John Wick Hex Boldly Tells Its Own Story Without Sacrificing What Makes the Movies Great
Mike Bithell's John Wick Hex has its own distinct look and story, which is something that movie licensed/tie-in games generally fail to do.
I’m going to be completely honest: I really didn’t know how I was going to feel about John Wick Hex before I went into the demo at E3. On one hand, I love the movies: the John Wick series is known for its intense, realistic action that sets it apart from other popular action movies like The Fast and The Furious or Die Hard. On the other hand, I’m really not a fan of strategy games: they’re usually too slow and methodical and while I can respect it if someone likes to take their time, I don’t. That’s why I’m such a fan of twitch-based shooters like Call of Duty. On top of that, I was VERY unsure about how John Wick Hex would translate that fast-paced, nonstop action that the movies are known for. After I walked out of my demo at E3 2019, however, I was blown away by how expertly Mike Bithell and his team crafted this strategy game.
Let’s start off with the basics: John Wick Hex puts you in the role of, you guessed it, the Baba Yaga himself, John Wick. As one can tell from the trailers, this isn’t a “realistic” re-telling of any of the stories from the movies. Instead, players are thrust into a vibrant, stylistic, semi-cell-shaded world that features the characters you know and love in all new stories. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, while not present in my demo, are back as Winston and Charon, respectively, from the movie series (as of the time of this writing, Keanu Reeves HAS NOT been announced to be a part of John Wick Hex and the developers would not comment on the matter). However, what really sets this game apart from other movie-licensed/tie-in games is the gameplay.
“I was VERY unsure about how John Wick Hex would translate that fast-paced, nonstop action that the movies are known for.”
Like most strategy games, players have the option of moving their character (in this case, John Wick) around each level in a point-and-click manner of gameplay. When players are spotted by enemies, the action pauses and you’re given the option to divert course, crouch, shoot, or employ all sorts of different actions. You can do a melee “takedown” and move to a slightly different position, you can shoot your gun (although you need to be careful because you only have a finite amount of ammunition), and you can even, in classic John Wick-style, throw your pistol as a last ditch effort to do some extra damage on an enemy. How you want to go about each level is ultimately your choice, however, every choice is distinctively “John Wick.”
One feature that’s a bit more unique to John Wick Hex is its use of action timelines on the top of the screen. When an enemy appears, a bar on the top of the screen will tell you when they are about to fire their guns. You are left to figure out what’s the best possible move for your character. Can you take an extra bit of damage if you’re guaranteed a kill? Is it better to run to cover so that the enemy has no chance of hitting you? Do you even have TIME to run to cover before an enemy nabs you with a bullet? These are all questions I asked myself when playing John Wick Hex and it’s something that the character contemplates in the movies but in split-second scenarios. While it may not seem like it on the surface, these contemplations make the game feel all the more authentic to the films it is based on.
“How you want to go about each level is ultimately your choice, however, every choice is distinctively ‘John Wick.'”
Another thing Bithell and his team managed to do is to make the game fun to replay over and over again. I found myself eager to retry a level when I failed, already planning my new route and strategy around each level. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight tweak in your gameplay; other times, you have to look at a level in a whole new light. While that isn’t exactly unique for John Wick Hex, or even strategy games as a whole, the fact that the game was able to pull this feeling off, when others fail miserably, was so nice to see.
One thing that I wish I could’ve seen in my demo was the replay feature. While the feature wasn’t ready to be shown off during my demo, when the game launches you’ll be able to view each level in a non-stop action format, more than likely similar to what we see in the movies. Even though Bithell does a good job making sure that the fast-paced action isn’t sacrificed in the game, I’m happy to see a feature like this included.
All in all, I’m so thrilled to say that I loved my time with John Wick Hex, even if it was for only a short period of time. Between its stylistic art style, it’s true-to-form gameplay, or it’s fun replay value, I’m really looking forward to checking out the full game when it launches later down the road. While I didn’t get into much of the story during my time with the game, I have confidence that Mike Bithell and his team will deliver something worthy of the movies.
John Wick Hex is currently in development for PC and Mac, along with consoles (though it’s unclear which ones at this time). No release date or window has been given for the title at this time.