Die Hard Trilogy

Die Hard Trilogy
3.5
Game Name: Die Hard Trilogy
Platforms: Windows 95
Publisher(s): Fox Interactive
Developer(s): Probe Entertainment
Genre(s): Action
Release Date: Dec, 1996

I’ve already talked a lot about how much I love The Terminator, but with the exception of once, I haven’t really had the chance to talk about one of my other beloved set of movies: the Bruce Willis action/adventure Die Hard trilogy. I love the series so much, I’ll even happily watch Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2. On television. And laugh at the censored “Yippie-Ki-Yay Mister Falcon.” There aren’t the expected massive numbers of games based on these movies, so the newly-formed Fox Interactive made sure that one of their earliest titles capitalized off of one its parent company’s most successful franchises.

As you would expect from the title, Die Hard Trilogy offers three games in one; each based off of one of the films in the series. Die Hard has you running through the floors of Nakatomi tower, freeing hostages and shooting terrorists in an early third-person adventure. Die Harder borrows liberally from Virtua Cop, with an on-rails arcade shooter through a hijacked airport on Christmas Eve. Die Hard with a Vengeance requires fast, arcade reflexes to drive through various sections of New York and disarm bombs or speeding bomb cars. Each is a vastly different title (which will make this a long review), but their stark differences actually add value to the pack (the ol’ 3 games in 1), and they are all connected in their frenzied action and over-the-top mayhem.

Easily the most intricate of the three, Die Hard puts you in the bare feet of John McClane as he battles up 20 floors of the Nakatomi high rise. The movie’s twelve elite criminals have been replaced with hundreds of stock bad guys, who replenish themselves at predetermined times though reinforcements sent by elevator. Aside from dealing with them, your other concern is the hostages scattered around the level. They must be freed by “tagging” them, and protected as they make a run for the stairwell. You will also want to free all hostages before you kill all terrorists, as once the last terrorist falls, you have 30 seconds to find a bomb sent down on one of the many elevators and defuse it.

Regular levels do not mirror every frame of the film, but recreate the basic spirit, and the basic look of the floors. You’ll start in the parking garage, work your way up through construction levels, into opulent executive floors, then through dangerous computer floors filled with breakable glass panels (that damage you) and few places to hide. There’s also plenty of chaos to be created in these levels, as temporary panels splinter, objects shatter, and sprinklers kick on in response to large explosions. Bonus levels appear between the regular ones, where you must go to the roof and guide groups of all the hostages you’ve saved so far to a waiting helicopter.

Most of the time you’ll be looking for these various hostages. Enemies won’t automatically know where you are, and their AI is based mostly on static patrol routes with limited deviation, so you can attempt some stealth and subterfuge if you so desire. A system where walls turn invisible in a radius around McClane – basically anything that would come between the camera and the character turns transparent – further assists you in getting the drop on bad guys. However, the game isn’t really that hard, mostly due to the radar in the corner of the screen. It can be zoomed in and out to various levels of detail and helpfully shows the location of every single hostage and terrorist on the level. To say that it takes the guesswork out of the game would be an understatement. There are also no other attempts to make the game more difficult – terrorists usually won’t shoot at freed hostages, there’s no time limit except for the end of level bomb, and all enemies (except bosses) fall from one bullet or two, depending on the gun.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun, because it is. McClane has the tools he needs to survive and then some. Aside from the standard movement keys, he can quickly roll behind cover or sidestep out from it to take shots. The default pistol never runs out of bullets. More powerful, but limited, weapons can additionally be picked up throughout the level. Grenades are available, and are triggered quickly with a separate key from the guns. If you’re paying attention, you can frequently meet elevators full of reinforcements, lob a grenade into their ranks as they exit, and watch the bloody vapor. Life powerups are somewhat scarce, but your health restores a bit when you free a hostage, and successful hostage escapes count big time toward your score and extra lives.

