LICENSE TO THRILL?: Die Hard Trilogy (1996)

Back when it was a trilogy. A good trilogy. Andy becomes John McClane in this classic licensed gem.

Who made it?: Probe Entertainment (Developer), Fox Interactive (Publisher).

Genre: Third-Person Shooter, First-Person Shooter, Driving.

Platform: PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC.

Format: CD-ROM.

Release date: November 1996 (UK).

What happens when you hand the Die Hard rights over to a UK-based development team in Croydon who made such games as Mortal Kombat 1 and 2, as well as Alien Trilogy? One of the few decent movie tie-ins, that’s what! Probe Entertainment, aka Acclaim, gained the licence and immediately began to develop what kind of game Die Hard Trilogy was going to be. Would it be a third-person action game? A first-person shooter? An on-rails shooter? Or even a driving game? The decision was soon made to incorporate all four – a bold idea that hasn’t really been attempted again in the video game industry. This is an enjoyably faithful adaptation of the illustrious film series, and the lack of Bruce Willis’ likeness as super cop John McClane is never an issue. Like the films, everyone has their favourite entry in Die Hard Trilogy, and each game has its share of pluses and negatives.

We start with the third-person shooter. Here we play McClane on a mission to kick terrorist butt, rescue hostages and defuse bombs. The controls are simple, if slightly clunky by today’s standards, as we move McClane around each floor of the infamous Nakatomi Plaza. As with the original Die Hard (1988), the set-up here is simplicity itself. All you have to do is kill terrorists and round-up those annoying innocents. But you have to be quick – at the end of each level, you must race to the designated elevator and defuse a bomb inside. If you fail, Nakatomi is going to need a shitload of new screen-doors.

The great thing about this game is that you don’t have to rescue every hostage. In fact, you can execute them if that’s your thing, but being heroic gives you extra health, and if you prevent an execution, you even get an extra life. The music is pacey and is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to gunning down what seems like an entire army of bad guys. Seriously… Hans Gruber was never this prepared! Level bosses, unfortunately, are just ordinary terrorists in red jumpers who you must defeat via the body guards teaming around them. Nothing a grenade can’t solve. But if you are worried, don’t be. You have an array of weapons ranging from pistols, grenades, to machine guns and shotguns that can fire explosive rounds. That’s right, I said explosive rounds. Need this review convince you more? John also has a range of health items including hotdogs and soda, to health packs and bullet-proof vests. Most people would rub these out as quirky video game items, but they all feel so right in the Die Hard universe.

The game avoids slavishly copying the plot of the first film, unlike the PC title Die Hard: Nakatomi  Plaza, which followed the movie a little too closely for my liking (it even begins with you looking up Holly’s name on the computer, just like the film). Instead, Probe have some fun while trying to stay true to the spirit of the cinema classic. This is most evident in the fact that each floor of the Plaza is over-flowing with at least 100 terrorists, and none of the other characters from the film appear. However, we do get a bonus level where you can lead hostages to a waiting police helicopter, while killing as many baddies as you can. Survive the night and you’re left with a rather underwhelming ending with the words “WELL DONE” popping up on the screen in red lettering. Despite such a no-frills approach, this is probably my favourite game in the Trilogy pack.

Die Hard 2 is an on-rails shooter that, like the 1990 sequel, takes place at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. It places the user behind John’s eyes as he takes out swarms of pissed-off enemies. In the same vein as titles like House of the Dead, Virtua Cop and Time Crisis, this game takes control of the character’s movement, allowing you to concentrate on what’s important – killing scumbag terrorists. The game follows the story of the film ever so slightly in comparison to its predecessor, yet is still loose enough to have fun and never sticks to a solid outline. As you progress, you might get a sense of deja vu, just like McClane. For example, first you’ll be wondering through the airport, next you’ll be pulling the ejector seat lever escaping a cockpit full of live grenades, and then you’ll be on the back of a snow-mobile firing multiple weapons.

Again there are a variety of side-arm pick-ups and bonuses, such as the “Good Cop” points system and the “Gratuitous Violence” bonus, which has a mini-level enabling you to shoot terrorists with their hands bound – nice. The music is solid and different enough from the first game, hitting the right balance between Christmas cheer, action-fuelled mayhem and the melancholic nature of a terrorist attack on an airport. However, this is by far the shortest game, yet the most fun of all three in terms of location and concept. But where things really drag is with the control system. This game is really designed for a lightgun or a mouse. I never had these peripherals for my PlayStation, making the game painful and sluggish when it came to aiming. They also didn’t make any alterations to the difficulty if you did have a lightgun or a mouse, making the mechanics of this one a little troublesome on non-PC platforms. That said, it’s my second favourite in the Trilogy collection.

Like movie sequels, we seem to have a case of diminishing returns here. Our third and final outing with McClane is a driving game, echoing the largely mobile action of Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). You must drive frantically across New York, taking the film’s basic premise of a mad bomber in the city, yet removing itself from the original story arc. Once again, character names and locations are the only similarities. While the previous Die Hard games weren’t exactly complex, this is by far the simplest. Drive over the bombs before the time limit expires, avoid civilians (if you want/can) and that’s it really. Ironically, it’s also the hardest of the three. This is due to the controls, which aren’t a patch on today’s fluid driving games, coupled with the ruthlessly short bomb timers. These two simple factors can make it extremely frustrating. Saying that, the controls are passable enough for it to be considered challenging rather than causing controller-throwing fits.

The graphics are still pretty good for a PS1 game, and small amusing details like blood being wiped from your windshield just adds to the darkly comedic side to the Die Hard brand, even if McClane would never kill innocent bystanders (save that for A Good Day to Die Hard). It’s also a detail that made the German censors go mad and ban Die Hard Trilogy outright. This particular game for me has the best sound design, and a score that hits the mark when it comes to the feel and tone of the film. The Samuel L. Jackson-esque side-partner, along with John’s commentaries, really brings the feeling of …with a Vengeance to the table and makes the third part worthwhile. Due to its frustratingly challenging gameplay, I have to admit that this is my least favourite and the one I least looked forward to revisiting for this review. Despite my hesitation, I still admire the end result. It’s a bitch to complete but it truly tests your wits. Just like McClane.

All in all, Die Hard Trilogy is a game that barely has anything to do with the films, apart from basic premises, various names and locations. Yet, it still manages to capture the spirit of all three motion pictures without having to follow their plots to the letter. Something that other video game adaptations usually fail at. But like most PlayStation games it does have its flaws, but who cares about dated graphics when you’re mowing down terrorists?

There’s more, though. Like a Gruber relative, Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas crawled out of the woodwork  in 2000 for the PlayStation and PC. Unfortunately, despite having produced such an amazing first game, Fox decided to use American developer n-Space who had only made Bug Riders (1998) and Danger Girl (2000). This change in developer led to an inconsistency between the two games in terms of tone and gameplay.

Viva Las Vegas had an extremely dumb plot with extremely bad voice acting. I mean, couldn’t they get someone to sound human, let alone like Bruce Willis? The graphics hadn’t improved much since the first, and for a game that hit the stores at the end of the PlayStation’s lifecycle, and one that is playable on PC, it is a complete let-down. Each level again alternates between the three game modes featured in its predecessor. But you can tell this game was thrown together as quickly as possible just to cash-in on the success of the first. Just watch the opening cutscene… it’s hilarious.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The game was well received and would eventually become a Sony Greatest Hits game.
  • The disc has audio tracks that can be played on a standard CD player.
  • Initially, the Die Hard 2 segment of the game was developed with polygonal enemies, but they were later replaced with digitised sprites.

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