A Blast from the Past Review
Is the Die Hard tie-in just another cowboy?
Die Hard is my all-time fave action movie so I originally approached DHNP like walking across glass barefoot. How could it possibly be any good, even if the movie’s plot is basically a FPS? But in my memory, DHNP trod a fine line; referencing the movie yet sneaking in levels like protecting Argyle and filling out the bit between ‘shoot the glass’ and John in the bathroom. There are two things I remember most clearly about DHNP; it tried very hard to respect the first film and it was as hard to finish as the fifth film.
The game took no prisoners – shooter experience was not part of the equation this time, you realised that. God knows how Hans got all those terrorists in one van - they were everywhere. One wrong move and you’re down before you had a chance to say Ho-Ho-Ho. Still, I recall it as a cracking shooter that let you live out an against-the-odds action movie.
But considering its lacklustre reviews and that it’s not even reappeared on Steam or GOG makes me wonder if my DH love overshadowed the game itself. Was it Yippie Ki-yay or just Motherfucker? I remember a great, if unforgiving game and it can’t be worse than Die Hard 5. Even if it doesn't run it can’t be worse than Die Hard 5.
Still a Blast?
I’m alone, tired and seeing diddly squat from Windows10. I just couldn’t get past the welcome screen, like John looking for Holly McClane on that 'cute toy'. I lost myself in patches and dead links trying to find a way to make it work, but nothing. I had to find out if DHNP really was a lost classic and not a Die Hard In A Building rip-off. McClane wouldn’t give up; neither will I.
A week later I was staring at that Windows XP wallpaper courtesy of a battered Dell computer off eBay. I get deafened by the start-up tone and begin installing DHNP. It’s good to be back. And it’s even better when DHNP loads up like a boss.
Although it looks pretty dated now, DHNP is really trying. The opening sequence, while truncated is faithful and there’s detail only a Die Hard geek would spot – when you walk to the elevator the second security guard is idly picking at his nails. A major difference is how everyone looks; Holly has the same perm (no one’s gonna trademark that) but Ellis now looks like an 80s porn star. Karl doesn’t look anywhere near as menacing and has his hair in a little ponytail, but the biggest change is John McClane. Because he’s not in it.
Die Hard’s strength as a high-concept movie wasn’t the shooting, it was who’s doing the shooting. John McClane was, as the trailers said, an easy guy to like. You wanted to see him succeed; he wasn’t Arnie shrugging off bullets, he was a regular Joe caught in a situation he had to face. But in DHNP we never see JM’s face, only hear him, even in cut-scenes which is distracting given how much of this is about him; and JM doesn’t always act like JM - at one point, while stalking through Nakatomi’s R&D department, he has the option to gas several terrorists just to clear a fairly easy path. What raised Die Hard above other actioners was that JM was fundamentally decent; he never kills anyone who doesn't shoot first, yet here, you can kill Tony with the buzzsaw. DHNP’s John is more Doomguy than nice-guy.
As it progresses, DHNP seems to be unsure if it’s for fans of the film or a standalone shooter; I couldn’t proceed until I looked at Tony’s shoes which would make no sense to those who hadn’t seen the movie (since we can’t see JM’s feet) yet Hans is hidden for half the game. I couldn’t work out why until I met Bill Clay – But Bill/Hans doesn’t get the drop on JM this time either, so keeping him hidden makes no sense to a gamer who never saw the movie.
One minute it’s relying on you knowing what’s happening then it’s acting like we’ve never been here before; John finds C4 on a seat next to an elevator shaft which seems fairly obvious, but still needs Powell to prompt him before you can use it. By picking and choosing what to reference, DHNP creates huge plot holes; Thornberg is completely absent so how did Hans know to kidnap Holly?
But the biggest ‘huh?’ is Karl, who has his Tony-tantrum then disappears, so when he rocks up and says “we’re both professionals, this personal” it doesn’t have the same resonance - who the hell is he to JM? Plus, he runs off and gets reinforcements! The hell?
It also messes with the structure of the film; SWAT enters the building despite the RPG attack occurring and Powell mentions they’re sending in Paramedics; it undermines JM’s isolation if folks are coming and going freely - he visits every floor, even going for a swim in the sewers for no good reason, yet never opens an outside door which everyone seems to be using.
So, if it’s not the Die Hard experience I remember, how does it hold up as a shooter? Frantic and frustrating. The AI of the terrorists (who all sound like Arnie) is basic, and there’s hundreds of them. There’s a nice touch in the way they switch to sidearms if you get too close and do lots of duck and rolls, but it’s insanely difficult due to their numbers and accuracy. Even in the finale Hans needs seven or eight shots to the head just to send him out the window. While Holly is doing everything she can to get shot herself.
There is a lot of care here though; the ‘don’t hesitate’ guy pops up - then down onto Al’s car, the receptionist that looks like Huey Lewis is there and others from the movie too, and it’s got the look and feel of the Plaza down perfectly, meanwhile some extensions work really well, such as trying to outfox the terrorists tracking your blood-soaked footprints, reworking the giant fan scene or saving Argyle. Sometimes it does go left-field, most notably in a sequence early on where John discovers C4 counting down (doesn’t that go against Hans’ plan?) and has to disarm it in a time-sensitive rush.
So did DHNP live up to the memories? I can see why DHNP faded away. It’s just an Okay Shooter, given a pass by its inspiration. It tries, but relies on your awareness of the movie to fill gaps in its logic, then asks you to ignore the logic where it suits. Can’t have it both ways, and instead of enjoying it I just wish Hans would open the front door for me.
Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza might not have been what I remembered, but the saddest part is what I had to go through to relive it. I now have an obsolete PC lying around. It’s a shame that older games are left to die-hard as the tech marches on; we’re even seeing it in mobile platforms now which were once the last chance saloon for older games - Monkey Island no longer works in iOS 64-bit, which sucks. It’s frustrating when you can’t enjoy something anymore just because the industry decided not to carry the past into the future, worried it would look dated. So maybe that XP rig isn’t obsolete after all; I have a ton of old discs W10 turns its nose up at. XP, come up to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.
2002 | Developer; Piranha Games | Publisher; Sierra Entertainment
Platforms; Win XP