It's been thirty years since Die Hard - in my opinion the best action movie of all time - hit theatres. Since then there has been a number of game adaptations too with a good number of them bucking the movie licence curse by actually being good. Here are a number of the earliest attempts, some of which are criminally underrated.
Everyone's favourite third-party publisher (at least back then), Activision, first gained the IP rights back in 1989. Dynamix was the lucky developer entrusted to create a DOS game based on the first movie. With the company already being a dab hand at early 3D, this action games utilised an interesting graphical style to build its world. The camera is situated behind a sprite of John McClane with the arrow keys moving him in and out of the screen. If you didn't know anything going in, it's a bit of a shock when you first move. The background you possibly thought of as static and simplistic will scale smoothly in glorious 3D. What was once barebones to the point of being bland (and is wasn't like such games didn't exist in 1989) is now a top-of-the-line (pseudo) three dimensional showcase. I'm always impressed when an 80s game does this.
The next surprising thing about the game isn't so praiseworthy; the controls. You will notice that you can only go forwards and backwards as well as side-stepping awkwardly. To actually turn, you have to hold Shift before tapping left or right. At first, it is a bit cumbersome and unintuitive to gamers with modern sensibilities, but it soon becomes natural. What doesn't is the combat. There are three different 'stances' for different move sets. The first being navigation which I've already explained but the other two are for attacking. Hold the spacebar and brace yourself for your fighting stance. Tap the arrow keys to perform a variety of hand-to-hand combat moves and dodges. If you have a gun in your hand you can enter 'gun mode'. In this stance, the spacebar will shoot but you'll also need to aim using those ever-useful arrow keys. It's not as precise as using a mouse but the game isn't really designed around that. Just aim in the bad guy's general direction and you'll get a hit. In all honesty, it's a pointless addition but the action isn't at all frenetic so it won't be the main cause for any frustrating deaths.
Funnily enough, there aren't as many terrorists running around Nakatomi Plaza as you'd expect. Most of the game involves running around many similar-looking rooms and maze-like corridors searching for keycards to the next level. A large number of rooms are empty too with the graphics only going so far for our modern eyes. We'll also lament the lack of detail too, though I'm sure what's there was more than enough in 1989.
Die Hard on DOS (1989)
A year later, this very game was ported to the underpowered Commodore 64. The 3D graphics are gone of course, along with some of the moves designed for them buts what's left is certainly more than serviceable. The adventure elements do remain which add depth to what would otherwise be a formulaic action game. You can search bodies, cabinets, and other specific locations to collect different items such as keycards and wire needed to progress. You'll mostly find guns which are always useful and you'll soon gain quite the arsenal. You'll get through them too as there are notably more enemies here than the DOS original.
Die Hard on the Commodore 64 may look like a more standard action adventure game but it nevertheless remains one of the better looking games on the system. Be warned, though, you'll need to pay attention to the unconventional controls in order to make any progress. If you take the time to get to know it, it also has the gameplay to back it up too. It may show its age, but I'd say these versions are something of a hidden gem.
Die Hard on Commodore 64 (1990)
In the same year as the Commodore 64 Die Hard, Japanese owners of the PC Engine were getting a much prettier action game, this time published by Nihon Bussan. The 16-bit console allowed for some spectacular graphics for the time that were usually only seen in arcades, but the design itself is pretty bland and generic. Their interpretation of Die Hard doesn't follow the story one iota. Instead, this top-down shooter starts in what looks like a jungle, then a swamp before some generic corridor levels that's more in keeping with the skyscraper setting. I think that perhaps this was supposed to be an Ikari Warriors type of game with the Die Hard license slapped on. It shows.
You can collect a number of weapons, including a grenade launcher and a flamethrower. They are either dropped by defeated enemies or hidden under overgrowth or water. For a more dependable way to get the better weapons (and health items), you can enter buildings or rooms. Be aware that they are guarded by a number of insurgents so be prepared. You have a generous health bar so all is not lost if you make a little screw up. You can also jump too, though don't expect much in the way of platforming. This is reserved for getting those pesky rooftop gunmen but it's also very useful for a quicker way to dodge incoming bullets.
