John Wick Hex Review — Good to See You Again, Mr. Bithell
John Wick Hex is a nice, fun, and stylistic bite-sized adventure that's absolutely worth your time.
John Wick Hex’s very existence would have surprised me if you would have told me about it back in 2014. The creator behind indie darling Thomas Was Alone made a John Wick game? And it’s a tactical strategy game? There’s no doubt in my mind that that combination of words would have blown me away back when John Wick was synonymous with just a single movie, not a franchise. Nevertheless, John Wick Hex is here and I’m happy to report that it is freakin’ awesome, and might be one of my favorite games of the year so far.
John Wick Hex, as one might expect, gives you a chance to become the Baba-Yaga himself, John Wick. The game’s story is set before the events of the first movie, back when John was still at the height of his assassin days. The game’s narrative is structured as a story being told by Hex, the game’s villain, to Winston and Charon, voiced by the breathtaking Ian McShane and Lance Reddick. I don’t want to give away too much of the story’s plot, so I’ll leave it at that.
Unfortunately, Keanu Reeves is not the voice of Wick himself. Bithell and his team didn’t get anyone to replace Reeves, and I think that was for the best. This means that Wick is silent throughout the whole adventure, and for the most part, it works, considering the story is being told through Hex. One area it doesn’t work is towards the end of the game. Going in-depth about this would go into spoiler territory, but know that it’s barely even noticeable given how the story is structured throughout most of the experience.
That being said, the story itself is a lot of fun. It feels exactly like a John Wick story should: overly-cocky villains, cool locales, and fun action sequences. The movies are supposed to fun action films, with an intriguing, overarching narrative. By that comparison, John Wick Hex fits right alongside the films. If you haven’t seen the movies or are not a fan of the film’s stories, then you probably won’t be a fan of this one. If you are, however, this game is undoubtedly for you.
In classic Bithell style, John Wick Hex is stylistically appealing to look at. Bithell and his team were somehow able to make a world that clearly fits alongside the movies, while at the same time feels distinctly unique. While I don’t know if I’d call the game’s style similar to the styles found in other Bithell-helmed projects, you can definitely tell that he put his spin on it.
The gameplay front is where John Wick Hex stands out. At the top of the screen is a timeline, which shows you all of the upcoming actions that Wick and the enemies around Wick will make. As I said in my E3 preview, you–the player–need to make decisions about when to move, shoot, dodge, and strike. There’s no one way to complete each level. Enemies might not be in the same spot every time you play each level. Sometimes they will, but a lot of times they’ll spawn in different places. This encourages the concept of making split-second decisions even more.
As John moves around each level, a fog of war-like cover moves around the map as well. Generally speaking, most of the map will be covered by this fog, aside from the areas immediately around John. If an enemy spawns while inside the fog, you won’t know about it until they step into your line of sight. While this can be a bit annoying when you start the game, you’ll soon learn to use it to your advantage. Once an enemy steps into the fog, an icon appears above their head, even if they move back in. If you can’t see and shoot your enemies, they also cannot see and shoot you, so that gives you enough time to get to cover, re-focus, heal, or even get a better angle to increase your hit percentage.
As the Baba-Yaga, you have a variety of actions at your disposal and most have both advantages and disadvantages. John can do a simple strike on enemies, which takes down one or two health bars. Simple strikes are generally great to take down enemies who are almost dead or to stun enemies, but it’s not extremely effective on big enemies. He can also perform takedowns, which take out at least three health bars and can move you to a different spot on the map. The downside to this is that it uses up some of your focus and which is used to perform these bigger moves. Once you’re out of that, you can’t perform those moves until you re-focus. Re-focusing doesn’t cost you anything except one of your most valuable commodities in John Wick Hex: time.
In addition to these actions, John also uses a slew of weapons. Everything from pistols to shotguns to assault rifles can be found in each and every level, each with a different damage level. Like the movies, John can pick up weapons off the ground and use them on the fly, but you can only use the ammo currently loaded in each gun. This means that generally speaking, once you’re out of ammo, you need to move on. In true John Wick fashion, players also can throw their weapon at the enemy to stun or damage them. Your weapon doesn’t have to be empty to do this; in fact, it may be faster to throw your gun at an enemy than it is to shoot them.
All of these different gameplay elements and actions come together for a seamless, fun experience. Each action, whether it be shooting, striking, or even parrying, each feels equal to one another and no one option feels overpowered. Yes, you may lean into gunfights a bit more and yes, a parry might always be necessary, but it never feels like there’s one action needed to complete a level and for that, I commend Bithell and his team. Like any good strategy game, Hex forces you to think with your head.
After you complete each level, you can rewatch it without any pauses in the game’s Replay mode, which is meant to look like scenes from the movies. Unfortunately, I experienced quite a few bugs in this mode, with John sometimes stopping in a spot and not moving for the rest of the scene. In those instances, the rest of the scene would still play out with enemies dropping to the ground after being shot, but John would never move from that particular spot. Even when Replay mode does work as it should, it rarely feels like a scene from the movie. The Replay mode seems to be programmed to change angles when John hits a specific spot, and if you continuously move between each spot like I did when playing my game, it can get very annoying to have the camera cut three or four times in a few seconds. This is probably my biggest complaint about the game.
I didn’t experience any other bugs that were that major during my time with John Wick Hex, but occasionally they did show up. Every once in a while, the game’s location selector wouldn’t show up in the main menu, but it was fixed after I restarted the application a couple of times. On top of that, bodies would occasionally get stuck in geometry around the level, but this wasn’t a huge issue. I would say that the majority of my experience was bug-free, but there was still more than I would ideally want.
I am very curious as to how Bithell and his team are going to port the game to consoles. We know it’s coming to consoles at some point, we just don’t know when and to what specific consoles. Personally, I think John Wick Hex would benefit from touch screen controls, so mobile phones or the Nintendo Switch would be a good fit in that regard. On PC, however, it feels right at home, as pointing and clicking feels completely natural for this style of gameplay.
John Wick Hex is a great game, plain and simple. The gameplay is incredibly tight, fluid, and fast-paced, while still being slow and methodical like a strategy game.
On top of that, Hex’s story feels like it belongs in the John Wick universe thanks to some great performances by actors from the movies and the writing by Bithell and his team. While there might be some bugs, I have no problem recommending this game. While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, it’s still worthy of the Bithell name.