It’s arguably the most replayable of the three, and it has the most substance to it. It offers a little more strategy than the other two reflex-based arcade games, but still is a very simple, speedy title. Stealth can definitely be used, but ripping through the levels and blowing shit up is a perfectly valid tactic. Overall, it’s an excellent and balanced addition to the pack, and DHT probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble without the inclusion of this game and its longer play time. I will be reviewing the pack as a whole in the final score, but for the purposes of this trilogy, I’ll give a quick overall score for each one in the pack:

Die Hard – 3.5 stars

Die Hard 2 is an on-rails shooter through a completely inauthentic version of Dulles International Airport and surrounding areas. The game moves the camera through the level automatically, while your mouse aims a set of crosshairs and offers an extremely limited ability to look around. Terrorists are present or arriving in ridiculous numbers, and are joined by random appearances from hostages who wander onto the scene and flail their arms around.

The game takes a lot of inspiration from Virtua Cop – honestly, it pretty much is Virtua Cop, with a different setting and buckets of blood. The environments attempt to be a little more realistic by using bitmap textures and offering a lot more destructible items, but the concept of both games is still identical. The entire level is a collection of scripted sequences, with enemies popping up to shoot you at predetermined times, from predetermined locations. When they appear, they are marked with an indicator that changes color the closer they are to squeezing the trigger. The camera will almost always helpfully zoom in toward the nearest terrorist, allowing you to line up a shot.

Unlike Virtua Cop, the game doesn’t care about trick shots or wounding shots. Any terrorist you hit anywhere will die in one hit and dispense gouts of blood while doing so. The goal instead is mayhem and ultraviolence. Panels shatter, sprinklers can be triggered by shooting them, and secondary weapons like grenades and rockets make short work of terrorists and scenery alike. By not shooting hostages, you can get a “Good Cop Bonus” where the game takes you on a side path filled with weapons and powerups. Other than denying you this, actually shooting a hostage earns you nothing more than an “Oops!” from McClane.

Other bonuses take you on side paths where you can shoot handcuffed terrorists, or shoot fleeing terrorists in the back while the message “No one escapes!” flashes on the screen. Explosions also set anyone nearby on fire. Burning terrorists will get back up, run around and scream, and can be shot for a “Mercy Shot” bonus. I remember some mild hysteria about the violence here when it was released (especially the windshield wiper bit in the third game), but the inclusion of these scenes mostly seems to be a big “fuck you” to the topic of video game violence, and is intended to encourage a laid-back laugh from its target audience.

This is good, because DH2 doesn’t have much else going for it. It’s a buggy implementation of this type of game, with a distracting amount of visual glitches and some trouble with getting shots to register. The rail shooter has certainly been done better in almost every other title that has attempted it. It’s not that great to look at either, though I do appreciate the attempt to use photos, look more realistic, and add more breaking glass and deforming walls. The ability to use the environment to kill bad guys, like shooting ceiling titles down on top of them, is a particularly nice touch. Levels also last about five minutes each, a couple of vehicle chase levels add variety, and most levels do not drag on past their welcome.

Still, you’re fighting the same guys through all the levels, with entrances that usually are no more interesting that Whack-A-Mole popups from behind scenery. There also are not that many distinctly different levels (though blame the movie for taking place entirely in an airport, I suppose), and not a lot of chaos and destruction that isn’t caused by you. The mouse controls and its visual cursor removes virtually all need for precision aiming and keen senses (a lightgun would have helped), resulting in the most casual of the three games. I’m not suggesting it should have been cut from the pack, and it does offer its own brand of fun that’s different from the other two. Still, you could beat this entire game with the mouse in one hand and a beer in the other; which could have been their exact intent.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder – 3 stars

Die Hard with a Vengeance takes only the concept from the third film, and abandons the plot. It’s a blazing arcade driving game where you must race through streets based on New York to find timed bombs before they go off. You have both a direction arrow indicating where the next bomb is, and a timer in the corner indicating how long before the bomb detonates. These hurried time limits, and dodging traffic, are your only concerns.

It’s basically a solo racing game with bombs as the checkpoints. The difference is that unlike a linear track, the game renders massive numbers of non-linear blocks of city streets completely open to your driving. There’s certainly a suggested and optimal path to meet the time limit, but if you overshoot or find your way blocked, you can easily carve out a new course. It’s not an authentic, map-accurate version of New York, but the spirit is there. The size of each level certainly feels open and impressive, and the hectic pace, fleeing pedestrians, and speeding police cars attempting to assist you, also help make the game exciting.

