Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza Review

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Die Hard is one of the greatest action movies of all time and it’s also one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. It’s a movie, loosely based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever”, and is about how one man single-handedly takes down a dozen or so terrorists and saves his wife along with a group of hostages on Christmas Eve. It’s such a great movie that a mod was going to be created for the original Half-Life called Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza which would basically be the video game adaption of the film. From what I read, Fox Interactive caught wind of this and sent the creators a letter to cease all work on the mod. I really don’t know all the details but these creators formed a video game development company and developed it as a full standalone game. Summer may be my favorite season but I love Christmastime and I’m always on the lookout for Christmas-themed games. A few years ago, when I first discovered there was a first-person shooter based on Die Hard, one of the greatest Christmas movies ever, I just had to get a copy. Developed by Piranha Games and published by Sierra Entertainment, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza was released for PC in April, 2002. To get this running in widescreen, I had to edit the autoexec configuration file in the installation directory. I also used the NVIDIA Profile Inspector program to cap the frame rate at sixty which I would highly recommend you do as well, otherwise the game is basically unplayable, at least on Windows 10.

The premise of the film goes that John McClane is an NYPD officer who travels to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife who works for the Nakatomi Corporation. Shortly after he arrives at the Nakatomi office Christmas party, the building is seized by terrorists, the partygoers are held hostage, with the exception of John who manages to escape. He runs all over the building taking down the terrorists one by one, saving the hostages and his wife, everybody goes home happy. I really shouldn’t have to explain the premise because there’s really no excuse for not having seem the film. It’s a classic. Anyway, the game follows the story pretty closely. However, this game is probably one of the worst video game representations of a movie I have ever played. Not every piece of dialogue from the film is heard for obvious reasons, I mean you don’t want the game to drag on. Regardless, scenes and dialogue are missing, some of the characters don’t even resemble their real-life counterparts, and the voice acting is absolutely abhorrent. It’s really bad, possibly the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in anything, ever. The voice deliveries lack the appropriate emotion, some of the dialogue is just downright butchered, and the only decent thing I can say about the voice acting is that Reginald VelJohnson was cast to reprise his role as Al Powell. Whoever voiced Hans Gruber, the terrorist leader, did a somewhat decent job, compared to the rest of the cast, but it’s still pretty bad. The developers would have been better off just ripping the scenes straight from the film. Furthermore, for some reason, Hans Gruber’s face isn’t revealed until a little more than halfway through the game. Considering you see him regularly from the beginning to the end of the film, this really makes no sense. I’m going to assume it’s because you’re playing as John and this is all from his perspective, and he doesn’t really meet the man until about halfway through the film. Still, hiding Hans’ face seems unnecessary.

Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza includes three difficulty modes – Die Hard (Easy), Die Harder *(Medium), and Die Hard with a Vengeance (Hard) – all named after the first three movies. Oh, how clever they are. John can walk, run, jump, crouch and lean left and right. I should also mention that John is left-handed, and the game reflects this by showing the first-person weapon models on the left side of the screen. This game has an interesting HUD. Your health meter is represented by a heart, your stamina meter is represented by lungs, and your morale meter is represented by a brain. Health is obvious. If you take damage, you lose health, if you lose all of your health, you die and must restart from the last save. You can acquire health from various medical cabinets scattered throughout the environments. Stamina is drained by running and jumping. According to the manual, which I had to find online, the distance you can jump is determined by how full your stamina meter is. You won’t be required to jump very often so it doesn’t really matter. Now the morale meter is interesting and I’m going to quote the manual on its description – “The meter next to the ‘brain’ icon indicates how much morale you have left. The terrorist’s AI will be affected by the level of your morale” – Yeah, I don’t know what the fuck that means but the AI in general is pretty fucking stupid with the occasional bout of pinpoint accuracy. Normally, enemies will just stand around shooting at you, sometimes they roll along the ground as if they’re trying to avoid your gunfire, I noticed some enemies in several areas throughout the game struggle with pathfinding, and every now and then you come across a boss NPC who can take you out in seconds and is just a bullet sponge, himself. There are several of these boss type encounters like Tony, the M60 gunman, even Karl, among some others. There are some NPC’s that can take you out quickly just to prevent you from going a certain way because that’s the game’s way of telling you “wrong way”. It’s not a very good system and if you don’t quicksave you’ll have to restart from the auto-save which is always at the beginning of the level. Some areas are just very trial and error so you’ll want to quicksave often. Now the movie contains about a dozen terrorists but you’ll easily kill twenty before level four. However, I will let that go considering this is a video game. But what I will not let go is that there’s only like four or five different character models for the terrorists, minus the boss characters. You’ll see the same terrorists over and over again throughout the entire game. All enemies act the same and don’t really require much thinking to defeat so the least the developers could have done was offered more enemy variety, at least in appearance.

