Die Hard Vendetta: The Lost McClane.

It’s the holidays again – at least as of this writing – and naturally I thought about writing about a holiday themed game. Realizing that’s not a particularly big pool of games to choose from, I opted for games based on media franchises that took place during the holidays. Like Die Hard.

We could have the never-ending debate of whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but instead I’d rather talk about the strange resurgence of Die Hard video games throughout the late-90s to early-2000s. After the Lethal Weapon-like Die Hard With a Vengeance hit theaters, the fate of the franchise seemed to be in doubt, with whether or not a fourth film would even be made.

I… sorta miss these? Companies publishing their own video game adaptations is something solely lacking these days.

During this time, 20th Century Fox decided to get into the video game business, forming the short-lived Fox Interactive, licensing some of their film franchises for video games, with varying levels of success. The Alien vs. Predator games were fairly popular, with the original No One Lives Forever franchise also being one of the more critically positive ones. Also a bunch of terrible games based on The Simpsons, but the less said about those, the better.

The action-packed Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza. Surprisingly alright, in spite of budget game jank.

Naturally since 20th Century Fox produces and owns Die Hard, it too got a fair share of video games. There’s the notable Die Hard Trilogy which did three different gameplay styles in a single game, which was uncommon around that time. There’s that time Sega made a game inspired by the film called Dynamite Deka that got localized as Die Hard Arcade when it hit the States. There’s even the Lithtech-powered Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza which was originally meant to be a free mod until copyright lawyers came in, converting it became a full-fledged budget title. I wrote about that one back in 2015, of which you can read here.

But there was one more attempt at a big Die Hard game. But this time instead of adapting the original film, they wrote a story that could’ve been the plot for a fourth film. And it’s the kind of game that will make you wish blew up Die Hard like Nakatomi Plaza.

Wouldn’t be a Die Hard game without some explosions.

Die Hard Vendetta is a first-person shooter developed by Bits Studios and published by Sierra and Fox Interactive, released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube. Initially, this Die Hard video game project had its origins as a Nintendo 64 title, but once the popularity of the N64 waned, they pivoted hard to the newer consoles, thus the game was shifted over to the more powerful GameCube. There’s a lot of information on the Nintendo 64 iteration on Unseen64, of which it’s an interesting read.

At the time, critics were nonplussed by this edition of the franchise, with Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot giving it a rather scathing review at the time. Other critics were about as critical, with this game being thrown to the pile of licensed video games that got mostly forgotten. I picked this up game several years ago when GameStop was slowly phasing out used GameCube games from their store. I remembered the GameSpot review for the game, and when I see a critic be rather harsh about a game, I kinda wanted to see for myself if it was truly that bad. Turns out they were right in this case.

Funny enough, I got Die Hard Vendetta around the same time I got swindled into trying StoneLoops! of Jurassica through GameStop’s short-lived Impulse digital distribution service. I wrote about StoneLoops! way back in 2012, one of the early posts on the blog. Funny little coincidence, there.

This is totally inaccurate to the movies. John McClane wouldn’t have hair nearly this good.

Taking place years after the events of Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane is a semi-retired NYPD police officer who moved to Los Angeles… sorry, Century City, who’s watching a news report from Dick Thornberg, the snarky news reporter from the first film, where he’s reporting at an art gallery where they’re announcing a piece of art being recovered from Piet Gruber, the son of Hans Gruber from the original film.

Guess getting William Atherton was a bit out of the budget for this game.

Eventually a massive shootout happens, leading to a hostage situation at the art gallery. Several people are at risk, including the art gallery owner and John’s daughter Lucy, who’s now grown up and followed the life of her dad by also being a police officer. Being the caring parent John McClane apparently has become now, he grabs his service revolver and heads down to the art gallery to find out what’s going on.

Bet that destructibility was pretty neat by 2002 standards.

Naturally, Die Hard Vendetta is a first-person shooter. Fairly straightforward shooter controls for the time in spite of the GameCube having fewer buttons than its contemporaries: The control stick moves, C-stick aims, L button does more refined aiming, R button fires, Z button reloads. Fairly easy to understand stuff.