Driving is fairly simple, and any thought to physics appears to have been disregarded. You have one key you’ll keep held down to accelerate, two more to steer left and right, and two more to make sharp, instant 90-degree turns onto new streets. Most of the bombs are planted in everyday objects like park benches or phone booths, and you “disarm” them by running right the fuck into them and setting them off in a localized explosion (that takes out nearby pedestrians, scenery, and even sets sprite-based birds aflame). Occasionally, you’ll also come across “bomb cars” that you must chase and bump into enough times to set them off. There are also lots of neat little touches, like the minigame between levels where you race a dump truck inside a subway tunnel, a pickup that spawns an invincible ambulance that plows a path through gridlocked traffic for you, and the ability to blast your horn and have pedestrians dive out of the way – or plow into them and sweep the blood away with your windshield wipers.

Unfortunately, the strict bomb time limits clamp down on any exploration you might do. You can grab new cars within the levels if you have the time, but there appear to be no beneficial differences in their speed or handling. Some heavy scripting also cuts down on the replayability, and breaks out the expected path even further – like remembering to turn left when the squad car hits the taxi and blocks your path on the right. The game basically becomes an issue of trying to find and stay on the intended, unmarked path. To assist you with this, a voice actor playing Samuel L. Jackson’s role from the film shouts out advice like “Turn right up here!” The direction indicator also spins in relation to your position, making the necessary turns obvious. Once you’ve figured out the path to take, or even managed to barely stumble through the level, you won’t have many reasons to go back and do the identical things over again.

Die Hard with a Vengeance – 3 stars

All three games do come on one disc, but are broken out into a main “loader” program and three individual .exe’s for each game. It does work, but loses a few points for clunkiness, as it drops back and forth between programs and resolutions. You cannot load the games individually. It’s also important to note that this is a port of a title designed for the original PlayStation, and it shows. I owned the PS version when it was released, and noticed better graphics there in all games. The computer version is okay, but not as slick (visual tearing, sharp edges, distorted textures); maybe due to the lack of dedicated graphics hardware that is present in the console. The overall look and speed will depend, of course, on what kind of computer you have, and whether you can enable MMX and 3-D graphics cards.

This is an early true 3-D game, and it shows. The attempts were certainly impressive, like the fully-textured airport and relatively massive rendition of New York, but the methods used to get there certainly result in an odd look to the entire game. Cars and objects are made of textured polygons, and despite some heavy reuse of textures and a lot of poly tearing, they look okay. All people are made of flat sprites inside a 3-D world. The individual body parts are all separate segments and rotate to keep the perspective correct, but the results are some truly freaky paper doll characters with digitized actors’ faces lolling around atop the torsos. The effect sort of works from a distance, and sort of works in still images, but in motion they look awfully strange. The worst is when enemies get shot and fall – and you can imagine how often that will happen – and their heads and arms all flop around independently while trying to maintain the correct angle to the camera.

DHT sounds okay as well, with decent effects used across all three games. A voice actor playing McClane will provide some lines and humor, though the films’ classic catchphrase is noticeably absent, as well as all other forms of cursing. It’s hard to be an irreverent, bloody adult action title when you’re too pussy to say a few dirty words, but I guess that speaks volumes about the American ratings process. The movies basically used resampled Christmas music for their soundtracks, something that didn’t happen here, so some generic action themes have been cooked up for the levels. I emphasize generic. Though a special commendation has to be given to Die Hard 3’s Harlem level music – a truly (maybe intentionally) cheeseball fake hip-hop beat, complete with a kid doing Flavor Flav’s trademark “YEEEEEAH BOI!!” Worth it for the laughs alone.

It was certainly a lot of fun for the time, and I remember playing the Playstation version far more than I should have. It was one of the most hyperactive games released up to that point, and the value of three exciting and completely different games in one package was undeniably cool. Yet looking back, I doubt I would have played it so much if it wasn’t Die Hard. I certainly have no desire to play through all of the games again, and its bugs and graphical troubles are far more apparent today. Take the Playstation version if you can.

 

The Good

Nice pack of three distinctly unique action titles. Extreme pace is enjoyable.

The Bad

Each of the three games has been done better in other stand-alone titles.

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