed from the store, too, though it's at least bundled with the new one. This isn't the case on Steam, however, so don't bother with that version.
Even with the story and mechanics intact, it's lost too much of what made it memorable. The atmosphere, art and the work Westwood did to bring the moody cinematic universe to life have all been undone. These are the things that have kept me recommending it to anyone in the market for an adventure game all these years. I appreciate Nightdive's mission to preserve classic games, but it's done the opposite here. Without the source code, the project probably shouldn't have been greenlit in the first place.