Xmas RetroSpective – Die Hard

Die Hard InfoYippee Kay Yay!  It’s Christmas, and for me that means one very specific thing.  It’s time for New York Police Detective John McClane, and my annual Christmas viewing of Die Hard.

However, this year I thought I’d do things a little different, and game my way through the Nakatomi plaza, in the NES adaption of the classic 1988 movie.  Now, of course I’ll be watching the movie for the millionth time this Christmas, and know the story off by heart.  As does anyone else who’s seen the movie, and many who haven’t.

Die Hard Start
Unlike in the film, the action doesn’t start from Hollie Gennaro’s office.

Nevertheless, for anyone who doesn’t know the plot is set on Christmas Eve, and John McClane has travelled to Los Angeles to reconcile with his estranged wife at the Nakatomi Christmas Party where she works.  However, it’s not long after McClane’s arrival when villain Hans Gruber and his heavily armed group seize control of the tower, and take everyone hostage.  Everyone except John McClane.

Now we all know that this is a movie tie-in, so you’d be forgiven for thinking the game is going to have nothing to do with the film.  Yet surprisingly the story is completely intact.  You’ll have to find the C4, take down the villains, stop the hostages from being moved to the roof, watch Hans fall, and keep one eye of how many of the six vault locks they’ve broken through.  Sounds awesome right?  Well, sort of.

Die Hard Roof
The moment before McClane jumps from the roof. One of the film’s most iconic scenes.

I mean credit has to go to developer Pack-In-Video for trying to replicate the movie so accurately, that’s not the problem.  In fact it’s a major positive.  The main problem, is the fact that the game doesn’t explain any of this.  Instead you’re simply dumped on the 32nd floor, or any random floor if you choose the advanced difficulty, and instantly start to get shot at by enemies.

If the only aim was to defeat the enemies, and the game did the rest of the story, it wouldn’t be a problem.  Heck if the game even explained your next aim that would be equally good, but instead you get nothing.  This really is one game where you’ll want a walkthrough.  Thankfully the best guide you can get is the film itself.

Air Ducts
As with the film, there is a certain degree of shimmying through the Air Ducts.

The gameplay tends to continue on in the same fashion as the story.  There’s a lot of promise, and it appears as though a great amount of effort has gone into the game.  Yet, it has numerous issues that effect the overall gameplay.

The game itself plays out just as you would expect for a title based on a film such as Die Hard.  Here players control John McClane from a top-down viewpoint, and are able to fire their weapon in one of eight different directions.  Much in the same vein as titles such as Ikari Warriors, or modern retro-inspired games like Hotline Miami.

HoHoHo
HoHoHo! Now I have a machine gun!

However, unlike these games, Die Hard fails to implement a fluid control system, and continually feels clunky.  Even worse, the enemies seem to be immune to this robotic movement, and will spray an endless amount of bullets in every direction, with McClane freezing for a second every time you get hit.  In fact, it’s hard enough to defeat just one of Gruber’s men, and you’ll probably lose most your life bar trying to dodge the bullets and get a shot off.

This is where another of the game’s problems lies.  You see, despite the insane difficulty, one that is made worse by the clunky controls, there isn’t any extra continues.  Yes it’s another one of those games, and once John McClane is defeated it’s all the way back to the start (unless you have some cheats).  Oh and trust me, unlike the movie, you’ll be seeing more than just Takagi and Ellis get shot.

Hans Gruber
Hans Gruber’s last stand.

Now, if you know what you’re doing, this is a game that can be beaten in under half an hour.  Yet that doesn’t make starting from the beginning any more bearable.  Especially given how frustrating just killing the opening enemy is.

Nevertheless, the gameplay is not all bad.  Actually, within the clunky controls, insane difficulty and maze like structure of the plot, you’ll actually find some nice gameplay additions.  Additions that also tie directly into the spirit and heart of the movie.

Foot Meter
The Foot Meter is a nice touch. One that helps draw you further into the Die Hard’s story.

The first of these is the game’s foot meter.  As most will know, the ever deteriorating state of McClane’s feet make up a critical part of Die Hard’s experience, and that’s no different here.  In this game alongside your health meter, you’ll also find a foot meter.  This meter will reduce by doing things such as running, and also when you step on glass, again just like in the movie.  This is a nice touch, and whilst not imperative to the gameplay, it does help in dragging you into McClane’s desperate struggle.

Moreover, the game also prevents you from seeing around corners, again helping to draw you into McClane’s desperate, and on-the-edge state of mind.  This is done by blacking out corridors, rooms, and corners, that are not within the characters imagined line of sight.  This may be annoying for some, and certainly does allow mean enemies will appear out of nowhere.  Yet, once again these help to make you feel as though you are John McClane, and show the effort that has gone into replicating the feel of the movie.

Purple & Darkness
Darkness appears where McClane would be unable to see. A unique gameplay feature that’s sure to divide opinion.

On the other hand though, the graphics and sound are largely nothing to write home about.  The characters are completely unrecognisable, unless you count a white body as being reminiscent of McClane’s tank top.  Additionally, the sound simply feels like a generic 8-bit title, and misses the tone of the film completely.

However, despite the largely disappointing nature of the presentation, there are positives.  The different levels of the Nakatomi Plaza fair better than the characters, and despite some wacky colour choices which include purple floors, the additions to the environment and aspects such as shattered glass, do help to place you in the Nakatomi Plaza.  Moreover, the static images that appear within the cutscenes that tell the game’s story, are easily recognisable as the actors from the film.

Al Powell
Al Powell appearing in one of the game’s static story cutscenes.

Die Hard really is a mixed bag.  What it does right, it does excellently, and what it gets wrong, it gets wrong spectacularly.  Nevertheless, despite the clunky controls and deficiencies in presentation, I still find myself wanting to play this game.  Thanks to both the power of the movie, and the fact that they stayed as close to the film as was humanly possible,

The heart and spirit that has been put into replicating the movie really is to be applauded, and any fan of the film, and retro gaming in general should at least give it a go.  However, if you’re going to delve into a bit of Die Hard on the NES this Christmas, then remember to watch the film first.  Hey maybe watch it a few dozen times, it can’t harm right?

Die Hard Verdict

Simon Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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