Die Hard (NES)

The 1988’s Die Hard set a new precedent for adventure films. It’s fitting then, that this totally underrated game based on the film should bring new ideas to adventure games. Die Hard is certainly not like anything you’re used to playing, and the focus is not so much on the action as it is on just surviving.

If you aren’t familiar with the film, here’s the basic setup. It’s Christmas time in L.A., and off-duty cop John McClane is visiting his wife in the Nakatomi Plaza high-rise. Everything is interrupted when elite German bank robbers (“Who said we were terrorists?”) storm the building and take hostages while they work to disable security locks on the tower’s vault. If successful, they will walk away with 640 million dollars. The one thing they did not count on is McClane, who is the only person to evade capture and grab his police-issue pistol. You’re alone and outnumbered, but you’re armed and so far undetected. That’s a place to start.

With such limited health and so many enemies, shootouts can get pretty intense.

The first thing you must understand is that this is NOT a simple action game. If you just run around shooting bad guys, you’ll die far too quickly. You must actually rely on stealth and surprise if you hope to succeed. Granted, this is the NES version of “stealth and surprise,” but it works pretty well. Like Metal Gear, you can stay out of an enemy’s vision and sneak up from behind.

Most enemies have automatic weapons that can hit you multiple times in a single burst, taking a bar of life for each hit. You must actually use cover, accurate shots with your limited ammo, and surprise to have any chance of survival. There’s no more taking bullets and simply finding a heath kit in this game, as health powerups are also extremely rare. The game truly requires you to guard your life and pick your fights. Though with each enemy you waste, you can pick up their machine gun, ammo, and any other useful items to give you an advantage as you press on. Uncommon items include stun grenades and bricks of C4, which, if you also find the bag of detonators, can be used as timed explosives.

There are 40 total “crooks” spread throughout the floors. Your goal is to survive for six 4-minute periods as they work to disable each of the vault locks, taking this time to kill as many of them as you can. When the locks are broken, you gain access to the 30th floor where the hostages are held, and where you will fight all the enemies you have not yet killed, as well as the main boss. You’ll start on the 32nd floor of the tower, with free access to the 31st through the 35th. The game is totally non-linear in this respect, and you can move between the floors at will, provided your will leads you to the staircase or elevator. You can also gain access to the roof and 4th floor. Both of these involve side quests such as contacting the police or destroying the main computer. They are obviously optional, but if you complete them it will make your life a little easier by slowing the criminals down or thinning their numbers.

Contacting the police with a stolen radio will give you extra help.

The side missions add variety to the game, but the real gems are its small innovations. The bad guys stay in constant contact, and you can listen in on their conversations by picking up radios off the defeated. This allows you to stay one step ahead of their plans and know when they’re on to you. They’re pretty smart too. For example, if you make a lot of noise on a particular floor, additional enemies will be sent to that floor to investigate and act as backup. They will also actually search across the level until they find you. Another innovation is a fog-of-war system that blacks out parts of the level outside your vision, so you can only “see” what’s in your line of sight.

Also worth mentioning is the “Feet” meter, that acts as a sort of stamina limit. As you move around the levels, this meter gradually depletes and runs out faster by running or walking on broken glass. As your foot power diminishes, you move slower and take longer to move between levels. There are health kits to repair this damage, but like the life powerups, they are in short supply.

The graphics, sound, and controls are pretty standard NES fare. They get the job done, and there’s a bit too much purple and blue used in place of real shadows. Still, there’s an impressive attempt to recreate the tower floors seen in the movie in NES form, and the levels certain feel like an office building – you can even hide in supply closets and bathrooms. But the real reason to give Die Hard a try is the gameplay. It simply is unlike most other games, and especially other NES titles.

The line-of-sight system blacks out areas around corners and the like.

It’s also a great interactive version of the film, choosing to drop you into the situation of the movie and let you do what you will, instead of simply playing through one linear level after another. You are allowed to play the game as you see best. If there is one fault, it’s that it assumes you are already familiar with the plot. You are dumped immediately into the game without any explanation of what’s going on or what to do. Yet this does fit with the theme, as it requires exploration and ingenuity – basically what McClane had to do through the whole film.

Die Hard is definitely a game to try out, if just to see a new way of playing the action genre. Once you pick up on it, you’ll find it a rewarding and enjoyable experience, and it’s worth playing through to see all the different endings and relive key moments from the movie.

The Good

Engaging adventure game, multiple endings revisit scenes and explore possibilities from the film.

The Bad

Largely misunderstood.

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