Fumbling with an inventory system while in the midst of combat is not my idea of a good time.

D-pad up and down will switch items and weapons, and left and right can switch between John’s arsenal and items he’s acquired throughout the mission. X and Y are your jump and crouch buttons, hitting X twice will do a dive to prone, which is required to progress in some parts of the game. While the game does have a dedicated jump button, the game also unlocks an auto jump option where if you’re on a ledge, McClane will automatically try to jump across. It’s interesting and can be useful sometimes, but a lot of times McClane will either not jump far enough, or will jump when I don’t want him to. Worst off, the game has some rather nasty fall damage if you miss these jumps.

Another way to kill the pacing of an action game: Constantly having to talk to NPCs to make progress.

The A button is your catch-all use button: Interacting, picking up items, the works. You’ll need to use this button a lot, as a fair share of things are hidden behind lockers or require John to constantly talk to an NPC to get information on where to go next. Sometimes it’s helpful, but other times you’re just wasting time hearing about the story of what’s happening several times in an attempt to figure out where to go next. In some cases I had to talk to an NPC multiple times to get several key items from them, of which I roamed around, was confused that I couldn’t make progress, then walked all the way back to the NPC again to get the other mission-critical item.

In addition to the inventory system, McClane can put on disguises to get into areas. While an interesting idea, it doesn’t really fit in Die Hard, and feels like a clunky way to add variety to the gameplay. I only used it when the game required me to do so, such as in an early mission where I had to put on a gang uniform to get a stolen piece of art from a gang, who eventually get into a shootout with a rival gang.

Cause stealth sections are totally what this action game needed. A shame they have never worked.

In an interesting yet flawed mechanic, pressing the B button will switch between stealth and combat. In stealth mode, John moves slower and has his gun pointing upwards. Pressing it again puts him back in combat mode, where he’ll move and shoot incredibly quickly. If an enemy isn’t aware of you, pressing the A button while in stealth mode will make him a human shield, letting enemy players surrender their weapons for a more non-lethal approach. 

At least I don’t have to drag people to retinal scanners or anything complicated like that.

The mechanic is interesting, but when the game up to this point has been a straightforward shooting gallery, it just feels forced in. There’s only a section or two that requires John to be sneaky, and I only was required to use the human shield thing once, and that was to make progress in the same mission where I had to get the gang uniform. It really feels like that stage was their testing ground for new ideas that mostly don’t come back after this.

This took several tries to get right. If I didn’t grab the other guy’s guns, it was instant mission failure. Fun!

Since this came out not long after Max Payne and The Matrix were popular, this game has its own version of bullet time. Pressing L and Y activates “Hero Time,” where Ode to Joy – ostensibly the theme to Die Hard at this point – plays as you move quickly and spew bullets at your enemies. I used this a handful of times, mostly to kill bosses. It felt kind of superfluous, as if it’s a feature you just add to the back of the box to get people to buy it.

Suddenly I’m thinking Ode to Joy isn’t good bullet time music.

Die Hard Vendetta was made around the time console first-person shooters were still experimenting with control schemes before it was standardized by Halo and Call of Duty in the latter half of the 2000s. Thus this uses a control scheme similar to GoldenEye 007 where there’s a floating crosshair around that you can move anywhere with the C-stick. To compensate for the floaty crosshair, Die Hard Vendetta has an auto-targeting option where the crosshair will go red and lock onto the target, which then makes it simple to murder terrorists with ease.

Damn, even Goldeneye was never this generous.

The downside is this makes a lot of the combat sections trivial, where you can just burst into an open area and just hold the R button, murdering everything without much of a challenge. I know Die Hard is an action-packed movie franchise, but this just dumbs down the game in a way that makes combat boring. Combined with the downtime with stealth sections and puzzles, I ended up having a few minutes of fun shooting a bunch of bad guys, followed by 10-15 minutes trying to figure out what to do next. This kills the pacing, making the game more frustrating than fun.

