Reviewed: January 14, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: November 20, 2002
Back in 1988 the action movie genre was given a unique fish-out-of-water spin with the release of Die Hard. Action flicks have never been the same since, and Bruce Willis was instantly transformed from the co-star of TVís, Moonlighting to a household name that has since appeared in more action movies than I care to count.
With any great movie franchise you can be sure of plenty of game crossovers and Die Hard was no exception. By the time we had a game system worthy of recreating the Die Hard experience the movie had already produced two sequels thus the game, Die Hard Trilogy on the PlayStation and subsequent sequel a few years later. More recently, the PC took their stab at the franchise with Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, trying to capitalize on the renewed interest of the series brought on by the release of the DVD movie trilogy box set.
Die Hard: Vendetta is the latest Die Hard inspired game to hit the scene, and this one is exclusive to the GameCube. Vivendi Universal and Fox Interactive have been planning this game since the GameCube released back in 2001, and Bits Studios was the developer to bring this title to life.
Vendetta has all the makings of a great game despite my personal distaste for console FPS titles. There is an excellent story that takes place nearly 20 years in the future of the original trilogy, where McClaneís daughter has recently joined the police force and is on her first assignment. Many of your favorite characters are back including the Twinky eating Officer Powell and another distant relative of the evil Hans Gruber.
This FPS adventure is set within the realism of police tactics and weapons. Your training takes place in the obstacle course and shooting galleries of the police academy, despite the fact that McClane is closer to retirement than rookie status. You get to use stealth tactics, night vision goggles, sniper rifles, and other assorted weapons (some two at a time), as you go up against some of the most dangerous villains in video game history.
Since this is an FPS game letís get over the issues of control that I have with nearly every FPS game released for a console system. Note that I said ďnearlyĒ. Die Hard: Vendetta takes a bold step by admitting (in an indirect way) the limitations of a gamepad for playing FPS games and offering a unique auto-targeting and auto-jumping system. This effectively eliminates the frustration of trying to manually aim at moving targets with the imprecise C-stick and gone are the annoying jumping puzzles. Vendetta will do the jumping for you. All you need to do is run toward the edge and you will arc to the other side, if there is one.
Hardcore FPS gamers are going to immediately complain that walking into a room and having your crosshair snap to the nearest enemy takes all the challenge out of the game. I will be the first to admit that this does in fact make the game considerably easier than it probably should, but if you turn this option off the game tilts to the opposite end of the scale where you will waste a dozen shots trying to shoot an enemy and often take plenty of damage yourself. There is nothing smooth or intuitive about lining up a crosshair using two offset control sticks on this or any other game system. If you are resolved to play FPS games with a gamepad then you at least have the option of the less-frustrating auto-aim system.
Computer assisted aiming and jumping aside, the normal controls for Vendetta are really quite good. You have three configurations to choose from, and while I am a strong advocate for total customizable control schemes, you should find one that works for you. You can crouch, lean around corners, move stealthily, and take alternate actions like disarming bombs. You also are in charge or reloading your weapons. While the guns will auto-reload when empty, this takes awhile and reloading in the middle of a firefight is dangerous if not downright deadly.
Of course you canít have an FPS game in a post-Max Payne world without some kind of time warping concept. Vendetta offers a Hero Mode that slows down time (and enemies) allowing you to waste an entire room before they can draw their weapons. Despite the fact that you can only invoke Hero Mode a few times each level it is still one of the coolest parts of Vendetta. The action slows to a nearly imperceptible level of movement and you hear the glorious orchestra music and chanting choir from the original movie. While Hero Mode defies realism it makes for some truly great movie moments.
The underlying story of Vendetta is pretty good and manages to weave familiar elements from the film with an all-new story that takes you on a wild and dangerous trip through the seedy LA underground. Gameplay is a unique mix of action, stealth, and strategy. You can disguise yourself to fit in with your surroundings, you can take hostages and use them to subdue and cuff other gang members or simply use them as a human shield and waste the lot of them.
