Review: John Wick: Hex
Developer: Mike Bithell Games
Publisher: Good Shepard Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
John Wick has been an action phenomenon since 2014, when the John Wick trilogy became the apex action franchise and raised the bar for action stunts and narrative. John Wick has seen a trilogy of films, each more successful than the last, with a fourth on the way. Of course, a top-tier action hero has to have a video game, and outside of the story missions featured in PayDay 2, John Wick hasn’t had his own game until now. From Good Shepard Entertainment and innovative game creator Mike Bithell of Bithell Games comes John Wick: Hex. This new take on everyone’s favorite assassin is certainly an interesting and bold attempt in a different direction, as John Wick is placed in a tactical action and strategy game. With its dynamic presentation and a combat hook that encourages players to think quickly, John Wick: Hex is an excellent take on adapting an action-based universe into a more strategic world.
Before meeting Helen, John Wick was an assassin, earning his reputation through the destruction left in his wake. The world of criminal empires maintains a sense of order and justice until that balance is usurped by the criminal mastermind, Hex. Hex (Troy Baker) abducts Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) of The Continental as a statement against The High Table. A contract is put out to find Winston and Charon. John Wick accepts the contract and embarks on a ruthless mission to rescue his partners.
John Wick: Hex is a strategic, turn-based action game staged as a prequel to the John Wick film trilogy. Players don the tactical suit of John Wick, an assassin skilled in the art of martial arts and firearms. As a tactical and strategic game, players choose which move to make in each level. When encountering an enemy, players make tactical choices in regards to combat and evasion. Players either shoot a target from afar, engage at close range, or dodge attacks. Players find themselves outnumbered, facing various enemies, each with their own weapons, as well as attack patterns. Like other tactical strategy games, John Wick Hex displays these choices, along with their stats. Shots can easily target, and enemies can is theirs. Unique to John Wick: Hex is the focus meter, which is required for accurate shooting, and close-range takedowns of targets. Throughout a lengthy campaign, players fight through the criminal underworld, from Chinatown to night clubs to extravagant businesses. Finally, John Wick gives the player two gameplay modes to choose from. Normal is the core mode of John Wick: Hex, giving players as much time as they would like to make the best possible choice. Expedited Mode limits the choice to 7 seconds, giving players a very limited amount of time to make a tactical decision. Expedited Mode turns John Wick: Hex into a more fluid action strategy game.
It would have been easy to take John Wick and turn a video game adaptation of the films into a third-person action game, with martial arts and shooting, but with John Wick: Hex, the development team took a different approach and it pays off immensely. John was never an invincible golden heart vigilante, but a golden heart vigilante grounded in humanity and bolstered by a blend of wit and strength. John finds himself in unpredictable situations, and in some moments, he gets out with a weathered success, but in every moment, he survives through razor-sharp focus and pulping stamina. John is not invincible. We often see him worn and bloody through each action scene as he survives the lethal blows from his enemies. However, John is a fighter through the most painful of times, especially when those important to him are under threat. John Wick hits hard in every job but hits hardest when the cards are stacked against him.
John Wick: Hex treats John as a methodical, intellectual, and focused killer through the use of its tactical mechanics The objective isn’t to simply eliminate your enemies but to eliminate your enemies in the best way possible, as well as to successfully survive. Each decision, especially in Expedited Mode, creates intense and incredibly sharp feedback to the gameplay. Each choice is in the moment, and even with the predictions of each choice, there is a constant sense of unpredictability. Each comment in John Wick: Hex moves fast and every choice moves even faster. The Fog Of War moves with the player, dissipating and forming again as john moves about. Players think and act with haste in their effort to stay alive. It’s a strong and unique mechanic and it changes how action games can be played. The gameplay puts more thought into the mind of John Wick and gives a sense of what he is thinking as mayhem ensues.
Within the gameplay, players have access to a long variety of single-handed and two-handed firearms. Each firearm has limited ammunition and reloading a clip means that any bullets remaining in the clip are gone. Shooting and instant takedowns require focusing. Players can use “focus” during a battle to regain their focus meter, but ideally, it is wise to do so before or after enemy encounters. Players collect health pickups to stay alive as well. At the end of each chapter, players are evaluated and score for their rank. For those that yearn to gain the coveted Baba Yega rank they will need every wit about them to survive. Finally, at the end of each level, players may choose to watch a replay of their actions, removing the UI, and seeing the choices that have been made play out in real-time. This part is rather disjointed and the animations and moves appear unpolished, but the replay is interesting to see.
The gameplay to John Wick: Hex has only one clear drawback and that is the lack of a tutorial. There are opening hints, but it is through trial-and-error that players learn the basics of John Wick Hex. Granted, John Wick Hex is an engaging, but easy-to-understand strategy game, and for experienced players such as myself, it’s quick and easy to learn. However, this could probe rather jarring for newer players. I’d strongly recommend playing normal mode before Expedited Mode for new players to become familiar with John Wick Hex.
Bolstering John Wick Hex is an incredible visual and audio presentation. The world fo John Wick has bee greatly inspired by various vigilante and noir properties in both movies and graphic novels. John Wick Hex adopts a graphic novel visual style with cel-shaded graphics applied. John and the characters appear from the pages of a pulpy graphic novel, and the characters are enhanced by the keen artistic choices in regards to color. John Wick Hex is a sharp array of purples, blues, and yellows, against dark, ominous backgrounds and environments. The game is certainly one of the sharpest demonstrations of applying a graphic novel artistic direction into a video game.
For John Wick enthusiasts, the story is strong and recommended for those that yearn to learn more about the criminal underworld, and the dimensions of John Wick’s closest allies, Winston and Charon. Lance Reddick and Ian McShane return to reprise their roles respectively, giving a strong sense of depth and authenticity to John Wick Hex. Troy Baker as Hex does a fine job as the criminal mastermind, stroking his character with rage and spite. It is a tale of loyalty, its strengths, and its weaknesses, woven into a battle of ideologies that shapes those caught up in the violence.
John Wick: Hex is bold, revolutionary, and ultimately a great game. Contrary to other movie-licensed games, John Wick: Hex is clearly a carefully though-out and well-constructed take on action video games that also works incredibly well with the world of John Wick. It’s a vivid presentation, strong story, and innovative take on tactical strategy is a smooth and enjoyable experience for tactical enthusiasts and John Wick fans. The coins to The Continental are yours. Obey the rules and enjoy your stay.
A review key was supplied by Sandbox Strategies for review on PlayStation 4.