Considering how shooters were at the time, I’d rather have the generous auto-aim over trying to finesse the more difficult Goldeneye-like crosshair on enemies. While this is turned on by default, it can be turned off if you want to make combat a little less mindless. But why would you make the game harder on yourself?

Where’s that Miiverse “good water” guy? Bet he would like this game.

Graphically, the game looks alright for 2002. The GameCube was the middle of the pack when it came to graphical power, and bits studios introduced some kinda cool features like wavy bullet cams, minor destructable environments, even cool water effects.

At least my gun looks shiny, I guess.

A shame that the game’s environments look kinda bland, with very limited lighting, making the whole area feel kinda flat. Thus despite there being a lot of locales that McClane visits through different areas like a prison, a subway system and even a movie studio, it just all blends together. Granted, I had played the game on an emulator for this article, but I bet the game wouldn’t look that drastically better on real hardware.

Guess Reginald VelJohnson doesn’t get enough in royalty checks from Family Matters reruns.

The rest of the game is mostly uneventful. You meet Al Powell in the beginning – once again voiced by Reginald VelJohnson – and go through various areas in Century City as McClane tries to find the captured art dealer from Piet Gruber, as well recovering the paintings that have been stolen. Throughout this journey, McClane will meet up with the art dealer, have to do the prerequisite escort mission, and eventually find out what happened to Piet Gruber.

“Hey guys, what’s a good foreign-sounding last name?” “Uhhhh…. Frontslovsky?”

Despite a Gruber being featured in this, he’s the secondary villain and henchman to the whole proceedings. The main villain featured is another new character named Jack Frontier, a former bodybuilder/actor who works with Gruber due to being snubbed as the star of Galaxy Thief III, after negative reception to his acting in the previous films.

Frontier, who looks like that Sarge character from Small Soldiers, is often seen only in cutscenes or at a distance, McClane only meets him in person a few times. Though it is strange for the game to make a callback to the past films by featuring a Gruber as a villain, yet also introducing a new villain. Were they undecided on which way to go and opted for both choices? Either way, both characters are relatively forgettable.

This… could’ve looked better.

Naturally, since this is Die Hard, the next-to-final level takes place on Nakatomi Plaza. I get why they put that in there, as that’s basically the most well-known thing the franchise was known for. But it really feels like a deliberate nod to elements of the film without really understanding what made the original film great. McClane goes through basically a sped-up version of the first film as he dodges a bomb, kills a bunch of enemies, and revisits some of the areas in the movie as a wink and a nod to that film.

Eventually McClane meets up with Gruber, who held Lucy hostage once again, requiring him to defuse a bomb. Afterwards, they head to the roof and McClane dispatches Gruber. Naturally, someone says “Yippie-Ki-Yay, motherfucker,” though it’s Lucy who says it and not John.

Judging by the large amount of defenses, that’s looking like a “no,” John.

Though, that’s not the end of the game! While John eliminates Piet Gruber, Jack Frontier escapes via helicopter to the Griffith Observatory – renamed the Holmes Observatory in this game – with the intent of murdering his Galaxy Thief replacement, and has the place heavily guarded, full of enemies with powerful assault rifles, a helicopter, rocket launcher turrets, the works. Naturally Frontier himself is the final boss, but just shooting him dead doesn’t end the game, as they require you to make a mad dash out of the observatory before it all blows up.

Gee, I wonder why this shot looks familiar…

The Observatory explodes in spectacular fashion, John McClane survives, a hotshot movie executive wants to make the story into a movie (wink wink), then John punches them out like in the end of the original film. Roll credits. Since this doesn’t take place during Christmas, we don’t even get serenaded with Vaughn Monroe’s “Let It Snow” at the end.

I know John McClane can be a one man army, but isn’t this a bit much?

