‘Lucky’ isn’t a word you’d ever associate with LA detective lieutenant, John McClane. In 1988 his Christmas is ruined by terrorists gatecrashing the Nakatomi Plaza’s annual festive bash, forcing him to abandon his champagne flute and step into the breach to rescue the horrified hostages. Catastrophe averted – risking life and limb to maintain law and order – he wasn’t even commemorated with an Amiga game adaptation.
Two years later (again on Christmas Eve!), John is once more obliged to save the day, this time from an aerial threat. No, not pigeons with indigestion.
Capt. Grant: You are just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
John McClane: Story of my life.
Terrorists have commandeered Washington’s air traffic control system, scheming to engage it in the extrication of General Ramon Esperanza, a notorious drug-lord and dictator. I’d mention he’s from Val Verde, except it’s a fictional country so not especially relevant to the plot.
Esperanza is on a plane destined for the US having been extradited to stand trial for drug trafficking offences. He’s not exactly ecstatic about the idea so intends to evade prosecution by first seizing control of the airport and all aircraft under its jurisdiction. As leverage goes it’s right up there with holding a gun to Santa’s head in an orphanage!
There’s no escape from copyright check procedures, even for professional international terrorists.
Chief Engineer Leslie Barnes: What is it? A gang thing like last time?
John McClane: Only if your gangs get their training at Fort Bragg.
Once Esperanza’s got the attention of Washington’s authorities, next on the agenda is to land without interference, switch to a ransomed Boeing 747 and escape to a backwater country with no reciprocal extradition treaties. There he’d be free to peddle coke, and presumably smoke jewel-encrusted hundred dollar bills.
Worse than being shunned for an Amiga game translation based on his Groundhog Day style ordeal, Tiertex were granted the license to adapt the movie sequel to the Amiga, Atari ST, DOS and Commodore 64.
Better known for their arcade conversions Tiertex were responsible for producing a range of absolutely dire to mediocre games for our platform, in addition to many others old and new. Company’s House reports that they remain a going concern today, however, their official web site is as dead as a dodo, and Tiertex’s owner, Donald Campbell, has occupied a separate day job for the past six years, so make of that what you will. Maybe they finally re-branded under a less tarnished name. Given that their legacy includes Street Fighter and Human Killing Machine it would make perfect sense.
Originally intended to be published by GrandSlam in conjunction with the VHS format movie, the game was pushed back, supposedly for quality control reasons. If you eventually played it two years after the movie’s cinema showing you’ll appreciate the irony.
It’s not horrendous on the scale of Street Fighter, just wafer thin and extremely repetitive. Four of the five levels constitute first person perspective on-rails shooter scenarios akin to Operation Wolf, with the fifth revolving around the snowmobile chase sequence plucked straight from the movie.
I’d hazard a guess that the ‘behind the camera’ approach was taken to avoid having to inject an interpretation of Bruce Willis into the proceedings. We know from studying Hudson Hawk that he’s very protective of his image and the way it’s represented in video games so it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that he jammed a stick in the spokes here.
Would you recognise him down a light alley in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon?
Surprisingly all levels are inspired by specific set pieces or shootouts from the movie (based on the novel ’58 Minutes’ by Walter Wager). These settings would be recognisable without the title screens that precede them so you have to give Tiertex credit for that at least. Although I don’t know who it would go to since no graphics artist has been identified as being associated with the game. Only a programmer and musician, Dave Healey and Mike Davies respectively.
One of these novels inspired a Die Hard movie, the other inspired a Die Hard movie. Can you tell which is which?
The Operation Wolf imitating stages are controlled with the mouse (or light gun), unfortunately with some delay. Our standard issue revolver is fired with the left button, grenades are thrown with the right, or space bar if you happen to be using one of those ridiculous one button retro Mac mice, erm… with a port adaptor. Nobody has ever done that surely?