The game is played out through levels broken up by loading points. Right after the terrorists seize the building, John slips past them unnoticed without his shoes, so he’s barefoot, and just like the film, you quickly encounter the first terrorist, take him out, and acquire a radio and Zippo. John is also always equipped with his badge that you can flash around but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t do anything. Or maybe it does when you flash it at the SWAT team later in the game. I really don’t know. The game is not exactly clear about a lot of things. The radio is used to communicate with the police surrounding the building, specifically Al Powell, and even Hans, at scripted points throughout the game, and the Zippo can be used to help John see in dark areas like ventilation shafts. In addition to some new stuff not seen in the film, a lot of what happens in the movie is reflected in the game. You know, throwing the C4 down the elevator shaft, calling for help on the roof, throwing Marco out the window and onto Al’s car, etc. Most of your objectives require you to go from point A to B to activate something, sometimes you may need to backtrack, and you’ll have to shoot enemies along the way. You’ll be flipping switches, turning valves, putting out fires, using an axe to chop wood planks, and you’ll even defuse bombs. The developers decided to extend the story by adding new areas and objectives. You’ll have to escort a SWAT team, escort Argyle in the parking garage, rescue and protect hostages on different floors, even transfer water to a reservoir room. There’s one particular segment in the beginning of the game where you need to defuse several bombs. First you have to rush through the area and kill the guy holding the wire cutter and then use it to defuse each bomb. But you’re timed and if you bump into the bombs or shoot them, everything blows up and you die. There’s no timer on the HUD or anything to really make you aware of the need to be quick which could mean you’re fucked if you slowly blast your way through the baddies to acquire a wire cutter and then realize you don’t have enough time left. I think the timer is on the bombs. Another problem with this level in particular is that the bombs can seemingly go off at random even if I was careful and had plenty of time. This is one of the most frustrating levels in the entire game. One issue I have with the levels in general is that it’s not always clear where you need to go. It’s a linear game but nothing is ever obvious. You can bring up a list of objectives at any time during gameplay which can be helpful but there’s a lot of areas with the same texture work, so it’s easy to get lost, and even if you think you know where you should be going because you’ve watched the film religiously, you still may be wrong. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if the game encouraged exploration which it does not. The only reason you would ever explore is to find medical cabinets. One positive thing I can say about the game is that the actual design of the environments is decent. The environments do a good job reflecting the Nakatomi building seen in the film. In fact, it’s one of the few aspects of the game that represents the film in a positive light. And there’s something to be said for an action game like this set entirely in an office building. It’s kind of like the game F.E.A.R., although not as dark and dreary.

There’s two weapon slots and I really don’t understand this because you can carry all of the firearms and most of the items. The two weapon slots just seems unecessary. In fact, it’s frustrating. Each individual firearm is not tied to any keys so you have to scroll through a list of weapons, as well as items in slot two, and select the one you want to equip. For some reason, you have to drop the axe or fire extinguisher if you switch to a gun. John can carry a pistol, the MP5 which the manual refers to as submachine gun, the manual also identifies the Steyr AUG as a sniper rifle, an M-16, flashbang grenades, even an M60. You never actually see John here but I’m assuming he’s dressed the same way here as he is in the film. He’s wearing a sleeveless undershirt, cargo pants, no shoes, and in addition to him carrying all of these weapons while still being able to quickly move around, I want to point out that he also carries the radio, Zippo, wire cutter, and his badge. But holding the axe is too much, I guess. Besides using it to chop wood planks, you can also use it as a weapon. You may use the pistol a few times and it’s the only weapon you can hold while also holding the Zippo but most of the time you’ll be wielding the MP5. It’s also what ninety percent of the enemies carry as well so there’s plenty of ammo for it. The M-16, AUG, and M60 are much more powerful but ammo is scarce and you’ll probably want to use them sparingly and save them for boss characters. The shooting, itself, feels very generic and stale mainly because of the lack of decent enemy reactions to gunfire. I mean, I know the game was released in 2002 but so was Soldier of Fortune II which shows that even in 2002, games could have fun and exciting gunplay. In this game, I felt like I was shooting cardboard cutouts. What makes it worse is, the bodies of dead enemies disappear almost immediately upon getting killed. It’s not really a big deal but it happens so quickly. You don’t  have enough time to admire the numerous dead bodies after a firefight.

