John Wick Hex Review – PlayStation 4

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I knew nothing about John Wick going into this game review.  Strike that…Let’s say I knew very little about John Wick going into this game review:

  • I knew it was a movie series.
  • I knew Keanu Reeves was the star.
  • And I knew a lot of people liked it.

Other than that, well…nothing.

It was quite a coincidence then, that the very day I received John Wick Hex for review Lionsgate Entertainment featured the original John Wick film as their Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies feature on YouTube.

I came away from the movie feeling like I had seen an incredibly accurate cinematic interpretation of action video gaming; a lone wolf hero going up against an seemingly unending army of identically-outfitted goons, who all seem to have the worst aim and an ample supply of spare ammunition to bequest our hero upon neutralization. The hero dispatching said goons in a choreographed ballet of gunfire and melee, somehow ultimately completing his mission riddled with bullet holes, broken bones, and stab wounds.  It was incredible and I loved every minute of it.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about John Wicks Hex, the recently-released tactical shooter from Bithell Games and Good Shepherd Entertainment.  Don’t get me wrong, Hex isn’t necessarily a bad game, but lacks the excitement and intensity of the games’ namesake franchise, opting for a turn-based time management gameplay mechanic rather than the expected white-knuckle shooter.

The game follows a storyline set prior to the events of the first movie – prior to John Wick’s retirement.  In the game, the titular villain, Hex, has abducted franchise favorites Winston and Charon and is holding them captive.  John Wick has been hired by the High Table organization to retrieve the duo, which he does through a series of turn-based hunting explorations that take him through the side streets of New York, and eventually onto Switzerland.

The game delivers this story via comic book-style cutscenes that do a fantastic job of delivering on the the John Wick brand.  Noticeably absent from the presentation is Keanu Reeves, which isn’t much of a loss in my book.  Like the guy, don’t so much like the acting. However, two guys I always like to see on screen Ian McShane (American Gods’ Mr. Wednesday) and Lance Reddick (The Wire’s Cedric Daniels) provide the voices for their respective film characters.

The first few moments into the gameplay I found myself overcome with a wave of nostalgia, as the three-quarter top-down perspective immediately had me thinking I was being thrown into an updated Metal Gear Solid.  I was wrong.  I quickly learned that unlike Kojima’s groundbreaking action title, in John Wick Hex every movement, every attack, and every dodge, is a turn-based decision and all are part of a running timeline.

And the timeline itself is where John Wick Hex separates itself from other turn-based fare.  The reason being, while all movement and motions in John Wick Hex are technically turn-by-turn, the turns themselves do not alternate between Wick and his enemies.  Instead, each onscreen enemy has their own timeline (think Windows Movie Maker) overlaying Wick’s that indicates their next few moves and the respective timing each will take.  The gamer is then given all the time in the world to contemplate John Wick’s upcoming attacks, dodges, and movements, to best defend against the enemies.  I know, it sounds confusing as written, but in practice it makes a lot of sense.

Each level is built upon a hexagonal grid, with the only viewable area being John’s immediate field of vision.  This makes navigation a bit hit-or-miss on the first attempt through a given level, as there are often dead ends to eat up valuable time, or surprise enemies popping up at the worst possible moment.  Ammo and health kits can be picked up from fallen enemies, which in the later levels become more and more precious.  Gamers are quickly forced to place priority on efficiency.

Once a level has been completed, the gamer is treated to a nonstop cinematic replay of the level from various angles as if the true purpose of the gameplay is to storyboard a series of action scenes from a John Wick film.  The cinematic replay is a clever and rewarding payoff, even if the overall presentation leaves a bit to be desired.

All said, I really do appreciate John Wick Hex for what it is.  Even though part of me really hoped for something a bit more fast-paced and action oriented, it’s obvious that the folks at Bithell Games really tried to make a game that was different.  They succeeded.