Vendetta encourages you to take things slow, creating more of a police simulator than a guns-blazing FPS. This interesting dynamic puts a unique spin on the genre that I found quite refreshing, and was one element that impressed one of my friends who also happens to be a police officer in real life. Sure, you can run into a room and start shooting, but if you do a little recon you can often analyze a given situation and take more suitable and rewarding actions. You will also gain valuable insight by eavesdropping on the idle and scripted conversations of the other people in this game.
Unlike many mature rated FPS shooters, Vendetta actually earns the rating with plenty of violence, blood, and some of the harshest language Iíve heard since playing Kingpin on the PC back in 1999. Nintendo is really trying to lose their ďkid-friendlyĒ image and this game is a huge leap in that direction. While cursing for shock value is pretty juvenile whether it be in movies or games, all of the swearing in Vendetta is true to the vocabulary you would expect from hardened criminals and street thugs.
Vendetta makes a respectable showing in the visual department with lots of extras like support for widescreen displays and progressive scan video. The graphics engine does a good job of creating a suitable environment that while not always the most realistic is always detailed and convincing enough for the game. The 3D construction is mapped with some excellent textures and enhanced with real-time lighting and reflections.
All of the levels are designed with realism in mind to recreate authentic indoor and outdoor locations that service to carry the story and create unique mission and encounter opportunities. There is excellent use of lighting and even a lack of lighting prompting the use of the night vision goggles to create one of my favorite visual effects.
As good as the levels are, the characters suffer from low-poly models and a lack of variety. It wonít take a keen observer to see characters being redressed and reused, even in the same level. Facial textures are decent and there is an admirable attempt at lip-synching, but it all combines for a surreal visual style that just doesnít fit with the rest of the game.
The foreground stuff is amazing with some of the best weapon models Iíve seen in a recent FPS game, complete with idle animations and some of the best reload sequences of any game ever. These weapons are also mapped with real-time reflections of your current environment. There are plenty of cinematic effects, camera pans, zooms, and cutscenes that give the game a movie-like quality.
Vendetta attempts to maintain a solid 60fps but falters on numerous occasions. Even when the framerate does take a dip the game never becomes unplayable and is only really noticeable because it contrasts with the smoothness you have come to expect from the majority of the game.
The music in Vendetta is a rehash of similar music from the movies, which means you get an excellent musical score to listen to while you play the game. None of it stands out or overwhelms the player. The music blends into the background and surfaces only when a bit of emotional punch is required. The inspirational music during Hero Mode is guaranteed to send a tingle down your spine.
Sound effects are all as high a caliber as the weapons that create them. There are plenty of ambient environmental sound effects ranging from the random city sound to the roar of the subway as you explore the underground transit system. There are subtle echo effects and plenty of other nuances to the sound design that combine to create a realistic FPS game.
I had no delusions that Bruce Willis would ever stoop to voice his character in a video game, but I must congratulate Bits Studios on finding one of the best sound-alikes they could. While he doesnít perfectly capture the sarcastic irreverence of John McClane, as Bruce Willis may have portrayed him in the films, itís more than a convincing substitute. The other characters are all suitably cast like your typical valley girl, street thugs, cocky police officers, and even the thick foreign accent of the Gruber villain.
My only complaint with anything in the sound area would be the lack of any real surround sound. FPS games are perhaps the best genre to make good use of 3D positional audio, and the lack of Dolby Pro Logic II is greatly missed, especially when you consider that the designers were obviously trying to support the high-tech gamer with all of the extra video features.
Die Hard: Vendetta is a single player game that tells a story and when itís over itís over. There are no multiple paths, unique endings, and no multiplayer content whatsoever. If you were hoping for something along the lines of Goldeneye split-screen gaming you had better keep looking Ė try TimeSplitters 2.
But for those of you looking for a great story, intense action, and about 15-20 hours of solid gameplay, Vendetta is the perfect game for you. Due to its limited gameplay value you may want to enjoy this as a rental, but if you can find it for a discount or bargain bin price you will certainly want to add it to your GameCube library.
Die Hard: Vendetta captures the spirit of the films and delivers it in a unique blend of action, stealth, and strategic gameplay that you donít find in your typical FPS title. The story is original and the dialog convincing, but the lack of any extended value past the relatively short single player experience will probably keep all but the Die Hardest of fans from embracing this game. Itís a great ride while it lasts. Yippie-ki-yay!