The audiovisual presentation is just as bland and generic as the gameplay. As I stated before, the environments look decent, the texture work isn’t horrible, and some of the gun models actually look really good, with a decent amount of detail, specifically the MP5. Character models on the other hand look pretty bad, and as I mentioned earlier, many characters clearly do not look like their counterparts seen in the film, all animations are extremely stiff, including during cut scenes. I guess the muzzle flashes and bullet decals look alright but there’s really not much to talk about in terms of the visuals. As for the audio, the weapons sound okay at best, the MP5 gunfire sound effects are seemingly ripped straight from the film, John will huff and puff when he’s low on stamina, and that’s pretty much it for the positives. The music during gameplay is kind of reminiscent of what you hear in the film, although, it’s the same tune over and over. It’s just repetitive and it’s really not that great. As for the technical aspects, my God, is this game unpolished and buggy as all hell. Getting in and out of tight spaces like ventilation shafts and even off of ladders can be a real pain in the ass. At one point I was blinded by a flashbang and the effect wouldn’t wear off until I completed the level. I’m guessing that’s just a bug but if it’s an actual feature, it’s annoying. It only happened at that one point. One of the SWAT team members you need to escort dies, and I think that’s scripted, but then he miraculously comes back later on, or it’s just another SWAT guy who randomly shows up. Also, the other team members who do follow you seem to disappear and re-appear at random, they’ll even shoot and walk through walls. But the most annoying thing about them is sometimes they just won’t follow you. I’m pretty sure you can’t command them because I tried. They just didn’t want to follow me. If you look through the scope of the AUG, the outside of the scope is all mangled. Although, this may be due to the game running in widescreen. I saw the blood of enemies get stuck in mid-air, parts of enemy character models would stretch out ridiculous distances, and the frame rate tanked twice for a brief time. If you don’t use anything to cap the frame rate, as I mentioned earlier in this review, the game is basically unplayable. From what I understand, the crazy high frame rate the game will normally run at on modern systems just messes everything up like aiming, among other things.

I love Christmastime, I’m always on the lookout for Christmas-themed games or Christmas-themed levels in games, I love Die Hard, I watch it all the time, especially around Christmas season, and when I first heard of this game, I bought it immediately. That was a few years ago now, this is my second time playing through this, and I forgot just how bad this game is. However, I will give the game some credit, though. The voice work is so horrible that it made me laugh several times and it never crashed on me. If it was a mod like originally intended, I would give it a lot more slack. I’d definitely appreciate it a lot more. But this was developed and released as a standalone game that I spent money on, it’s based on of the greatest movies of all time, and it’s an absolutely terrible representation of the film and even first-person shooters for that matter. Believe it or not, there are worse games out there, but there’s a shit-ton more quality games out there, too. I did not enjoy my time with this. It’s bland, generic, lacks excitement, it can be frustrating, and it really has no redeeming qualities. There’s no other modes or multiplayer, either. You beat the campaign and you’re done.

Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza is a terrible game. Period. It takes one of the greatest movies ever made and butchers it in some of the worst ways possible. The voice acting is embarrassing, the game is buggy, it’s unpolished, and it’s just not fun. I really do try to find the positives in any game that I play but I struggled to finding anything positive here and that just sucks. I would say ninety five percent of this game is awful. The environments are represented well, the MP5 sounds accurate when compared to the film, and Reginald VelJohnson reprises his role as Al Powell. Those are the only three things that stand out as decent. If you’ve never seen the film or played this game, then I would recommend you never play this game and just watch the movie. Even if you have seen the film or are just interested in the game, do not play this game. Watch the movie instead. It’s a far more enjoyable experience. If you want to play a good Die Hard game, check out Die Hard Trilogy for PlayStation and Saturn.

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