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 did a cease and desist on the project. Eventually the game got re-announced the following year with the license proper, as well as another upgrade, this time on the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever, and… lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…
But enough about that. 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 some of the changes. Because I’m going to assume, like before, that you’ve seen the film already.
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 with his 9mm Beretta, shoeless.
Naturally, the game’s a first-person shooter. You have two weapon slots: A primary for guns like the MP5, the Steyr AUG (called a “sniper rifle” in this game), and other weapons; and a secondary for your Beretta 92F and whatever gadgets you may acquire, like wire cutters and flashbangs. Before you worry and think this is taking pages from Halo, don’t fret: you can have more than one weapon in each slot.
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. Why there’s so much emphasis on the branding of these two items is beyond me.
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 it probably affected enemy aggression and your accuracy. It’s not really clear.
Since this was 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 Die Hard 2 TV dub anyway.
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 two Special Agent Johnsons are played by two generic white dudes rather than Grand L. Bush and Robert Davi in the film, 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!)
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, proclaims “If this is your idea of Christmas, I GOTTA be here for New Year’s,” 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.
So who made this? Pirahna Games, who formed shortly after the original Half-Life version of Nakatomi Plaza. Some of their other games include assisting in games like Need for Speed: Shift and Medal of Honor: Heroes 2, working on Mechwarrior Online and… Duke Nukem Forever.
OTHER DUMB FACTS THAT I COULDN’T FIT INTO THE POST SOMEWHERE:
- The score was done by Guy Whitmore of Blood, Blood II: The Chosen, Shogo Mobile Armored Division and The Operative: No One Lives Forever fame. It’s a nice dynamic soundtrack. While not as iconic as Michael Kamen’s score from the film, it works just fine.
- The game tends to hide the look of Hans through cutscenes until you actually meet him as Bill Clay later on in the game. I don’t think this is necessary since people already would know what Hans looks like because of the movie.
- Yes, there’s a scene like in the movie where John steps on broken glass and leaves bloody footsteps. Surprisingly, this doesn’t come in to play before or after this particular part, when John’s probably stepped on multiple hazards barefoot.
- While in the movie John used only an MP5 and a Beretta, in this game he acquires the Steyr AUG that Karl wields in the movie, an M4 variant from dead SWAT team members, and oddly, an M60. Did the developers realize they were making a Die Hard game and not a Rambo game?
- At one point, I glitched out of the level, thanks to standing in an area I was supposed to be crouching:
- Thanks to licensing fees, the dissolving of Fox Interactive, among other things; this likely will sit in licensing hell like No One Lives Forever did. I’d say that’s a good thing, but I’m all for preservation and archiving of games, even mediocre licensed ones.