Upfront confession: I’ve never seen the movie Die Hard and I don’t have any real plans to see it in the future. Macho explosion movies just don’t do much for me; arcade style beat-em-ups based on said movies are a different story, though. Die Hard Arcade was released on April 8th, 1997 for the Sega Saturn, having been first released as an arcade machine (but I’m sure you could’ve guessed that). As an in house, Sega developed game, it was always intentioned to be released for both the Saturn and arcade. The game utilizes one of the most traditional story arcs by making it your mission to save the president’s daughter from the evil “White Fang”, but does that even really matter?
Though your only buttons consist of the simple punch, kick, and jump affair, the game always keeps you engaged with an abundance of combinations that can come from them. Then the formula gets taken a step further, as you can pick up 10+ different weapons throughout the games’ five levels. It’s important to note that you can only hold and use one weapon at a time, but you won’t mind as you smile beating down wave after wave of thugs that come between you (and your partner) and victory. In general, the difficulty is not very high but it’s never low enough where your interest would wain.
Here’s the real kicker: this game only clocks in at around 30 minutes or so of actual gameplay. To its credit, these paltry minutes are spent in many different locales around this building the game takes place in. The environment in Die Hard Arcade often plays the role as an additional enemy to consider, with many sections offering up some sort of hazard to deal with along with the normal bad guys that will populate the scenario. Per this genre’s course, you’ll also encounter a few different bosses along the way. Also, as you run between different environments, you often come into “Quick Time Event” scenarios where you’re put on the spot to quickly hit a button the game tells you to. Whether you hit the correct button or not impacts how you enter the next area, and in general is a nice change up from the core gameplay.
There’s another drawback (if you choose to view it as such): if you and your buddy plan to make a run through Die Hard Arcade, you’re essential forced to play “Deep Scan” first. Deep Scan is a simple Sega arcade game that has you fire depth charges to destroy submarines below. Destroy enough submarines and avoid their attacks and you begin to be awarded with credits to use in the game. For a casual two player run through the game, I recommend amassing around 20 credits (which are shared between the players). As a bonus arcade game on the disc, it’s nice to have, but as a required precursor to the real experience, it feels more like a chore.
The Sega Saturn was never known for its 3D processing prowess, but surprisingly Die Hard Arcade still holds up pretty well in the visuals department. The animations are smooth, and everything runs without any noticeable slowdown. The polygons that make up the characters may be showing their age a bit these days, but I think there’s a certain charm in that because the game isn’t hindered by its graphics.
Audio quality is a different story, however. Though the sound effects and music aren’t noticeably bad, they aren’t noticeably good either. There are only a few music tracks in the game, and they can become a bit repetitive as you progress along. Admittedly this is a bit of a disappointment, but most people (including myself) don’t go into playing a beat-em-up hoping to hear outstanding sound.
There’s also the matter of the cut-scenes, which I suppose are meant to tack on a story to the game. These cut-scenes look and sound fine, but are best left off (in Options menu) because they serve more to interrupt your experience than enhance it. The annoyance increases when what often seems like one long scene loads and plays in small pieces at a time.
As an arcade machine meant to suck up your quarters, Die Hard Arcade is fantastic…but as a Sega Saturn release it just doesn’t quite meet today’s standards of a stand alone game. The core 3D, beat-em-up style gameplay entertains very consistently through its experience. Unfortunately, that experience is much too short, especially if you take my recommendation to turn off the unnecessary cut-scenes. It is worth mentioning that like many great beat-em-ups, it does have natural replay ability, though. Deep Scan would have been a welcome addition to the disc, but instead it’s a shallow (no pun intended) game that you must play to get more than the initial 4 credits. I know this game is pretty highly regarded in the Saturn community, but I believe most view games like these from a historical perspective. I choose to review based on today’s standards and the bottom line is that there isn’t enough meat in this package.
Overall Score: 6.7/10 (Die Hard Arcade is a fun and satisfying game experience…while it lasts. As a beat-em-up fan, I’m personally happy to have it in my Sega Saturn collection. However, as a game that can be beaten in well under an hour, it’s difficult to recommend as a stand alone retail disc.)