When the first John Wick movie released, it brought with it a reinvigoration of the solo lead action movie, that then posed the question, what would the John Wick game be like, and the answer is nothing like what you might think.
The first thing that you need to understand is that John Wick Hex is not an action game, but a strategy one and that means you will get to experience a slow and more methodical game than you might have been expecting. The Hex from the games name refers to both the gameplay grid and the villain of the piece, because Hex has kidnapped both Winston and Charon, the manager and concierge of The Continental respectively. He managed to take them, while they were travelling somewhere and is using them as bait for John, but as he is not diabolical or mad, he treats them to a story, of how John started the hunt for them. I won’t talk about the story more as it is something that you need to experience for yourself, I can say though that it won’t go in the direction you might be thinking as the game is a prequel to the first movie.
In doing double duty, the name John Wick Hex describes the previously mentioned villain, as well as the games main system, a hexagonal movement board and it can be quite the challenge to adapt to it. The thing that you must understand is that each action you perform, be it moving from one space to the next, or taking down a baddie, all take time to complete and that is where the strategy comes into play. Across the top of the screen is a timeline, your actions will be displayed upon it and the more that you do, the more time you spend on those actions and this is crucial, as the enemies are under the same system. What it means is that if an enemy is within range of a melee attack from you, you can be hit by them as well, but who attacks first, is dependent on the option selected, for example a push, which can stun for a brief moment, can only take .5 seconds to execute, but a takedown is .7 seconds, so if your only option is to push someone away, you had better do it, else you will be the one in pain.
The timeline is perhaps the games most amazing feature and its most frustrating, because each run through can spawn enemies of a different type, in different spots, you have to constantly be planning and if you make a mistake or three, the game can quickly punish you by killing John Wick. The game does not move though, until you begin an action, so you can take all the time you want, unless you want a challenge and the game only gives you a brief moment to make a choice, I stuck with the simpler, unlimited time option. As the game is viewed from a top down perspective, you do get a good chance to see what is around you, including any enemies that might be nearby, the game does throw up the old fog of war, in that if you are hidden behind a pillar, your viewing ability is diminished significantly, which makes sense. Combine that, with the timeline and each choice you make, could lead to a calamitous moment, which will test your thinking skills, like walking into a room, only to have 4 or 5 guys spawn around you; which happens a lot, thanks to the game not keeping things even. You also need to consider the melee skills that John has available to him, as they are required in order to take on most bosses, but each time you use one of those skills, you use up focus. Replenishing focus is quite simple, but like every task, takes time to complete and walking into a room, you have no idea, without a fully replenished focus bar, is an easy way to get beaten down.
As you progress through the game, you are given a helpful bonus and that is being able to place helpful items in levels, this planning is just as important as the in-action moments, because of how resources are managed. John Wick is not a one-man army, he kills like he is a 1000-man army, but he can’t carry all the resources to match. At the start of a stage, you have two clips for your gun, as well as a few bandages and that is it, use up all the ammo and you will need to pick up a gun from a downed enemy, out of bandages, then you will likely die. Placing items in the stage is broken up into two parts, the cost of the item and the stage in question, as some items, like bandages are cheap, you can get a few in one stage, however the cost of them can vary, based on the stage in question. If a stage is in a more out of place location, then you will have to spend more coins, however if it is an easy placement, you can get more value from them and as you only get one chance to place the items, this is a big deal.
There are some issues though, if you are needing to kill time, in order to wait for an enemy to get to you, the wait function is only .2 seconds long, which means that you will either have to press it a lot, or just waste time moving. If you were able to press and hold it, it would be easier, or if you could set the time, that would help as well, as it stands, it is just a lot of clicking. The other issue that I had was with the replays, which lets you watch your amazing, or in my case, almost amazing playthrough of the stage you just cleared. The funny part is that all the moves are replayed exactly as you executed them, which means on that hexagonal grid, which leads to some hilarious, albeit, unintentional moments. The most common is that John will walk from one side of a room to another, but do so while turning 45degrees to right and then left, after each step, giving him that walk you see in game and removing any sense that it is John Wick, which given the rest of his moves match the movies, this is a real shame.
Perhaps one area that is not a shame is the presentation, but that has to be said with an asterisk, as the game does a wonderful job of setting up a story, presented in the form of a motion comic. The story scenes are set in a fixed viewpoint, but overlayed with some wonderful banter and this is elevated greatly with both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprising their roles from the movies. Joining them is Troy Baker, as the elusive Hex and the three of them together, narrate the story, which leaves John Wick to be silent and while a disappointment that they could not get Keanu Reeves to return, somewhat fits with his character, of saying very little. The action in game, is a little bit more mixed, as there are times when it looks great, but the levels themselves can easily get in the way of the action, thanks in part to the camera not auto adjusting and the walls not ‘vanishing’ when you are trying to see John through the action, if they faded out then it would be ok, but as you have to constantly readjust the camera, it becomes irksome quite quickly.
To match how wonderful the voice work is, the games musical score, provided by the very talented Austin Wintory, who has provided some amazing scores for other games. There are some pieces of music that you will know from the movies and those same themes are brought back into the game but expanded upon. The track that you hear in the second level is just wonderful and easily evokes the same sort of feelings that the scene in the nightclub in the first movie provided, tense action, but when you get to the harbour, the same sort of thing happens, there is a distinct parallel to the movies score and it works amazingly.
For those looking to expand their understanding of the man that is John Wick, then John Wick Hex is a brilliant way to do so, the game not only adds more layers to his character, but also to Winston and Charon, beyond what the movies have done. The core mechanic at play is incredible, but takes time to adjust to it, as those who are prone to rushing through, will find themselves getting their ass kicked, hard. There are some issues with not being able to see the action, when you want, as the games walls do not fade away, if the are between the camera and John and replays are a joke, thanks to the action being stuck on the hex grid, but if you can over look that and a silent John Wick, then you will find a strategy game unlike any other.
Review copy provided by Good Shepherd Entertainment