John Wick Hex is the game you get when you combine Hotline Miami and Chess. When you think of John Wick, you think guns, shooting, gun-fu and Keanu Reeves. It’s natural to assume then that a John Wick videogame would be a third or first-person shooter. And I’m sure a decent shooter could have been made using the license. However, John Wick Hex is a far better solution.
When you watch the John Wick films, you see how deliberate Wick is in his movements. He always seems to be thinking two steps ahead and always working to keep the upper-hand.
Translating this into a real-time shooter would have been really difficult. Instead, Bithell Games has created a sublime, strategic experience.
John Wick Hex Review
There’s a distinct flow to the action and violence in the John Wick franchise. The way that Wick moves, the way bad guys respond to him and how he, in turn, responds to them has a very “call-and-response” feel to it.
In the films, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, which is part of how physics works. The creators of the game have made it so this particular language of violence comes across intact in John Wick Hex.
As you play, you’ll make decisions about how to proceed but as you do, you’ll need to react or change course depending on how the enemies respond. At first, I felt like the entire system was a little janky and even unfair but that’s only because I didn’t fully understand how the game works.
Each level is a self-contained sequence that sees John Wick make his way from point A to point B. Along the way, he’ll need to murder a bunch of goons and make sure he doesn’t die doing so.
There are five things you’ll need to be aware of and monitoring at all times while playing John Wick Hex; ammo, health, Focus, time and stance. John Wick can only carry one gun at a time and reloading before a clip is empty means anything remaining will be wasted. While you begin each chapter with John Wick’s personal handgun, it won’t be long before you need to pick up the discarded firearms of dead goons.
Most enemies take two shots to put down, however, not every shot is going to connect and so you’ll have to get used to switching up weapons on the fly. Health is depleted whenever John Wick takes a hit, either melee or from a gun. If he loses all health in a level, it’s game over. He can carry (and find) bandages which fill his health completely, though they’re scarce.
Focus is the meter that is depleted when John Wick performs certain actions. Enemies also have a Focus meter and dealing damage to it is the only way to deal with Bosses. When Wick’s Focus starts running low you can ‘Refocus’ to fill the meter back up. This takes a few seconds though and leaves him vulnerable, so you’ll need to take care when you do it.
Wick’s stance can be shifted from standing to crouching which increases shooting accuracy but reduces all movement to rolling.
Crouching and rolling are great ways to avoid enemy fire but if you forget that you’re crouching and try to perform any move other than shooting, you’re in for a bad time.
Finally, time is the most important part of John Wick Hex. Everything that you do takes time and there’s an everpresent timeline at the top of the screen to remind you. When you’re deciding what to do, the timeline will show you a preview of how long the action will take which helps you decide whether or not it’s the right move. It’s especially important when you start taking on bad guys because their timelines will also be displayed so you can compare how long your moves will take.
Essentially, you move John Wick along a hex grid through each level, which is obscured by a fog of war to simulate a cover mechanic. When you spot an enemy, or they spot you, the game pauses and gives you a chance to reevaluate your current manoeuvre. It’s in these moments that time becomes incredibly important. Enemies will have a certain reaction time between seeing you and responding which gives you a chance to prepare for them.
You could crouch and get behind low cover so they lose sight of you. You could crouch AND roll away to get even further away or you could shoot first before they even know what hit them. But there are plenty of other options too. Instead of hiding, you can stand your ground or continue walking towards them (if you have the time) and before they even have their gun drawn you can perform a Takedown that takes them out of the action.
You can also punch, parry (if they’re attacking you), push them back or throw your gun. John Wick Hex is at its absolute best when you start being able to chain these commands together and make short work of rooms filled with baddies.
With a Pencil
My favourite moments in John Wick Hex are when I’ve managed to throw my gun, stunning a baddie, walked up to him and punched him, turned to another approaching enemy and performed a takedown which saw me land exactly where I needed to, to pick up my handgun before finally shooting another enemy as the entered the room. These are the sequences and moments you strive for in John Wick Hex and once you start pulling them off, you’ll really understand the magic of this game.
Also part of the magic are the vocal performances by Troy Baker, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick. It makes it feel much more a part of the John Wick universe to have the real actors voicing their characters.
And the soundtrack by Austin Wintory is top-notch. The driving tunes are the perfect accompaniment to the action and ramp-up and down at the right times. There’s some dub-step, synthwave, electronica and a touch of hip-hop that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into one of the movies.
Sadly, not everything is peachy with John Wick Hex. The visuals are bad. I can understand what the team has tried to achieve, but they look cheap and nasty, especially during the cutscenes. It really pulled me out of the game to see Winston and John Wick looking like some GoldenEye 007 rejects.
The colour palette is great but the art style just doesn’t do it for me. And while the idea of being able to watch each level play out as a scene sounds good, in practice it just doesn’t work. Watching the replay of the level you just completed just looks weird and silly. I stopped watching after the first few because they were disappointing and because they took up time that I could be playing.
Really though, these are pretty minor complaints overall. The gameplay is so good that it doesn’t even matter that the visuals are ugly as sin. What’s better still is that once you’ve finished a chapter, you’ll see if you made Par or not for a number of stats. If you didn’t, you’ll be able to go back and try again until you complete each level flawlessly.
John Wick Hex is an excellent adaptation of a film franchise that could have been a lazy shooter. Instead, it’s one of the best strategy games available today.
John Wick Hex was reviewed on PC using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: John Wick Hex