Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let’s watch the hands down greatest Christmas movie of all time, Die Hard! Yes, it’s an action movie, and no, it doesn’t talk about the true meaning of Christmas, but it is about getting together with your loved ones and the importance of family, be it how much you love your wife, whose being held hostage by a murderer, or the bond between a terrorist and his brother whose neck you broke. It’s set on Christmas eve, festive decorations and trees abound, and it ends with Vaughn Monroe singing Let It Snow. That’s good enough for me to pop this classic on every December.
For as great and influential as the film was, Die Hard, both the film and the series, hasn’t been treated terribly well in video games. There was Die Hard Trilogy on Saturn and PlayStation, a compilation of repetitive mini-games based around the original three films, which was followed up by the confusingly titled Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas for PlayStation. The Saturn got a port of Die Hard Arcade, a beat-’em-up that had little to no relation to the movie, and in 2002 we got Die Hard: Vendetta, a subpar first person shooter, but none of these games, not even the ones based on the original movies, have adapted the series with much care for the source material. The only exception that I have found is the original NES adaptation of the first film.
John McClain is a New York City police detective, flying out to Los Angeles to visit his family. He and his wife, Holly, have been separated for six months, but now that Christmas has come around, Holly has invited John to visit for the holiday, including the Christmas party at the office building where she works, the headquarters of the Nakatomi Corporation. While John is getting settled in one of the offices, a group of heavily armed criminals, lead by former German nationalist Hans Gruber, lock down the building and holds the whole party hostage. Everyone is rounded up in the main office on the 30th floor, with access to the floors below being locked off. John however, barely manages to escape unnoticed to another floor. Now, with no way out and the lives of around 30 people at stake, John has to signal for help and try to take out the terrorists.
With regard to the film, the story is well written and acted and the direction and cinematography do a great job conveying tension and suspense. But how does the game fare? Surprisingly well honestly. Rather than just being an out and out action game, Die Hard on NES works on an internal timer. the events of the movie carry on with or without you and you have to play your part in the story or things go wrong very quickly. One of the main plot points is that the terrorists are trying to break into the Nakatomi corporation’s vault to steal $640,000,000, but they have to break through the security locks first. This is your timer. As you play, certain scenes happen that change where enemies are and which of them have certain items you’ll need to win. It was interesting to see how the bigger set pieces and action highlights played out.
Die Hard is played from a top down perspective, having you navigate the Nakatomi building, taking out terrorists and looking for important items. As mentioned above, you have a set time limit to take out the terrorists and complete various objectives. The volume of terrorists has ballooned greatly from the film’s 11 to 40. Considering how action packed the film is, one’s first inclination when booting up the game might be to go in guns blazing. This would be a big mistake. The bulk of the opening phases of the game require some stealth. You start just as unprotected and under equipped as John is in the movie. You only have a pistol with limited ammo while the terrorists are armed to the teeth with machine guns and flash grenades.
You have two health bars to consider while playing. One goes down as you take damage from enemy fire, but the other concerns John’s feet. This meter lets you run at a pretty quick clip, but will drain with use or when moving over broken glass. This coves from a significant point in the film where early on, John accidentally leaves his shoes in the office he started in, and he is eventually forced to run over broken glass to escape the terrorists. You can recover health with soda cans dropped by enemies or from vending machines you can break, while you’ll need first aid kits to replenish foot health.
When I said the game has stealth based sections, I’m really only referring to the necessity of avoiding conflict in the early parts of the game. Combat really is the game’s Achilles’ heel. At the start you only have a pistol, and while you can shoot in all directions the enemy can spray most of the screen with their machine guns. “Okay.” you might think, “No problem. I’ll just hide and try to take out a baddie unawares Solid Snake style.” Trouble is, you can’t see all of the screen at any given time, just the room you’re in. You could turn a corner and run smack into two MP5 wielding crooks, and what is more, when you even come near a bad guy they’ll home in on you so any practical stealth is out of the question. When you find a bad guy, it becomes a matter of weaving through enemy fire while trying to get your hits in while you can.
Ultimately, all you have to do to win is kill all the terrorists, and take out Hans to save Holly. How you handle this however is left up to you. Knowing the events of the movie will help you figure out what to do as very little direction is given in game. After killing a terrorists, you can get his radio, then head to the roof to contact the LAPD. Shortly after this, Sgt. Al Powell will contact you to help you find specific terrorists. You can blow up the 4th floor to buy some time, and even the iconic fire hose jump makes an appearance near the end.
These nods to the movie are cool, but the game does little to help you figure out what to do and where. One of the main objectives is to prevent the terrorists from blowing up the roof and killing all the hostages. To do this you have to wait for Powell to inform you of a terrorist sighted on a specific floor, go there and kill him to get the detonators. As long as you hang onto these, Hans can’t blow the roof, but nothing in the game tells you this. In fact, it’s possible for the game to go on even if the hostages are killed. Once the terrorists break all seven vault locks, you have four minutes to reach the 30th floor and get Hans. However all the terrorists you didn’t kill will gang up on you all at once in this final gauntlet. Although you could play it safe and hide or flee from fights, this part will ruin you.
The gameplay is certainly unique, and it really tries to be true to the source material, but as admirable a goal as that is, it is just brutally hard, to the point where most players would rather stop playing than endure the abuse. And considering that there are no continues, you get one unforgiving experience.
The graphics are something of a mixed bag. Each Floor in the Nakatomi building is accurate to the film counterpart, The computer room, the main office with it’s project models, the elevator maintenance rooms, it’s all here, but they are kind of hard to navigate due to the limitations on your field of view. The character animations are also somewhat jerky.
One of the game’s better features are the cut scenes that depict scenes from the movie. The actors’ likenesses were all licensed for the game, so every one resembles their film counterpart… outside of this one frame of Bruce Willis.
But overall, it certainly adds to the game’s quality.
The music was composed by Junichi Saito. There aren’t that many tracks, but what’s there is effective. The main piece is moody and juxtaposes nicely with the alert music, which is sudden and chaotic. The track in the elevators is almost haunting, and there’s even a rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy after the seventh lock is broken like in the movie. Not a very extensive score, but one well put together.
Movie based games very often get the short end of the stick. Most tend to be either a very surface level following of a movie’s plot, or an entirely unrelated game with the movie’s logo slapped all over it. Die Hard was on the better end of the spectrum. It does it’s best to follow the events of the source material while still providing enough action to make it challenging. unfortunately, Activision went a little far on that score. The game is almost too challenging to be considered really fun to play. It’s an admirable curiosity, but I don’t think I could recommend it to any but the most die hard of Die Hard fans.