It’s the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than playing something Christmas-related? How about a game based on one of the best damn action movies of the 80s, Die Hard?
Okay, I may be stretching it a bit here. But it’s better than trying to find some Christmas-themed game involving Santa Claus. It’s also appropriate, considering Die Hard‘s legacy.
There have been many Die Hard games over the years. There was the top-down action game for the NES that’s been featured by the Angry Video Game Nerd and Games Done Quick, the multi-genre Die Hard Trilogy, even the Sega brawler Dynamite Deka which was rebranded as a Die Hard game when it hit stateside. But we’re gonna be talking about a little-known budget shooter that featured our old pal John McClane, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.
This game had an interesting history. Starting out as a “Die Hard TC” for Duke Nukem 3D, it eventually made the leap from the aging Build engine to the new GoldSrc engine in 1999. Development on Nakatomi Plaza went silent in 2000 as rumors went around 20th Century Fox sent a cease and desist on the project.
Eventually the game got re-announced the following year, now with the proper Die Hard license. Since 20th Century Fox had their own games publishing arm (at the time), the game got one more engine change: the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever a year prior, and would be the primary engine for Monolith Productions’ stuff for years to come. The engine was also fairly cheap to license, which meant Lithtech powered lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking stuff like CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…
But enough about the engine that powered a dozen junk games. Let’s get into the game itself. Nakatomi Plaza is a loose retelling of the original Die Hard‘s story. If you’re reading this and you’ve never seen Die Hard, stop reading this and watch the film. NOW. Alternately, you could read the book the movie’s based on, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, which I heard is actually a good book. If you have seen Die Hard, then continue. Preferably read this while listening to that GuyzNite song about the Die Hard franchise.
Since this game’s hits all the famous parts of the original movie, I won’t go into a play-by-play of the game, only for what the game has changed from the film itself.
The game starts out exactly the same as the film: John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza thanks to Argyle the limo driver, meets up with Mr. Takagi, Ellis and Holly Gennaro, before Hans and his terrorist buddies come in and wreck stuff, leaving John barefoot with his 9mm Beretta.
Naturally, the game’s a first-person shooter. You have two weapon slots: A primary for guns like the MP5 and other two-handed weapons, and a secondary for your Beretta 92F and whatever gadgets you may acquire, like wire cutters and flashbangs. Before you start worrying and think they’re gonna try for realism in this, you can breathe a sigh of relief: You can have more than one weapon in each slot.
While John used only an MP5 and a Beretta in the film, in this game he acquires a much more varied arsenal, including the Steyr AUG that Karl wields in the movie, an M4 from some allies John meets later in the game, and oddly, an M60 machine gun. Did the developers realize they were making a Die Hard game and not a Rambo game? At least this is more playable than that Rambo video game that came out a few years ago.
In addition, you later acquire a Zippo lighter and a Motorola Talkabout T6310 radio. The former is your flashlight, the latter is how you communicate with various people, much like the film. From doing a bit of research, this was likely done t
You have three distinct health bars: The heart is your general health, the lungs are your stamina meter that depletes when running, and the brain is your “morale” meter. I don’t know what “morale” does exactly, but I’m gonna guess it affects enemy aggression and your weapon accuracy. It’s not really clear, even when I looked through the manual.
Despite being one of the critical elements of the film, McClane being barefoot and having to step through hazards never comes much into play in the game itself. It only comes into play after a level where McClane steps through the glass like in the film. After that, it’s never mentioned again. I honestly am amazed that one of the health bars wasn’t a foot meter, since that’s something even the oft-maligned NES Die Hard did. Probably for the best, now that I think about it.
Since this is a budget game, forget about getting likeness rights and voice talent from Bruce Willis or Alan Rickman. Every notable character is voiced by a soundalike. They’re not bad, but certainly not amazing. This game’s Hans Gruber fails to get Alan Rickman’s particular tone, whereas this game’s John McClane actually kinda sounds like Bruce Willis. At least, compared to that infamous Die Hard 2 TV dub from back in the day.
Oddly, the only voice actor who reprises his role from the movie is Reginald VelJohnson as Al Powell. Guess he wasn’t getting enough royalty checks from Family Matters reruns.
So, since this is a licensed game, there’s bound to be deviations from the source material to pad out the gameplay. Such as not one, but multiple “protect the hostage” sections, one of which involves protecting Argyle from the movie. There’s a later subplot involving SWAT teams eliminating some of the terrorists, one of the levels which takes place in a sewer.
Even iconic moments from the movie play out somewhat differently in Nakatomi Plaza. Instead of a brawl between you and Tony to acquire the MP5 SMG, you just kill him with a launched plank of wood to get his Motorola T6310 and Zippo lighter. There’s a lot more vent crawling than in the film. Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson plays less of a role in this game, where Powell becomes your buddy throughout. Even the Special Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson are played by two generic white dudes who don’t resemble Grand L. Bush and Robert Davi, with their fate never mentioned here.
Despite that, a lot of the iconic lines from the movie are still in there, including the famous “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker” line. Wouldn’t be a Die Hard movie without it unless you’re a shitty PG-13 sequel. (I’m looking at YOU, Live Free or Die Hard!)
Nakatomi Plaza is smart with doing one thing: Keeping Hans’ identity a secret. I feel that’s a bit unnecessary considering if someone’s seen the film they already know he’s gonna be not-Alan Rickman, but I guess the people at Pirahna Games were assuming there might be 1-2 people who played this game before seeing the film. It’s a nice touch, honestly.
So after taking several detours, some of which had me going back through areas I’d been through before, I finally make it back to the 30th floor and find out what Hans and his crew’s been doing. Of course, Hans has Holly hostage.
The final battle between John and Hans is a bit longer and annoying compared to the movie’s. John has to shoot Hans without shooting Holly, otherwise the game’s over. After shooting him a few times, shuffling around the vault, eventually you get to a window, plug a few more rounds into Hans, and have him tumbling down, just like in the film.
After that, the game plays out exactly like the movie: John and Holly meet Sgt. Powell, Karl almost gets his revenge, then gets shot by Powell. Argyle shows up, says the final spoken line from the film, then Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 plays over the credits. It’s not Vaughn Monroe’s Let it Snow, but it works.
Out of all the Die Hard games I’ve played, this works out fine. It’s not the best Die Hard game, but it’s hardly the worst. I wasn’t expecting to be completely accurate unless they wanted to go for a stealth/survival hybrid game, but Nakatomi Plaza plays out like a boilerplate FPS of the era. If you’re a fan of the movies, it’s not worth hunting down unless out of morbid curiosity.
As for the guys who made this, they’re still around. Shortly after the original Half-Life version of Nakatomi Plaza, they formed Piranha Games. They mostly do contract work for many other games, such as assisting on Need for Speed: Shift and Medal of Honor: Heroes 2, working on Mechwarrior Online and the forthcoming Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, and… helping out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 releases of Duke Nukem Forever. I can’t fault them for that, companies gotta stay afloat somehow.
Nowadays if you want to play this, piracy might be the way to go. With the dissolution of Fox Interactive, and especially with the 20th Century Fox library now under Disney’s arm, we may never see this digitally re-released any time soon. It’s a shame too, as even junk bargain bin games like these deserve to be replayed and found by a new audience. I never thought this game would share the same fate that No One Lives Forever has where copyright limbo has basically made this unavailable to play short of pirating it, but that’s the downside of licensed properties, really.
There hasn’t been many Die Hard games since. A Gamecube and PlayStation 2 game called Vendetta came out around the same time with equally negative reception. One day I should give that one a try, and see if it’s really as bad as people think.