We score points for taking out anonymous, carbon-copy baddies and lose them for hitting innocent bystanders. Making little sense we ‘collect’ power-ups such as weapons, a flak jacket (for temporary invulnerability) and medi-kits by obliterating them in the usual way.
Weapons on offer include grenades, the Beretta 9mm, Glock 7, M16, AK47, and Uzi 9mm. What, no golf club? Still, quite an artillery considering that in the 2nd movie McClane (Frank Malone in the novel) only officially packs a Beretta 92FS.
A higher ammo capacity, rapid-fire and auto-fire distinguishes the more effective weapons from the weaker ones. Grenades go a step further by annihilating everything on screen/automatically snagging all power-ups. If we collect a weapon already in our possession we’re instead allocated extra ammo for it. That’s logical.
Need some target practice before you get started?
Whilst the backdrops alternate between stages the mechanics remain identical. Our mission gets underway in the luggage hall of Washington’s Dulles International Airport (JFK in the novel) as John awaits the return of his wife Holly (daughter in the novel) from LA who he keeps in touch with courtesy of the unholy magic of modern technology.
Holly McClane: Honey, it’s the ’90s, remember? Microchips, microwaves, faxes, air phones.
John McClane: Hey, well, as far as I’m concerned, progress peaked with frozen pizza.
Twiddling his thumbs in the bar killing time (dangerous territory for someone “two steps away from becoming a full blown alcoholic”) he spots two dodgy-looking military chappies (Cochran and Miller, subordinates of McClane’s arch nemesis), so reflexively flips into detective mode. Upon probing their credentials amidst the revolving conveyor belts carrying a procession of commuters’ suitcases they open fire and a cat and mouse shootout ensues.
Anyone else in the mood for a Die Hard game? I hear Activision’s 1990 DOS game is OK.
John McClane: (McClane is forced to crawl through yet another ventilation system) Just once, I’d like a regular, normal Christmas. Eggnog, a f***in’ Christmas tree, a little turkey. But, no. I gotta crawl around in this motherf***in’ tin can.
Expect more of the same in level two, only situated in the airport’s unfinished Skywalk annexe, evoking the movie scene in which communications director, Leslie Barnes, scrambles a SWAT team to regain dominion of the air traffic control system. Doing so would allow them to land the planes safely before running out of fuel. Until then they must persist circling the airport in treacherous festive conditions. Happy holidays!
Chief Engineer Leslie Barnes: This kind of thing wasn’t in my job description.
Sergeant: Don’t worry, Mr. Barnes. We’ll watch your back.
Chief Engineer Leslie Barnes: Yeah? Who watches yours?
Remind anyone of Superman and Lois Lane? Nevermind, before they reach the airport’s communication systems they’re ambushed and slaughtered by the terrorists (led by Former U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel, and now naked martial arts maestro, William Stuart), leaving McClane to save the world single-handedly (again!), even defeating the T-1000 in the process. Well, Marvin the janitor is very helpful to be fair. He knows the airport like the back of his hand.
Holly McClane: They told me there were terrorists at the airport.
John McClane: Yeah, I heard that too.
An exterior view of General Ramon Esperanza’s plane is the backdrop for level three. Even more target practice commences since swarms of terrorists arrive to assist him before McClane can intervene. Equally imperative we must avoid gunning down sweet little girls skipping by carrying helium-inflated balloons (as in the preceding levels). Wait a minute, what are they doing wandering freely around a secure area and runway?
Level four begins as Major Grant and his team of U.S. Army Special Forces are drafted in to raid a dilapidated local church transformed into a terrorists’ high-tech command centre squat by Colonel Stuart (known only as ‘Number 1’ in the novel) and his mercenaries.
Custodian: Don’t seem right, somehow, closing down this church! Oh I know the parish is gonna keep on using it, but it won’t be the same. Been here a lot of years and I’ve been right here with it. Yeah, I kinda feel like a piece of me is dying along with this church.
