Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza
Author: Tony McDowell   Publisher: Sierra   Developer: Pirahna Games
Date Posted: June 25th, 2002
SLRating: SLRating: 7.5/10
Bottom Line: Great license, great engine, involving story. Nakatomi Plaza is an okay game, but there is nothing here that really sets it apart from the pack. Pick it up if you're a fan, otherwise keep waiting on Doom3.
http://www.slcentral.com/c/g/r/sierra/diehardnakatomi

Introduction

Some licenses, it seems, will never go away. The original Die Hard movie debuted over a decade ago, yet it seems that people still can't get enough of John McCLane and his vigilante heroics. Sure, Die Hard Trilogy and Die Hard Arcade were solid titles, but there seems to be only so many ways of telling the same story over and over, right? Nakatomi Plaza takes the route of placing you squarely in the shoes of Mr. McCLane himself and setting you off to save the world in full LithTech 3D splendor.

I, for one, was not too familiar with the Die Hard plotline. I had roughly watched bits and pieces of the first movie, and have never even glanced at a frame of the remaining films. Thus, I was eager to play Nakatomi Plaza in order to finally partake of this cultural icon. When I saw on the box that they had even commissioned Reginald vel Johnson (Turner and Hooch, Family Matters), I was even more excited. This was sure to be a hit I thought.

Experience

Installation was easy, though I am beginning to become more and more disturbed by developer's thoughts on what constitutes a "small" installation. The installer gave two options: "Big," which was 860 MB and "Small," which was 660MB. I don't know if this is some part of the "new math" I'm missing, but 660MB is still a big footprint. For the sake of gameplay, though, I coughed up the full 860MB for the large install.

The first time I ran the game, I was quickly introduced to the first of several minor issues. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was running Windows without a swap file. Apparently, Nakatomi Plaza didn't like this and proceeded to crash and give me a Windows error message. After fixing that issue, I was then annoyed that I had to hit the ESC key to bypass each of the opening credits videos in succession. There are 5 videos to skip. That gets really old after a while. A simple key to take you straight to the main menu would've been very appreciated.

The game itself starts with a very cinematic feel. Lith-rendered cutscenes are used frequently and the models in the game are fairly accurate representations of the actors who played the characters in the film. All of this seemed pretty run of the mill until I heard the terrorists speak to each other for the first time. My mouth dropped as I heard properly formed and spoken German coming from their mouths. Impressive! I've seen countless games and movies just drop the ball when it comes to non-English languages. The simple truth that Piranha took the time to get this right earned them big-time kudos with me, as a fluent German speaker.

The longer I played DHNP, the more engrossed by the story I became. Enemies behave in a realistic manner, attempting ambushes and sneak attacks. However, the game did develop a bit of redundancy the more I played. I began to notice the same textures over and over, the same enemies over and over. Granted the visuals were astounding thanks to the LithTech engine, but I still started to feel a strong sense of déjà vu the more I played.

Despite the redundancy, the game maintained its entertainment value because of its fairly stringent adherence to the plot and flow of the original movie. The plot is well-developed and plot advancement occurs through a combination of action sequences and scripted events. Plus, a few extra scenes have been added to enhance and enlighten the story a bit more. The inclusion of these new scenes rounds out the play experience and removes the Deus Ex Machina feeling you might get from playing the game without them.

If you equate good gaming with firepower, then Die Hard will certainly not disappoint you. It has firepower in spades. Granted, you start the game with limited firepower (a pistol), but you quickly move up the ranks to an AK style submachine gun, and other assorted boomsticks. In all, you have the following at your disposal at one point or another: an ax, a 9mm pistol, an AK-47 sub-machine gun, a S-A sniper rifle, an M16-A2 semi-automatic rifle, an M-60 machine gun, flash bang and frag grenades, and a fire extinguisher. That's right, a fire extinguisher. If conventional rounds don't kill 'em, just suffocate them with flame-retardant foam.

The general interface, however, is somewhat less praise-worthy. The in-game interface is both awkward and at times too frustrating for tolerance. The contents of your left and right hands are manipulated separately. A button must be pressed to bring up a menu, an item selected, and then toggled to go into effect. Since weapons only ever occupy one of your two hands, it would have been very appreciated if the mouse wheel alone could've been used to scroll through weapons. On the same note, using the mouse wheel in combination with some toggle key would have been very appreciated for selecting secondary items in the other hand like the wire clippers and the Zippo lighter.

