I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, one of the answers I’d continually give adults when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up was “Action Hero.” Weaned on gunfights, explosions, and sarcastic one-liners, I couldn’t wait until I could save the world, crack off a flippant remark, and walk away with a theme song triumphantly heralding my success. Is it any wonder then that John McClane was one of the best examples I could draw on during these years? Let’s face it: He was much more creative than Rambo and infinitely better at mockery and derision than any of the nameless Ah-nuld characters. But what made McClane more relatable to me was that he was a normal guy. He wasn’t in the Special Forces or a spy; He was a cop stuck in a bad situation, trying to save the woman he loved. I definitely became a fan, and snatched up everything I could about the franchise. So you can only imagine my excitement when Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza was announced.
DH:NP is a definite departure from its previous iterations: whereas the other titles focused on the entire trilogy of McClane’s adventures, offering three games within one, Nakatomi Plaza focuses on the original film that started the series. For those of you who don’t know the premise of the movie -- (Where have you been, under a rock? Get down to a video store and rent it now!) -- John McClane is a wisecracking New York cop who’s flown to Los Angeles hoping to patching things up with his separated wife, Holly, who now works for a multi-national corporation. Chauffeured to her office building, John arrives in the midst of a Christmas party. Unfortunately, the mirth shared by all is a short one. Unbeknownst to the partygoers, a terrorist named Hans and his band of thugs infiltrates the building, intent on robbing the company and using the employees as hostages. John quickly becomes the sole hope of foiling the terrorist plot and saving his wife.
In DH:NP, the player is thrust into this dangerous situation as soon as the initial cutscene ends. Even before a shot is fired or an item is picked up, the game’s interface is displayed. There are the customary primary and secondary weapon slots, which show the selected weapon or tool at the bottom right of the screen. Next are John’s item windows for his badge, lighter, and radio along the top of the screens, which allow him to identify himself to hostages and police, light darkened passageways, or intercept terrorist messages.
Finally, in the bottom left are three gauges that represent McClane’s health, stress, and mental levels. These gauges have very unique and interesting impacts on play. The mental gauge seems to measure McClane’s ability to concentrate and accomplish tasks, while the stress meter evaluates his stamina. The exertion of running, jumping, even firing a gun for prolonged periods of time affects both the stress and mental levels. With diminished mental points, McClane doesn’t fire as accurately or aim as well, while decreased stress points hampers his ability to physically react, preventing him from running or even jumping in some cases. It then becomes crucial to keep all three levels maxed out.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, as you’ll have thirty levels to fight, crawl, and shoot through. Ranging from the unfinished floors and rooftop of the Nakatomi Building to the subbasements, John finds killing off all the terrorists won’t be a walk in the park. Not only is there a virtual battalion of them crawling all over the building, but booby traps and building hazards complicate every step of the way. Fortunately, he does receive help from Officer Al Powell, a Los Angeles policeman who responds to John’s initial distress call, the L.A.P.D. SWAT team, and hostages found in different sections of the building.
For most Die Hard purists (like myself), the red flags immediately go up. SWAT team members? Help from hostages? That’s not in the movie! True, true…but fret not, action fans. DH: NP does follow the basic plot of the film itself, isolating key events and dialogue for cutscenes and in-game speech. However, the other stages of the game are just as interesting as that of the plot. Indeed, it would seem as though these were either extra scenes that you might find on a DVD, or actual events that happened in the movie that just weren’t captured by the camera’s lens. These scenes aren’t just lame firefights or packed with ridiculous puzzles. McClane will find himself tracking down bombers, navigating through ventilation and sewage systems, and roaming through office floors as he eliminates the criminals.
Initially, I thought the levels that did not match with the plot of the movie would distract me. However, I found the depth brought to each level was addictive and engrossing. Many times, I found myself saying, “I’ll quit once I finish this level,” only to find myself still playing an hour or two later. Some of the credit for this must go to the AI present within the game. Enemies dodge and duck behind corners and obstacles for cover from bullets, sprinting and rolling out of harm’s way. While it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination (for example, there are many times when foes will run past you as they try to get a better vantage point), it is impressive to see them attempting to do their best to lead their targets and offer as little of their body as possible. There is also a massive collision avoidance problem within the title, with not only enemies but also McClane himself getting stuck upon objects or people at times, and even melding with doors or walls.
Graphically, DH:NP is very nicely done, using the well-respected Lithtech engine. The interior of the Nakatomi Plaza is very nicely recreated from the film, with each stage having a unique perspective. From the Asian-influenced executive floors to the unfinished sections, each level gives you a sense of actually being in a massive building complex. Additionally, the interactive and destructive nature of the environments grants an even more realistic touch to the game. For instance, shattered glass and art are frequent casualties of fierce gun battles. Character models are also nicely rendered, with decent approximations of the major characters within the movie. The most noticeable graphical flaws are the anti-aliasing problems that seem to be inherent with the Lithtech technology, but are exacerbated within this title.
Musically, the title has grand, sweeping orchestral music that is reminiscent of the film. You’d be hard pressed to play the music of the game and that of the movie and tell the difference. Not only is this an impressive touch, it really makes you feel like you’re in the shoes (or make that feet) of John McClane. The sound effects are nicely rendered as well, attempting to place you fully within the walls of Nakatomi Plaza itself. There are also decent jobs of vocal acting. It’s not stellar, and it’s not exactly true to the script at times either, but the person who does McClane is adequate at pulling off the sarcasm and inflection that Bruce Willis had. Having Reginald VelJohnson providing the voice of his film persona, that of Al Powell, is a great touch that adds an additional touch of authenticity to the title. The game’s weakest vocal actor would have to be that of Hans, who lacks the sneering, serpentine power and authority in the delivery that Alan Rickman brought so nicely to the role.
I must say that I was truly impressed with Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza. I felt like I’d actually entered the building as John, cracked of a few “Yippee-Kay-Yays”, and saved some lives as I roamed through the massive building. Not only did I manage to get my “Action Hero” fix, but also I managed to feel just as exhilarated as I did when I watched the movie for the first time. First Person Shooter or Action fans will definitely do themselves a disservice to not pick this game up, but other players would definitely do their computer, and their game libraries, well to add this to their collection. “Welcome to the party, pal!”