Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab Is A VR Tie-In That Does The Series Proud

by Jamie Feltham • October 25th, 2017

Update: Memory Lab is now available on Rift and Gear VR.

Blade Runner is one of those rare films that’s managed to protect its integrity by avoiding spin-offs and tie-ins that would dilute the original’s profound impact. Now that the long-awaited follow-up, Blade Runner 2049, is in cinemas, though, the series is more at risk of falling victim to the Hollywood marketing machine than ever. Fortunately, like the sequel, this week’s VR tie-in app, Blade Runner: Memory Lab, does right by the film’s mythos.

Memory Lab, from LA-based studio Magnopus, is a little longer than your average free tie-in experience. Appearing on Oculus Rift and Gear VR, it lasts anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and features scenes with an unexpected amount of freedom. You step into the shoes of a Replicant Blade Runner which, if you don’t know the films, is basically a life-like android tasked with hunting down other androids that have gone rogue and are hiding on earth. After your last job goes wrong, you’re called in for a memory scan to assess the situation.

The app goes beyond the simple thrills of the VR tie-in, though they’re very much here too. Starting out in one of the series’ iconic flying cars in a typically rain-swept city makes for a suitably moody opening that immediately injects that neo-noir atmosphere. You’ll visit locations from 2049 and even meet a character from it, too, satisfying the more immediate joys of wish-fulfillment.

More interesting, though, is what Memory Lab adds to the franchise. You’re assisted by an AI companion similar to the one played by Ana de Armas in 2049. The actor, though, has been photoscanned-into the world using Microsoft’s mixed reality volumetric capture rig, the European version of which we got to see earlier this week. Along with several other characters, she appears life-like and convincing, with only slightly blurred textures allowing you differentiate from the real thing. It looks a little like a real human rendered in Google Earth VR, for example.

It’s fitting that a franchise obsessed with humanity and what the augmentation of that concept means for society be one of the first VR apps to include this technology. Though Memory Lab itself may have limitations, it does represent one of the first steps towards bringing fully convincing humans into the virtual world which, combined with the acceleration of headsets themselves, could have massive implications in the years to come. Ultimately that’s not a subject the piece itself is concerned with, which does feel like something of a missed opportunity.

Memory Lab also manages to contribute somewhat to 2049’s story without stepping on it, shedding a little more light on one of the film’s central characters that gives the entire piece an even deeper sense of purpose.

All-in-all, then, it’s not half bad considering just how dire some movie tie-ins can be. Memory Lab is a brief and enjoyable visit to one of cinema’s most celebrated worlds, which lets you live just a slice of its atmosphere before taking you back out, leaving everything as it were. That’s all you can ask for.

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  • When does this come out? I looked on the Oculus Store but didn’t see it.

    • Ron

      They keep pushing it back. Was supposed to come out last week, strange that these sites don’t realize it’s not delivered yet.

  • Morey Ladini

    The sad fact is that the movie is a box office bomb and is already getting pulled from theaters. There is no impetus left to promote it. But, seeing how much work and cost has been put into the app, it would seem inexpensive to now just release it. Maybe it will be tied in with a later DVD release, instead.

    Frankly, they should combine the VR apps with the Air Car demo tech, and try to make back some money on a spin-off VR game. As for me, the VR stuff is more interesting than the movie.

    • PK

      it’s made $44,000,000 in profit. those who were expecting a blockbuster for the marvel generation, and another billion dollars, were sadly mistaken. but for an art film it’s done really well imho.

      • CogInTheWheel

        You’re simply counting it’s worldwide gross, that isn’t how profit works.

        It’s domestic total would have to be 194million to make 44million in profit, it is nowhere near that. They get very little money from the International box office. It needs to make around 400million worldwide to get any type of decent return.

        • PK

          i’ve always wondered about that. i assumed the profit was less, but there must still be some profit though. also, the industry as a whole is making money on this film. and it’s only the beginning, these studios have too little patients for product that doesn’t do as much business in its first couple of weeks. i’m sure over the course of the next year or two there will be plenty of money made from blade runner. maybe not as much as if they’d just pumped out another artless marvel flick but then again if it’s purely profit then want then sell cocaine instead of popcorn. although those margins may be similar.

        • HybridEnergy

          Who cares, Hollywood is garbage and the movies that seem to do well in theaters are garbage super hero nonsense for 10 year olds. I can’t think of too many cult hits on my top ten list of greatest movies ever that were considered a box office success. If anything, a box office bomb is getting me excited to see it since I haven’t yet, it means it’s probably good and not just filled with explosions and an over priced orchestral soundtrack.

          • Hugh Bitzer

            Since when are orchestral soundtracks “overpriced”?

          • HybridEnergy

            Since they consistently rent over priced composers. You know, some of the best soundtracks in the world came from unknown weirdos who did it for free in their basement. Not anymore, it’s gotta be some kind of pretentious over priced composer with his million men symphony. Come to think of it the gaming industry suffers from this too.

          • amanieux

            you’re in calling it soundtrack and not music like the original vangelis score, this just backround sound ambiance that mimics the original music theme. zero composition.

    • Punk0

      It certainly didn’t do as well as hoped, but it was still number 4 at the box office last week. If it gets nominated for Best Picture, it could see a rerelease as well. The original didn’t do well at the box office either. It’s a shame they couldn’t get it done in time for the release of the movie, but I’m also glad they didn’t rush out an unfinished product. I’ll definitely be checking it out when they release it.

    • Gonzalo Novoa

      I bought my Rift a week ago and that’s one of the first demos I tried and I found it pretty impressive, I loved the atmosphere. I’d love a game where you could explore a city like that.

    • LowRezSkyline

      The original Blade Runner was a box office bomb, what does that matter. Still considered one of the greatest scifi movies of all time. BR 2049 will continue to make money long after it exits theaters, just like the original.

      • HybridEnergy

        Exactly, Donnie Darko, one of the greatest movies of all time…also a box office bomb. The best movies ever people saw later.

      • amanieux

        the original blade runner was not a box office bomb when it came out ($6.1 million during its first weekend in theaters). it grew its numbers over the years from word of mouth as a cult movie.

  • amanieux

    why does it requires the controiller that nobody has ? why cant it use head rotation and the existing trackpad ? is there a gearvr controller emulator from another phone (like on daydream) ?