Released: August 1996
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Also Available For: PC and SEGA Saturn
In 1996, we would be some eleven years or so away from a fourth entry in the action-packed Die Hard (Various, 1988 to 2013) film series. The third movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance (McTiernan, 1995) had just dropped the previous year so the only way fans of John McClane (Bruce Willis) were going to get more Die Hard action was to turn to videogames. Developed by Probe Entertainment, Die Hard Trilogy utilised three distinct, different gameplay styles to recreate a slightly altered version of the first three (and, at the time, only) movies in the increasingly over-the-top franchise.
Terrorists take over the Nakatomi Plaza and McClane must work his way up the tower, freeing hostages along the way; another group of terrorists then take control of Dulles Airport and McClane must once again save the day; finally, McClane must race through New York City defusing bombs placed at key points by, you guessed it, a terrorist.
Die Hard Trilogy plays differently depending on which of the game’s scenarios you tackle; each of the three movies has a different gameplay style and, thus, a different perspective and different gameplay mechanics, camera perspectives, and controls.
When playing through the events of Die Hard (ibid, 1988), players guide McClane through the Nakatomi Plaza from a third-person perspective in an arcade-style action shooter. Being a third-person shooter, the player can run, jump, dodge, and shoot at terrorists all while using the directional pad (D-pad) and a version of the “tank controls” made (in)famous by the PlayStation and such titles as Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996).
This means that you can’t use the analogue sticks to control McClane, making for a clunky, awkward gameplay style where McClane will walk straight backwards when reversing and, due to the game’s more restrictive gameplay style, doesn’t really have to do much in the way of aiming: you simply point McClane in the general direction of your target, shoot, and will probably blow them away. McClane starts Die Hard with no shoes (as in the movie, though this doesn’t factor into the game) and his trusty Beretta, though he can acquire other weapons (such as a shotgun and machine gun) from weapons crates or downed terrorists. His health is measured by a police badge; when taking damage, the badge will deplete and, if completely depleted, McClane will die and the game will be over.
McClane journeys through nineteen maze-like levels of the Nakatomi Plaza (though it feels never-ending), shooting terrorists and rescuing hostages on each floor. Once a set number of terrorists have been shot, some more will spawn in from the elevators but, once they’re all cleared out, McClane is given about thirty seconds to reach an exit before the Plaza is destroyed.
You’ll also travel up to the rooftop for a bonus level where a whole slew of hostages will try to escape via helicopter; you’ll have to take out the terrorists scattered around here and, again, race for the exit before the bomb goes off to score some bonus points. This last minute time limit is probably the most frustrating part of the Die Hard section of the game; well, that and trying to navigate through the labyrinthine floors of the Plaza using the game’s rubbish mini map. Sure, you can zoom in and out but, when you’re trying to race to the exit, it’s almost useless at pinpointing exactly where you’re supposed to go.
The game shifts to a first-person, on-rails shooter to retell the events of Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Harlin, 1990), similar to the likes of Time Crisis (Namco, 1995). Using the D-pad, you’ll manoeuvre a crosshair around a variety of maps, ranging from the car park and foyer of Dulles Airport, to the maze-like underground passage beneath the airport, to the runway and even into the skies above the airport to blast away at terrorists with reckless abandon.
McClane must, again, blast the seemingly endless supply of terrorists away while avoiding and rescuing numerous hostages. You can also blast crates and other parts of the environment to pick up health and other temporary weapons and toss grenades at the bad guys again but will only find reprieve from injury when the camera decides to place him slightly behind some scenery.
You also get to storm the church and race through the snowy landscapes on a jet-ski, as in the movie, and the on-rails gameplay mechanic is actually a lot better in its execution that the third-person style of Die Hard. Sure, it’s never easy moving a crosshair with a D-pad but the polygonal graphics are a lot less obtrusive and, even better, there’s no sudden or enforced time limit rushing you to an exit. You simply blast away at terrorists before they hit you, reload, and continue until they’re all dead.
For Die Hard with a Vengeance, the game switches to a race against the clock throughout the streets and subways of New York City as McClane and Zeus Carver (sadly not voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) race to reach a series of bombs placed in various locations by Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons). There’s no shooting to do here; you simply accelerate as fast as possible, making hard turns with the L or R triggers, and using limited boosts and jumps to increase your speed. The mini map returns but, this time, it’s more like a compass and is actually useful here; even if, for some reason, you can’t follow the compass points, Zeus will yell instructions to tell you when to make turns or that time is running out. Yes, the time limit returns but, this time, it’s a constantly ticking down clock on the lower left of the screen; you can pick up time bonuses as you race through the streets but the time you have to reach each bomb is tight, to say the least.
As you plough your way through the streets, you’ll have to dodge other cars and traffic and civilians; as you’re racing across Central Park (in an amusing interpretation of a similar scene in the movie), you’ll also have to worry about the massive body of water in the middle of the map, which will sink your car. After every stage, you’ll race against a truck in the subway tunnels to reach a bomb; if you fail to reach the bomb in any of the stages, it will explode and obliterate the entire city (so…I guess they’re all nuclear bombs, then?)
It took me a little while to get to grips with the controls of Die Hard with a Vengeance; the PlayStation seems pushed to its limits here as it’s easy to bash against the sides of buildings or get caught in between the environment, where you’ll jitter away in a glitchy mess until you finally break free. Yet, once you get the timing of your hard turns right, this was fun, frenetic action even without any gunplay.
Graphics and Sound:
Die Hard is rendered in full janky-ass 3D polygons, the trademark style of 3D games around this time. As you explore the Nakatomi Plaza, objects will “pop up” out of thin air or turn see-through if you get to close to them and, rather than use a thick, obscuring fog to mask this effect, the game opts for pitch blackness, especially on the rooftop stages.