For us English speakers, there was a translation released but there's not much in the text to really warrant it. It's not that I'm not thankful - fanmade translations are a gift to gamers worldwide - but when it's mostly out-of-context quotes from the movie any text just seems redundant whether you can understand it or not. Overall, it's a competent enough game that will give some enjoyment, but it's there's nothing about it that really stands out.
Die Hard on PC Engine (1990) English Translation
There was one top-down shooter that did come to the west, this time on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. If I complained about the PC Engine game being generic, at least it's playable. This game is damn near impossible. Right from the off, bullets are strewn at you at such a rate you'll likely die, but the sprite of the shooter is so small you'll be hard pushed to hit him yourself. Couple that with limited ammo and you'll soon find yourself flailing your fists in the hope you can punch him. You won't 'cos you'll be dead before you can get anywhere near him. Die Hard indeed.
With the help of a few game genie cheats, you can then begin to actually play the game and to be honest there's not much there. You have almost free reign of five floors of the Nakatomi building and you have to kill 40 'crooks' before all five locks on the safe are opened. The floors are large and often mazelike which is very tedious in wrong hands such as these. But these hands don't stop there. Somehow they thought that a line-of-sight mechanic was a good idea in a top-down arcade action game. Any room or area that's blocked by a wall or obstacle is black, flickering on only when you navigate around them. I guess they wanted to add realism and, if the game was designed around it, it could've been a neat feature. Instead, we get a game where you can't see enemies until you're on top of them and then wham, you're dead (even with a rather large health bar).
Along with this ever-decreasing health bar, there's an ever-decreasing foot bar. This will go down whenever you run (a necessity to dodging bullet-sprayed rooms) as well as when you walk over broken glass. Kudos for taking on elements of the movie, but there are times when glass walking is not only inevitable but necessary. If it takes a large number of beer cans to restore health, but first aid kits for your feet are very scarce. And you need your feet to run goddamnit. Needless to say, this is by far the worst game in the collection.
Die Hard on NES (1991)
Lastly, we have a game based on Die Hard 2: Die Harder. After the abomination of the NES game, Activision has thankfully succumbed the rights over to Grandslam Video, a UK computer game publisher known for Chubby Gristle among other things (it's actually pretty good). They've also done a few other licensed games before disbanding in the early 90s, although the console versions separately developed by other companies are perhaps better remembered. Their take on the airport-set sequel released simultaneously for Amiga, DOS and Commodore 64 goes a different route to what's gone before by being a lightgun-style arcade shooter.
As you can imagine, there's not that much to say about it. It's pretty standard fare with static single-screen backdrops that have a multitude of similar looking terrorists running around before taking aim. You control the Amiga and DOS versions with the mouse. Left click shoots and right click bombs the entire screen. Be careful that a civilian is not in range when you let one of your grenades go off as you'll hit them too thus losing many inconsequential points. To be honest, if a little girl carrying a bright red balloon skips into the middle of a gunfight, she's asking for it.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1992) on Amiga (top),
DOS (bottom left) and Commodore 64 (bottom right)
The Commodore 64 port is far better than it should be, even if it cuts out the mouse controls. Perhaps by virtue of being on a vastly underpowered system, I somehow had more fun with this version. It faithfully adapts the levels with as much detail as the micro-computer can allow which is pretty admirable. That being said it's still as easily forgettable as its big brothers, even if there's nothing offensively wrong with them.
There would be many more games from the Die Hard license in the years to come, a number of them remembered far more fondly than these. Perhaps we'll see them be released from the Chamber in the near future but until then, enjoy the earliest games using the license. There's more fun to be had than you'd expect.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses VICE & FS-UAE to emulate the Commodore 64 and Amiga and DOSBox to bring the DOS game to modern systems. Uses Retroarch with the NEStopia and Mednafen Beetle PCE Fast cores to emulate the console games. XBox 360 controllers supported for console games. Manuals for most games included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 101 Mb. Install Size: 278 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Die Hard & Die Hard 2: Die Harder (the movies) are © Twentieth Century Fox
Die Hard (the NES, DOS & Commodore 64 gamed) are © Activision
Die Hard (the PC Engine Game) is © Nihon Bussan Co.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (the games) are © Grandslam Video
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me