Baker: Uh, you’re right about that.
(Baker promptly pulls out a suppressed Glock 17 from his jacket and empties three rounds into the custodian, knocking his body backwards into a row of pews that overturn. Baker re-holsters his weapon while Thompson watches as the custodian dies)
We arrive just in time to see Stuart & Co. burst loose via a platoon of snowmobiles. Sneaking covertly through the woods to snipe at one of the riders McClane appropriates his snowbike and bolts into the great white yonder to eliminate the remaining members of the crew.
There’s no church in the game, just McClane (we assume) on his snowmobile (I’m guessing) hurtling into the screen from a first person perspective. To succeed we must shoot enemy snowmobiles that scoot across our path from either side using the usual cross-hair controlled with the mouse, whilst avoiding forest obstacles.
We receive no backup from Grant, though that’s hardly a deal-breaking loss since it emerges he’s a renegade stooge bankrolled by Esperanza, shooting blanks to fabricate the illusion of support.
Finally we must replicate the wing-brawling scene from the movie. Leaping from a hovering chopper we land on Esperanza’s plane and jam one of its ailerons (French for ‘little wing’ or ‘fin’) to sabotage lift off. We duke it out with Major Grant until he falls into one of the plane’s jet engines, grinding him into mince meat.
Grant: Too bad, McClane. I kind of liked you.
John McClane: I got enough friends.
Tai Chi doyenne Colonel Stuart takes his place on the wing, this time managing to dislodge McClane, but not before he opens the fuel hatch. This naturally proceeds to spurt a trail of flammable liquid all over the runaway reminiscent of an ignition fuse. Guess what happens next? Yippee-ki-yay, melon farmer!
Fortuitously the inferno serves as a makeshift landing light for the still airborne planes, allowing them to finally touch down safely… although not in under ’58 Minutes’. Can’t win ’em all I suppose.
Nevermind, everyone lived happily ever after safe in the knowledge that there isn’t the remotest possibility that something similar could ever happen for a third, fourth or even fifth time.
John McClane: What do you say, Marv?
Marvin: I’ll be damned if I’m gonna clean up this mess.
Oddly, especially since the game’s release date was postponed, a number of bonus stages were planned, yet weren’t included in the final game. One would have entailed rescuing passengers from hijacked aircraft. Others were to task Bruce with intercepting the terrorist’s radio communications, match fingerprints with those in a police database, or rearrange a grid-based slide puzzle to re-route shanghaied air traffic control circuitry, preventing unchaperoned planes from crashing. All very early-days-Ocean.
Morgue Worker: (John McClane is taking a dead guy’s fingerprints) Hey! You’re supposed to do that at the morgue.
John McClane: Not anymore. Got a new SOP for DOAs from the FAA.
I don’t suppose they would have added much in the way of substance. Maybe that’s why they were dropped. It can’t have been due to lack of time, though would certainly have added some to the game’s anaemic run-time. A pro can complete it in about 15 minutes evidenced by the longplays on YouTube.
A feeble ‘homage’ all-round, ‘Die Harder’ is much like five almost identical public domain games fudged together with Blu-tack and the vague notion that they’re connected to the blockbusting classic action movie that grossed $240m at the box office starring the Unbreakable human superhero, Bruce Willis. Who incidentally wouldn’t be seen dead (or alive) in this tripe, or even on the box cover! *
Carmine Lorenzo: Hey McClane! You get this parking ticket in front of my airport?
John McClane: Yeah.
Carmine Lorenzo: (Lorenzo tears ticket up) Ah, what the hell; it’s Christmas!
* In the interests of upholding the journalistic integrity of this fine publication I should point out that Bruce Willis has never featured on the cover of a Die Hard game for any system.
It’s also very rare to find a John McClane sprite within a Die Hard game that you’d recognise as Bruce. Activision’s 1991 NES game comes closest. Licensing agreements! Enough said.