We finally have a John Wick game! A film entirely deserving of a game. A film that packs more action and bullet shots to the head than It does dialogue. I mean who hasn’t been dreaming of playing as the Baba Yaga himself? Blasting enemies in slo-mo, lining up head shots and racking up kill combos. A game that explores the world further and even opens itself up to an sandbox experience that allows you to choose side missions and hit jobs of varying difficulty. This isn’t that game. This in fact is none of those things. John Wick Hex is an approach to John Wick that is more chess than it is Max Payne. More RTS than it is first-person shooter. More surprise than anything we could have imagined. So, all that says, how does it hold up you ask?
John Wick Hex is surprisingly an RTS game. An indie RTS game to boot. Hex comes at us from Mike Bithell of Bithell games. This is the dude responsible for the very awesome and existentially hilarious Thomas Was Here. So as you can expect Bithell has a very different approach to what others would have done with the title.
John Wick Hex is a prequel to the films. It acts as a chapter that shows John “Baba Yaga” Wick while he is still killing the hell out of everyone, minus the dead wife and dead dog. Doesn’t mean John is killing any less angry though, that you can trust.
Hex is a new baddy in the world of Wick. A mastermind that manages to work out a way to kidnap both Winston and Charon. The kidnapping takes place intentionally on Continental Hotel grounds. The act is done in an open act of rebellion in an ultimate attempt to shake up the High Table. In response The High Table places a hit on Hex and orders the return of both Winston and Charon. Of course, John Wick is hired to make short work of the whole thing.
The early missions take place as flashbacks in conversations between Hex, Winston and Charon. These ultimately reveal the moves and strategies of Wick. All these are missions you play through and ultimately lead to twists and turns in the narrative and of course ultimately lead to your target – Hex.
The combat of Hex takes place on hexagonal grids and like other RTS allow you to navigate and execute close quarter combat as well as work with your firearms. Defensive tactics are also allowed in select areas. The noticeable difference and the mechanic that sets this game apart from others is the timeline at the top of the screen. All moves occur withing the timeline and have to be executed near perfectly in order to succeed. A quarter of a second misspent can lead to losing the game or getting a bad combat rating. It’s an farily new mechanic to the world of RTS and one that takes some time getting used to.
Between the timeline and the classic RTS grid John Wick Hex is a sort of revelation. A new approach to gaming that makes for calculation and perfect execution. Something that John Wick definitely gets behind in his personal actions.
Outside of this though, John Wick Hex could have been called anything else, because in spirit and approach it is not a John Wick game. It’s a very impressive game and could have been applied to any sort of RTS world like Aliens Vs. Marines or Toaster Oven McShooter or whatever generic title was available and been just as good and just as exacting. In fact, my main complaint is strangely that it is a John Wick game. A game that is so strangely different from its films counterpart material.
Charon and and Winston are both brought to life by the actors who portray them. Both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick play themselves. As an added bonus Troy Baker plays that of big bad Hex. Sadly, Keanu Reeves didn’t reprise Wick for the game. A bit of a bummer, but Wick doesn’t speak at all from what I remember here.
Right out of the gate we have to get past the fact that the moves that John Wick executes in Hex do not look cool. They do not happen fast, and they are not the signature speedy kills that we are used to from the films. It’s a world apart. It’s probably the games biggest eyesore. This especially becomes horribly noticeable when you finish a mission and allowed to go back and watch the level you just completed played back seamlessly. This means all the dodging, close quarter combat, rolls, headshots and executions is shown to you in a chain. What should be a badass looking clip that you want to save and show off, is cringe worthy. It’s stiff and robotic looking and makes John Wick operate like a Rock ’em, Sock ’em robot instead of The Boogieman. It is important that if you are going to play through the game as an RTS and Wick fan, that you immediately forgive this section of the game. It’s rough… but worth it due to the game being great in its primary mechanics.
The approach to the games comic book, cell shading is pretty cool looking and a nice step in the direction of establishing its own style. It does manage to share the pink, and teal neon lights that flood both the world and a better part of the nightlife in the films. The cell shaded approach is very minimal, but does manage to vary each level enough that your eyes never get bored from place to place. Although, the enemies contained within these levels could have used some tweaking, almost everyone is wearing black slacks, a white dress shirt and a black tie. It ends up feeling like you are going up against an army of deadly door to door Mormons.
When you spot an enemy on the grid, time pauses and allows you to select your move. Within the choices you are also able to see the amount of time that the move will take. Rather it be a hip throw, or a throat chop, one move might be better suited for a certain situation due to timing. Sometimes time is sacrificed for power and vice versa. In addition to the time that the move takes, it also shows you the probability of that move being successful or not. Like in most RTS games, you are taking those factors as well as positioning into account, this time you are having to additionally factor in the timeline.
The timeline at the top of the screen also reveals exactly how many seconds it will take for your enemy to perform a certain move. So, if you see that its going to take 4 seconds for your enemy to aim and shoot, and it takes you 2.5 seconds to throat chop him – than you can execute that and interfere with his planned tactical timeline. This then allows you a second or two of extra time to pull up your gun and fire. Or to push him forward and fire at enemies behind him. The further you become familiar with the timeline and Hex’s system as whole the more impressive your chains of moves will become. Its just a shame that they look so janky.
Focus is a very important part of the games mechanics. It allows you to perform melee takedowns, crouched shooting and dodging properly. In order to refill your focus, you just bring up an option similar to that of reload or wait. The option to change stance is also vital to learn. This puts you in a crouched position and totally changes your view of the games grid depending where you are standing, or if you are behind an obstruction. It does make it harder for your enemies to hit you though, so it’s a bonus.
Somebody, please get this man a gun! John Wick Hex is a careful bit of impressive tactical and well-time action. While it definitely, wasn’t the game that anyone expected from the monster action film series it is based on, it does manage to impress in its innovative approach to RTS. Mike Bithell managed to add a very indie approach to the world of Wick. There is a very welcome chapter of John Wick’s life here that we hadn’t known about, and I love spending time in the world of Wick. It’s great to see a new big baddie that Wick had gone up against in his past. John Wick Hex is a fresh approach to RTS in genral and the addition of that timeline makes for an addictive experience where I found myself attempting to master my level ratings. While the actions of Wick are janky the masterful use of RTS elements makes for an unexpected but excellent experience.
John Wick Hex is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Mac.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X from a code provided by publisher.