Bits Studios took Die Hard’s concept of “One man against insurmountable odds” too literally. The game is ridiculously punishing on “Die Harder” difficulty, which is the game’s Normal mode. There’s too many moments where I got an “Objective Failed” message because I forgot to activate an item or grab something, John McClane is made of paper and wet cardboard, and the game tries to hamfist all these game ideas that slow the game’s pacing to an absolute crawl. For this game to frame itself as a sequel to the movies is kind of an insult, in reality Die Hard Vendetta comes off as one of those cheapo direct-to-video sequels made to cash in on the brand rather than a true labor of love. All this leads to is a fairly mediocre game with little replay value once you beat the campaign. Well, unless you live in Europe.

Hey, they added some color! Already looks a bit better.

While Die Hard Vendetta was a GameCube exclusive in North America, the game was available on all platforms in PAL regions, with PS2 and Xbox versions coming out a year later. The game has a few cosmetic changes under the hood, but the campaign is about the same, with some tweaks to some of the game elements, such as making the auto-aim not as generous this time around.

The Goldeneye influences seem more apparent in this mode.

The only major addition was a split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players, something that was often done to games that eventually went multiplatform, like Medal of Honor: Frontline and James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire. Though if you had an Xbox and had the choice between this or Halo: Combat Evolved, why would you choose this game except for a laugh, really? At least you can play the multiplayer with bots.

“With how hard this game is, that should be pretty easy, pal.”

That’s Die Hard Vendetta. An unremarkable, mostly forgettable licensed FPS that tried to keep the aging film franchise living for just a little while longer. There’s clearly an interesting idea in place here, but it really feels like they threw in too many ideas without really giving a sense of thought on how to many them fun. The story is mostly forgettable, characters like John McClane feel like they’re portrayed incorrectly, and the callbacks to the previous movies feel woefully underutilized.

This game could’ve been done without the Die Hard license and it just would’ve been an unremarkable 2000s FPS. Compared to other Die Hard games I’ve played, this is definitely one of the more ambitious and deeply flawed games in the whole series. If it was more of a shooter and less of a hodgepodge of underutilized ideas, it probably would’ve been at least a bit of action-blasting fun for a few hours. But instead it’s a frustrating slog. This almost makes me pine for Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza again.

These guys having their own movie studio is sort of a funny wink and a nod, I guess.

As for Bits Studios, they made a handful of games after this, including a game adaptation of the film Constantine before shutting their doors in the late 2000s. I can’t say they were a bad game studio, but Die Hard Vendetta feels like a game being made by multiple lead developers that had different ideas on where to take the franchise, with the result feeling like the more recent Die Hard films: Schlocky action flicks involving an aging Bruce Willis who clearly is doing this for a paycheck.

Wouldn’t be a 2000s FPS without seeing this damn monstrosity of a gun.

There wouldn’t be much in terms of Die Hard games after this game, besides some mobile games and McClane being a playable character in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, complete with lines from the movie. The franchise has pretty much been lying dormant after the critically panned A Good Day to Die Hard came out in 2013, and with Bruce Willis getting up there in years, I figure Die Hard as a franchise has truly done just that.

I got used to seeing this a lot in my experience.

I know they probably won’t make another Die Hard game any time soon, but I think it would be interesting to give it one more try if they tried to make it more like Alien: Isolation, where it’s a stealth game with optional combat sections. I would play something like that. When you think about it, that’s basically what Die Hard as a franchise was, not the action-packed shooty fest that a lot of these games depicted it as. On the other hand, Die Hard could also just stay dead. Not everything needs to be brought back, after all.

If this is like Die Hard video games are like, I can’t imagine other Christmas film-themed games being any better. I’m surprised films like Lethal Weapon didn’t get a buddy cop FPS tie-in in the 2000s, though that would’ve probably been just as bad. Oh well, I got ’til next Christmas to think about what to write about.

(This was available on Patreon one week early. If you want to be one of those people who sees this stuff before everyone else, well check out the Patreon over here, cowboy.)

B.J. Brown

I'm the creator and writer of You Found a Secret Area. Fascinated by obscure pop culture and wanting a place to write about curated stuff, I created the blog in 2012 and have been running it ever since. Also on Twitter. (Pronouns: she/her, they/them)

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