For fans of the John Wick franchise, the balls-to-the-walls action sequences that star Keanu Reeves are the best parts of the movies. The brutality on display and the smoothness of the seasoned hitman make for some captivating cinema, but how do you translate that into video games? Bithell Games attempts to answer that with John Wick Hex, an action-strategy game that not only lets you be a badass like Wick, but also develop the cerebral thinking as well.
Like watching a movie unfold, everything in John Wick Hex takes place on a timeline. Nothing moves unless you do, and it is through this design that allows for strategy and foresight to come to the forefront. Taking place before the movies, you get to relive some of Baba Yaga’s famous work, taking one step at a time.
Both Wick and the many enemies you will encounter take their place on the ever-present timeline. Every action has a time cost to it, so you know exactly how they will fit into the situation. As you enter a room full of gunmen, do you have time to crouch, roll, or fire off a shot before they see you? Reloading takes time, so you can choose to toss your trusty firearm at them or use melee attacks instead.
It can be a lot to process, with numbers playing an integral role to the proceedings. Wick is more proficient than most of his enemies, so you know he is always quicker in firing off shots or dealing a knockout blow. Your success lies in how you position yourself leading into a fight, and knowing when to hightail it out of a dangerous situation.
The arsenal of guns at Wick’s disposal is fairly large, ranging from normal pistols, assault rifles, to shotguns and other firearms. It all sounds like a typical action movie, but their usefulness is limited by just how long they take to fire. John Wick Hex values speed, and in general, you will lean more on Wick’s own unique pistols more than anything.
Players will have to balance the use of the Focus resource as well. Melee attacks, takedowns, evasive moves, and even dodges all require Focus to perform. While you can easily expend it by performing several actions in a roll, it can be replenished easily with one simple command. The constant balance of all-out action and taking a moment to breathe makes for some tense moments in between.
Certain foes also have their own Focus meter to draw on, and will render most ranged attacks to be ineffective. In such cases, it is imperative to soften them up by engaging in close, melee combat before unloading on them. It comes into play more so for boss fights than anything, but it can become a drawn-out and comedic affair as you keep a boss constantly stunned and whittling down their health.
All these considerations are yours to think about, and with the conceit that all these are taking place inside John Wick’s mind, it gives players a sense of the mastery that the hitman possesses. Successfully lining up events will result in a beautifully choreographed death, mess up here and there and the end-of-level replay will shine a harsh light on your shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the game does not quite live up to its side of the bargain in terms of quality. Animations are glitchy and janky, with plenty of bodies sticking through objects and not obeying the laws of physics. The repetitiveness of certain actions can start to get old, especially as encounters can take a while. The replay, while showing off how much thought you put into your strategy, only betrays the lack of quality of the game to match that.
With seven chapters consisting of multiple stages each, John Wick Hex breaks them up with opportunities to prepare players better. Coins earned during chapters can be spent on overall bonuses, such as reducing the Focus cost for actions or making Wick hardier. You can also stash weapons and bandages at different stages, giving yourself a better platform to venture further.
That becomes an important part of the John Wick Hex experience the deeper you go into it. Health and equipment carry over within chapters from stage to stage, so if you mismanage your resources, you can find yourself stuck with low health and no recovery tools. Unless you are really lucky, it is likely you will find yourself dying over and over again.
Restarting will require you to soldier through all previous stages of a chapter, so you can reach where you were, hopefully in a better state this time. John Wick Hex demands perfection, and if you do have the stomach to grind things out flawlessly, it can be a harrowing 12-16 hours spent within this world.
This pursuit of perfection also plays into the game’s score-chasing mechanic. By completing chapters under different conditions, such as not using bandages or using multiple weapons, you will earn different names for Wick. Throw in the Expedited mode that forces you to move within five seconds or the enemy gets to will make things even more challenging.
All of these is packaged into a slick, comic-book-like presentation that makes John Wick Hex feel like a graphic novel in motion. Each location, character, and narrative moment is a delight to look at, with both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick being wonderful in their portrayal of Winston and Charon.
Main villain Hex also commands the rooms whenever he appears, and helps spice up the story of John Wick Hex in a surprisingly intriguing story. Sadly, the breathtaking Keanu Reeves does not play the titular hero, which would have been a coup.
John Wick Hex tries its best at emulating the action found in Hollywood, with its unique take on strategic action giving us a glimpse of the workings of a top-shelf hitman. However, the merits of its smart ideas are bogged down by substandard animations, frustrating mechanics, and general lack of polish.
John Wick Hex is available on the US PSN Store for US$19.99.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A tactical examination, John Wick Hex has plenty to love but equally much to hate.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 6/10