As a polygonal recreation of Willis’ character, however, McClane doesn’t look half bad; he looks exactly like Willis does in the film (though, obviously, a bit blocky), which is more than can be said for the game’s non-playable characters, who are just generic blocky figures to be shot or rescued.
Taking McClane out of the narrow hallways of the Nakatomi Plaza actually seems to improve the game’s presentation and stability; in both Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the more open environments reduce the annoying pop-up of obstacles and walls. I find this odd, as it seems like bigger environments would only exacerbate this issue but, apparently, it’s the opposite.
It’s not all good news, though; when Die Hard 2 switches to night-time levels or the underground passageways, the distorted, jerky effects come back in full force. Similarly, while you can switch between different camera perspectives so you can drive from the inside of McClane’s car, and the game’s version of New York City is rendered in surprising stability in Die Hard with a Vengeance, the buildings jerk and move as you race through the streets and it’s easier than it should be to get clipped into the environment. Unfortunately, my copy of the game kept skipping or bugging out when playing music but, from what I heard, there’s a pretty decent, techno/rocking beat to every level. There’s also some fairly decent and amusing voice acting, particularly from the Willis sound-alike who provides McClane’s constant quips. Sure, these (like all the game’s dialogue) are limited and repetitive (and there’s “Yippee ki-yay” but no expletives) but the game does a decent job of recreating McClane’s snarky wisecracks.
Enemies and Bosses:
In Die Hard, McClane guns down countless numbers of terrorists; if these are the same guys from the movie then Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) really got to recruiting for the videogame because there are a lot of henchmen to wade through here. One thing I did like was how, sometimes, hostages will turn out to be enemies in disguise and pull a gun out on McClane, similar to Gruber.
Speaking of Hans…well, he doesn’t really appear. Occasionally, in some levels, you’ll encounter a “Boss” who is slightly different coloured enemy, maybe with more health and a better weapon, who’ll grant an extra life upon being killed. There is one in the game’s last level, but it doesn’t look like Gruber and there’s nothing to say it actually is so that’s a bit of a downer.
This trend continues in Die Hard 2, where you’ll get to blast “Head Honchos” but won’t actually tackle Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) head-on. Instead, you’ll have to settle for McClane inexplicably circling Stuart’s aircraft in the game’s finale, which you’ll blast away at until it’s nothing more than a flaming mass of wreckage. Die Hard with a Vengeance, however, bucks this trend; in most levels, you’ll end up chasing after a “Bomb Car”, which will explode and destroy everything if you don’t destroy it first. These are the equivalent of the game’s boss battles until you reach the final stage of the game but, unlike the other two games, Simon Gruber will taunt McClane as he completes (or fails) each of his missions, making him a near-constant presence.
Gruber also makes an appearance in the game’s final stage, in which McClane must chase after Gruber’s helicopter and use launch points to literally use his car as a weapon to take Gruber down. There’s something incredibly amusing about McClane solving every problem, from city-destroying bombs to helicopters, by simply ploughing into it head-first with a car!
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In Die Hard, you’ll rack up a score as you shoot terrorists and rescue hostage; this, along with killing a Boss, will grant McClane an extra life. You can also replenish McClane’s health with medical packs and acquire new weapons as you play, but these all have limited ammo so you’ll eventually revert back to McClane’s basic Beretta.
Also, I dunno if it’s just me, but I couldn’t figure out how to switch between McClane’s different weapons; grabbing a new one automatically switches to it and you switch back to the Beretta once it’s spent. You can, however, also acquire secondary weapons (like grenades and smoke bombs), which you can switch between and which are vital to dispatching large groups of enemies.
In Die Hard 2, enemies and destroyed crates will yield additional weapons; as in Die Hard, these have limited ammunition but you can still pick up a machine gun, shotgun, explosive shotgun, and even a rocket launcher to blow terrorists away. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, however, the only power-up you can pick up are the boosts. These will blow your car into the air and give you a short burst of speed but aren’t as effective as I would expect from a boost. You can also pick up additional points and time and hit launch points to fly dramatically through the air at certain key points.
Well, I hate to say it, but there’s nothing. When you play Die Hard Trilogy, you play for a high score; it’s a very arcade experience in that way, right down to how you enter your name on the high score screen.
There are, however, a whole slew of cheats you can enter to each of the three games that will affect or spice up your gaming experience; these range from the usual stuff like infinite ammo and invincibility to odd stuff, like plants that scream when they’re shot and a fat mode.
Your enjoyment of Die Hard Trilogy is somewhat dependent upon how well you get on with each of the games, and gameplay mechanics, available within it; Die Hard is a pretty uninspiring third-person action shooter but Die Hard 2 is a surprisingly well-realised on-rails shooter and Die Hard with a Vengeance is an enjoyable racer. However, while each game as positives and negatives, there have definitely been better games of each type, even on the PlayStation, but I appreciate that, back then, developers were very restricted by the limitations of the technology of the time.
In the end, there’s quite a bit on offer in Die Hard Trilogy as an arcade-like experience; going into it, I expected each of the movies to be a short, maybe five to ten level game, but they just kept going on and on. This would be good but there’s not much to come back to beyond getting to gun down hundreds of terrorists whilst spewing the snarky witticisms of John McClane but there are far better options if you want to do things like that…like just watching Die Hard.
Did you play Die Hard Trilogy back in the day, or still play it now? What do you think of it? Has it held up over time or is it just a bad example of the limitations of early-PlayStation titles? What’s your favourite Die Hard movie? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts on Die Hard.