Do you remember is our regular retrospective. This week, it’s three-in-one action adventure Die Hard Trilogy, released for PlayStation in 1996.
Legend has it that 1996’s Die Hard Trilogy game was originally planned to be based just on the third Die Hard movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance, released a year earlier in 1995. The proto-Driver jaunt saw players tearing around New York City in a taxi cab, commandeered sports car and dump truck, defusing bombs against the clock – all set to barks from Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson lifted direct from the movie. (“Are you aiming for these people?!”)
It was, actually, great fun. Then Fox, the rights holder for the Die Hard franchise, told developer Probe Entertainment that they didn’t like the fact it started part-way through the story. How would players understand what self-contained action movie storyline was happening in New York City if they hadn’t also followed the self-contained action movie events from the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles, or the self-contained action movie events from Dulles International Airport in Virginia?
Honestly, it’s maddening how disconnected executives can be from their properties, or how stupid they think the audience might be. Die Hard is practically designed to be compartmentalised as sequels, otherwise you notice too readily that it’s just a reheat of the previous course. (John McClane really knows what a TV dinner feels like after all those luke-warm sequels.)
But that was the decision and, as a result, Probe now needed to cover the events from the first two games. Trouble is, other than that bit with a limo ram-raiding an ambulance or a chase on snowmobiles, there’s precious little vehicular action in Die Hard and Die Harder. So back to the drawing board they want.
What we ended up with is… dissonant, to say the least. It’s practically incoherent. Though it isn’t entirely Probe’s fault, not just for the last-minute changes insisted upon by Fox, but because the templates for the sort of games they were making didn’t really exist yet.
The original Die Hard is represented as a third-person shooter, but instead of John McClane sneaking through the air vents and up lift shafts to take out a dozen terrorists with guile and, for the most part, desperation, he shoots his way through hundreds on a brisk stroll through the building. Perhaps if it had been developed a few years later, Probe might have based their interpretation of the original Die Hard on seminal stealth shooter Metal Gear Solid, rather than just another arcade shooter, replete with timers and scores, just shown from a different perspective.
Speaking of arcade shooters, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is represented as an on-rails, lightgun shooter through Dulles International Airport. And this one is wild. You remember that scene from the annex skywalk, where the airport SWAT team gets caught in a trap and McClane saves Art Evans’ engineer in a chaotic firefight? Imagine that, but happening everywhere in the airport, all at once. It would probably have worked better if the game supported more light guns – the Namco GunCon/G-Con, AKA the de facto PlayStation light gun, didn’t work, for instance – and the cursor was painfully slow to move with a controller. It speaks volumes that the PlayStation Mouse peripheral, designed for strategy games like Sim City 2000 or point-and-clicks like Broken Sword, was actually the best way to play Die Hard 2.
Die Hard With a Vengeance, though? That was damn-near perfect. In a time before Grand Theft Auto 3 and Driver and Crazy Taxi, it’s remarkable that Probe got that bit of the game so right, with almost no peers to follow or precursors to base those brilliant mechanics on.
I recall reviewers at the time saying that Die Hard Trilogy was brilliant value, to get three complete games for the price of one, that they were of a high enough quality to be sold individually, that sort of thing. With the benefit of hindsight, however, that’s not quite true. Die Hard With a Vengeance was good enough to be a standalone game, while the other two were included as cheap pack-ins, slightly naff expansions for the pre-DLC era.
In that respect, Fox got exactly what it deserved by foisting that trilogy change onto Probe at the last minute.