Holiday content won’t be any easier to find, but you can at least rest easy knowing this is the last time I’ll be able to use that as an excuse to cover a Die Hard game. Mostly because this is the last one I haven’t written about. Don’t worry though, next year we’ll start looking at games based on Die Hard 2!
I remember Nakatomi Plaza first as a Duke Nukem 3D mod I followed with great interest, for obvious reasons. The designers were out to recreate the film with a dogged focus on authenticity, even to the point of posing as potential tenants in Fox Plaza (the real location used for the film) to take reference and texture photos while on the private tour. The mod shifted to Half-Life to take advantage of that engine’s superior scripting, then shortly disappeared – shut down, as many movie-based mods were, at the behest of Fox’s legal team.
Or so we all thought. In reality, a quiet deal turned the mod legit and released it as the budget title you see here today. It meant another engine change (to Lithtech) and the almost certain interference of some suits (more in a bit), but the team’s vision of a first person shooter based on the film finally saw release. Unfortunately, while it’s the best – and only – attempt at a Die Hard FPS you’re going to see, the results are not nearly as thrilling as you might expect.
Die Hard was a great movie that played to the strengths of action cinema. What made it a success on the screen doesn’t translate well to video games, and in fact, makes video games and its stacks of nameless goons to repetitively shoot for eight hours look embarrassingly moronic by comparison. It’s a bit tough to say the game’s okay if you don’t compare it to film, when that very comparison is the game’s entire racket. Still, it’s a true enough statement. If you’re looking for something as tight and tense as the movie, Nakatomi Plaza absolutely does not come close. If you’re looking for a standard FPS romp through an office skyscraper, with notes of a familiar plot, now you’re getting closer.
Multiple plot concessions were made to turn this into a video game. Roughly 500 dopey terrorists now prowl the halls. McClane can carry six guns and piles of ammo, and while he still has no shoes, it only affects you in the one plot point from the film where it matters. His best, most desperate ideas (like the C4 chair bomb) are now direct instructions given to you over the radio. And of course, levels are rigidly linear, requiring you to do no more than run down the hall until you find the one door that isn’t locked.
The movie’s story is significantly altered as well. I remember promotional materials and interviews talking about this game being a “director’s cut” that explores what McClane was doing while the camera was elsewhere, but that’s hot bullshit. McClane’s actions contradict the film frequently – you’ll find and rescue multiple hostages, avoid police gunfire in the sewers, and even escort a SWAT team that somehow made it inside the building. The president of Nakatomi is now one of the hostages (wouldn’t they have just taken him instead of Takagi?) and must be rescued from a high-tech R&D lab (in an office building?). You’ll protect Argyle’s limo from an attack in the garage that will never be referenced again. And instead of checking out what Hans was doing on the roof, McClane heads to the basement on a lengthy mission to reactivate the building’s power, even after it was just stated it would be in his best interest to keep it off.
When the game’s following the movie, however, it’s mostly on point. Infinite waves of bad guys make escaping from the roof and computer lab as hairy as it should be. The key setpieces from the film are replicated with as much detail as the engine will allow, and all are certainly recognizable. Some lines of dialogue get needless changed (with a number of curses removed or altered), but storytelling in these scenes translates pretty well. And of course, most of the key thrills are recreated as best they can be – including leaping off the roof with the fire hose, and hiding in the air vent while Karl sprays it with gunfire. I would have loved to have seen more creatively tense moments in the new “padding” levels, but unfortunately, they’re just more shooting.
Enemies aren’t at all smart, but with bullets as damaging as they are here, they don’t need to be. You can’t take many direct hits at the hardest difficulty, and health kits are very scarce, so you’re encouraged to dive for cover and use the lean controls. It gives the gun battles some tension that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and your foes will readily hide behind their own cover and trade shots with you. Headshots are also instantly effective, and ammo moderately restricted, both encouraging you to try and be accurate. A few scripted sequences here and there give baddies surprise entrances, or dramatic falls, but most encounters are absolutely routine, “at opposite ends of the hallway” kind of stuff.
