Welcome To The Party, Pal!
Die Hard started out as a modification for Half-Life, but the team was subsequently hired by Fox to turn the project into a commercial title. The problem is, despite the more advanced LithTech engine in use here, the game still feels and looks like nothing more than a Half-Life mod.
It probably seemed a good idea at the time, using Nakatomi Plaza and the events of Die Hard as the basis of a gritty lone-gunman-against-the-terrorists first person shooter. The game's plot follows that of the film quite closely, as you take on the role of NYPD officer John McClane, alone with a band of terrorists in the 40 storey Nakatomi Plaza after going to visit his estranged wife at her office's Christmas party.
The game attempts to recreate most of the notable scenes from the movie, while adding a few more of their own utilising a little artistic license. Unfortunately these boil down to variations on the bog-standard first-person shooter staples of yore. Take the sewer level for instance, one of the first indications that the development team begin to flounder for ideas once they get beyond the recreation of action scenes from the film. The level design here is particularly mediocre, and I was running about the same areas over and over again without a clue of what to do. This is in fact where the majority of Nakatomi Plaza's problems stem from - the utter lack of direction. There is an objectives screen of sorts which you can bring up during the level, but you're never notified when this is updated.
I've Got A Bad Feeling About This
Your progress is mostly dictated by running headlong through strictly linear level design, as opposed to clever stealth assaults. The scenery is almost completely lacking in interactivity, and the only offensive tool you ever really need is your MP5 machine gun.
The terrorist threat is never very real either, and you don't come up against any particularly formidable foes. Enemies usually respond to your presence by shouting a bit and then running behind the nearest solid object until you come and get them. They don't cover each other, they don't attempt to form an assault on your position, and they don't try to flush you out with grenades. This is truly action gaming out of the Ark.
The occasional mid-level bosses (or at least I think they're supposed to be bosses) are as braindead as the rest of the shambling cast, and so you can usually resort to hiding behind a crate and popping up every so often to fire off shots until they're dead. Then there's the constant threat from SWAT officers, who think you're one of the terrorists, despite the fact that McClane has an NYPD badge and ID he can show to them.
I wasn't joking when I said the only tool you need is your MP5, by the way. It's not like you have much choice though, as there are only about five different weapons in the entire game and you rarely get to use those. Come across the Steyr Aug, for example, and then try and find some ammo for it. That's right, you can't, and the same goes for the others.
And we haven't even touched on the use of the moderately powerful LithTech engine yet. Unfortunately, this is pretty bad news as well; the palette usually makes use of a dull mix of greys smudged across horrific low-resolution textures, which themselves are wrapped around some of the boxiest scenery we've seen since the first Quake. The character models don't fare much better either, looking and moving like wooden puppets with facial animations that are verging on comical. Just when you think things can't get any worse, you witness the team's attempt at special effects - never before has a fire effect in an action game made me physically laugh.
Sound is perhaps the game's strongest area, but even this isn't without its faults. The guns sound suitably realistic and the acting of the Bruce Willis (McClane) and Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber) impersonators sometimes rises above average. However, the rest of the German accents exhibited by the terrorists are a joke, and probably offensive to any German players. The (ahem) atmosphere is permeated by unobtrusive backing tracks which, while not extraordinary, fit in with the action quite well.
Despite ending up with a poor take on the bog standard shooter formula, the team have at least tried a few deviations from the theme. For example, McClane's HUD has meters not just for physical health, but also morale and stamina.
Stamina works much like the function in the Half-Life mod Day of Defeat, where too much exertion from running and jumping causes your player to slow and become tired. This helps to force you into thinking a little more strategically about your approach, but the terrorists are such a limited threat that it isn't much of a worry. Morale supposedly affects how hostages and terrorists react to your presence, but I never really managed to discern any marked difference.
Die Hard : Nakatomi Plaza could have been a great game, had it been given the attention it deserves by the right people. Unfortunately this just stinks of a cash-in without any consideration of how to make a decent game out of the license. The whole affair is cheap and the production values are so woefully substandard it's a wonder it was ever released at all. There is a small amount of pleasure to be had amongst this disaster, but not enough to recommend you spend any money on it.
3 / 10