Further, the game has some weird habits when it comes to system settings. For example, some video mode options go into effect as soon as you change them while others don't go into effect until you try to load or return to the game. Why? Other games like Quake3Arena and Soldier of Fortune 2 go ahead and switch video modes while in the menu. This allows the user to see if that über-high resolution is going work or not before attempting actual gameplay. Still, while minor, this eventually took a toll on my patience as I tried out different setups to get the best play configuration.

Still, the experience on the whole was rather pleasant. While not grand and jaw-dropping like playing Quake3Arena for the first time, I still liked what I saw. During some research I did, I found out that this game actually had its birth as a total conversion for a different game. To see it come to fruition as well as this was a nice thing. I've seen attempts at making total conversions stand-alone products before and the results have rarely been positive.

Graphics and Sound

As previously mentioned, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza employs the LithTech engine and, as such, the player is in store for really nice visual effects. Some of the most gratifying moments are the excellent shattering of glass and seeing characters up close. The detail available with this engine is simply unreal. However, it seems that Piranha was not very consistent with their usage of said engine. Some things, like the models for NPCs, are very well rendered and look superb while others, like tables and other assorted filler items, are just simple polygons with rudimentary textures applied. A good level of consistency would've helped maintain the feeling of immersion here.

Piranha did make an attempt to make up for these low quality textures by using lots of different textures all over the place. However, the same textures are used all the time and the building becomes redundant. I know that the LithTech engine is capable of handling a much higher number of unique textures then they've really used here.

Anyone who has known me for a while knows how much emphasis I put on a game's audio. I can make concessions in certain circumstances, but this is usually what makes or breaks a game's reputation with me. I am pleased to say that I was very impressed by the audio content in Nakatomi Plaza. As I mentioned previously, I was initially impressed by the usage of accurate German language dialog. But, the impression continues beyond that. The sounds of the report for the various weapons are well done and even echo appropriately depending on your location. Enemies talk amongst themselves and there are lots of ambient sounds. In one scene, as I was crawling through some ducting, I heard ambient sounds of critters crawling around in the ducting along side me. To say I was impressed puts it mildly. I am familiar with good ambient sounds from games like Half-Life, but this actually upped the ante a little bit.

As I am not intimately familiar with the original movie series, I cannot vouch for all of the music in the game, but I do know that I heard at least three different versions of the main theme. Regardless of its authenticity to the movies, the remainder of the score is impressive as well. So much so that I wish I had MP3s of some of it. Some games, like Revenant and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Fallen allowed for this sort of thing. That would've been nice here, but does not seriously detract from the games appeal.

DirectX is only supported audio API, so you at least get support via DirectSound. Considering that all modern sound cards are made by either Creative Labs or some other major vendor using A3D, there should've been some support for these competing (and in some cases, superior) APIs.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • It's Die Hard
  • A nice adaptation of a movie. We rarely see those in gaming.
  • Nice story progression through the combination of cut-scenes and action

Cons

  • It's Die Hard. How many times are they going to recycle it?
  • Inadequate use of the resources available. (i.e, the LithTech engine, multiplayer capabliities)
  • Nothing different on the higher difficulty levels, reducing replay value

Conclusion

Sure, there's a lot to like in Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, but nothing really makes it stand out. I love how the engine looks, but it is not pushed as hard as it should've been. I like the story; it's engaging and well-paced. But, it's also rather boring if you already know the movie. Obtuse controls and an awkward interface. The sound is dynamic and adds a really good sense of environment, but it is the high point.

In short, it's just like every other FPS out right now. It doesn't have a unique angle that really sets it apart other than its franchise. Fans of the series will likely want to pick it up simply to add it to their collection. Gamers looking for something different or awe-inspiring, though, will be better served waiting on Unreal Tournament 2003 or DOOM3.

SLRating: 7.5/10

Rating Breakdown

Story: 8.5
Tried and true. We're dealing with the classic Die Hard storyline. Can't really go wrong with something that's already proved its worth.

Graphics & Sound: 8.5
This is a toss-up. Technically superior thanks to the LithTech engine, but inferior because that engine is not used to its full potential. Still, there are some really gorgeous moments.

Gameplay: 7.0
While not entirely bad, the interface is clumsy enough to cause people to spend more time than necessary learning how to navigate their way around effectively.

Fun Factor: 6.5
Decent the first run through, but there is no replay value. The harder difficulty levels just through more bad-guy fodder at you.

Multiplayer: N/A
None nada nill. Exactly ZERO multiplayer. This alone could've saved this title.

Lasting Appeal: 7.0
Mediocre use of the LithTech engine, clumsy controls, and weathered storyline. This game was obviously made for people who are already a fan of the franchise.

Final Score: 7.5