Enemy aggression is also allegedly governed by your “morale” meter, just below the self-explanatory health and stamina bars. Morale is clearly lowered when you waste ammo, are pinned down by gunfire, or take a lot of damage. You’re supposed to be more accurate with high morale and enemies less so, and both seem plausible in practice. Enemies will miss you point blank when morale is high, giving you a half second or so to win any surprise encounters. Likewise, as you’re desperately crouching behind cover with bullets knocking all around, you do seem understandably unable to place your shots. It doesn’t seem to change enemy behavior though – only scripted moments do that – and this is all just observation. It’s entirely possible the morale system doesn’t actually work at all.
Graphically, the game does reasonably well. There are clear concessions made for the engine, so you will never see the full crowd of hostages or the police barricade on the streets, and most exterior windows are blocked off. Textures aren’t terribly high-res, and repeated concrete and similar images stand to get a little boring, but the feeling of being inside an office building is pulled off with about as much variety as the setting will allow. There are also some neat engine tricks – fire spreads believably (with a collectable extinguisher to put it out), papers fly out of bookshelves and chairs spin when shot, and bullet decals for both you and your enemies let you see how close those shots actually came to ending your game. The outdoor skybox even shows a different view at higher levels versus lower ones.
The pistol and MP5 weapon models look great, complete with working slides and cycling bolts. They’re even authentically held in McClane’s left hand (Bruce Willis is a lefty himself), per the film. Yet the rest of the weapons don’t get the same treatment, often feeling like unfinished placeholders, with gunshots that sound like popcorn popping. The handful of stock bad guys disappoint as well, and you’ll shoot the same five terrorist models (sporting camo pants and “Yousguys” brand t-shirts) throughout the entire game.
While some characters resemble their film actors (McClane’s wife, Takagi), most do not. The only recognizable voice here comes from Reginald Vel Johnson, but there’s some decent Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman soundalikes at work. Terrorist chatter is embarrassing though, with only the hammiest of fake German accents, and plenty of “comedic” chatter a la No One Lives Forever. None of Michael Kamen’s score from the film is used either, and the underlying Christmas themes (bells, etc) barely appear. Music switches between stealthy and action as enemies are encountered, but both are fairly generic.
I talked about “the suits,” and it seems like one of the goals here was to introduce Die Hard to an audience that had never seen it. Some of the dialogue changes simply remove the subtlety of the scene and needlessly overemphasize (see the radio exchange with Ellis, or Hans reporting Takagi’s death), as if to make sure someone who hasn’t seen the film is clearly following along. Cutscenes never show Hans from the front, and I wonder if the repeated hostage rescues are to simply make it “routine” (and enhance the surprise) when you encounter him later. Including outsiders in a piece of pure fan candy is a strange choice that makes me wonder what else in the game was affected by this thought process, and if the extra sequences were generic by design to appeal to hardcore FPSers who may not have an affinity for the flick.
Ultimately, Nakatomi Plaza is an exceedingly average shooter, and often surprisingly dull. Part of this is due to the low-budget nature of the whole affair, and I’m sure three engine changes and years of development didn’t produce a product at the top of its game. However, it’s also due to the simple nature of trying to turn an expertly-paced two hour film into an eight hour shooty game. It’s clear this was a labor of love for at least some of the team, and as said, when it follows the film, it recreates it well. Unfortunately, the endless, straightforward shooting, the added scenes that offer just more shooting, and the overall lack of polish make it tough to recommend, even to fans.
Die Hard in first person. Scenes from the film are detailed and look the part. Morale system and damaging bullets shift gunfights into cover and spraying lead desperately. Pretty good voice work from the main cast. Some of the new scenes on their own (Argyle, saving the architect from the fire) aren’t too bad.
The more you compare it to the film, the worse it comes out. Hundreds of goons and some silly new scenes stretch the plot to the breaking point. AI offers up the same whack-a-mole gameplay. Low budget models and limited variety (from the office setting) won’t impress those who haven’t seen the film.