John Wick Hex Review: I Put a Spell on You
Prior to the announcement of John Wick Hex, if you would have told the world there was going to be a John Wick game, nobody could have predicted who was going to make it, let alone what kind of game it would be.
People would have guessed first-person shooter, or maybe a third-person action game. Hell, the closest to being John Wick we've had in gaming is probably the almighty SUPERHOT, which allowed you to mercilessly make your way through hordes of enemies without batting an eyelid.
A bit like the first film, but without the sad starting point.
That it's a semi turn-based, isometric strategy game based on the films is a surprise enough. That it's one from Bithell Games, who most recently put out two visual novels, is an even bigger surprise.
Of course, if you take a look at 2015's Volume, then maybe this starts to make a bit more sense. Whether you had prophetic foresight or not, John Wick Hex is here, and it's an incredibly intriguing game straight from the get-go.
Once Upon A Time
Hex kicks off with a cutscene that could have been pulled straight from a comic book. The semi-titular Hex talks to two people, telling a tale of the other semi-titular John Wick. It tells the story of events that have since passed, and it's a fun way to let you know where the story is going.
You're then thrown straight into the game without much warning; you simply become John Wick.
There are a couple of tutorial messages, but the trick to this game is very much practice. Learning what moves you can make and the effect they have on the unfolding battles is a lot of the fun.
The first thing to know about Hex's gameplay is that everything takes time, moving might take 0.1 seconds, crouching might take 0.5 seconds. When you shoot, it might take you 0.9 seconds, while it may take your target 1.2 seconds to fire once they've spotted you. It's all about incremental and split-second advantages.
You're not some all-powerful god; you're a regular dude, just one who's very well trained. It means that while you can take on an army of enemies, you have to think about it. Your positioning, timing, and actions matter. That's why some of the best moves help you move around as you do them.
Play That Again
If you use a takedown on someone, it'll take a while to do. However, that time also lets you reposition, which might be the difference between being shot and being in cover. As you get better, you'll feel the motions flowing together more naturally. You know you want to crouch to avoid an incoming shot, roll into cover, and then return fire.
The best thing is, at the end of each level, you get to watch everything that happened in real-time. This means that what took you half an hour to accomplish, you get to see unfold in two-minutes. The camera angles are incredibly cinematic, too, so you watch Wick roll, disarm, shoot, and even throw his gun at people, all with dynamic camera choices. It's glorious.
That might make things sound a little easy; I mentioned that you're just a normal dude, and well, that means that you die — and quite quickly sometimes.
You have to keep an eye on your ammo, your health, and your focus. The latter is akin to your MP, and it allows you to use more complicated moves — takedowns and pushes for example. Managing all of this would be tricky no matter what, but the game's resource scarcity is incredibly apparent.
You can offset this (to an extent) by investing in supply drops as you make your way through the maps. But you can also spend those resources to make your dodges cost less, or to make it more likely that you'll avoid being seen.
Every decision in John Wick Hex is important, from the ones you make before you start fighting to each and every move you make within the fights.
That makes it very easy to feel as though you've messed up the entire map 75% of the way through. Thankfully, restarting is easy enough, but you'll have to be willing to sacrifice the victories you've made along the way.
If you like a sharp visual style, then you're in for a treat. The colors and unique animation style make for a truly striking visage. When you add in the excellent sound design, particularly the music, you're in for something truly special.
The only real issue with Hex is that it can feel a little too punishing at times, and while starting a map again is easy enough, it's never an easy pill to swallow. Still, overcoming those obstacles brings that wonderful feeling of elation that so many of us strive for in gaming — so it could be worse.
- Fun tactical gameplay
- Wonderful visuals
- Incredibly rewarding
- Can be frustrating
- Restarting hurts both your head and heart
- Can occasionally look a little stiff
John Wick Hex is the kind of game that many people wanted, but probably not one that anyone realized they wanted. It's fun, it's challenging, and it's dripping with style. The gravity of each decision becomes heavier with every map you clear, and while bashing your head against a boss level for an hour is annoying, you'll be ecstatic once you've overcome it.
If you like strategy games, then this is one you'll not want to miss. For everyone else, this could well be the one that casts a spell on you.
[Note: A copy of John Wick Hex was provided by Bithell Games for this review.]