When beloved films find their way to the gaming medium, rarely do they succeed in the way that John Wick Hex does. Led by Mike Bithell, of Bithell Games, John Wick Hex offers players the chance to step inside the mind of the infamous assassin through gameplay that combines action and strategy. This inspired combination delightfully captures Wick’s calculating nature and presents it to the player in a way that is simple to grasp, difficult to master, and enjoyable throughout.
John Wick Hex serves as a prequel to the film franchise, with actors Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprising their roles. Bithell worked closely with Chad Stahelski, director of the film series, to create a tone and story for Hex that is faithful to its cinematic counterpart. The narrative provides new lore for fans of the franchise, whilst offering newcomers to the series a comfortable starting point.
A game that promises to put the player in the shoes of a well known character requires an atmosphere that accentuates this belief. Fortunately, John Wick Hex delivers exactly that. The comic book aesthetic breathes a fresh livelihood into the stereotypical action-movie settings. Each location offers a unique and vibrant tone that is emphasised through the incredible compositions of Austin Wintory. From the muted nightclub bass in Elysium to the reserved whispers of a closed art gallery, the score underpins the essence of each environment to craft a cohesive and immersive experience in every level.
The action-strategy genre of John Wick Hex offers an equally entertaining and thoughtful experience that places a particular focus on the strategic elements of gameplay. In each level, the player must navigate a hex-based grid using Wick’s gun-fu techniques. The game plays out on a timeline, with every upcoming action of Wick and visible enemies represented at the top of the screen. In addition to the timeline, a preparation phase occurs when starting a new location, allowing the player to determine where health packs and ammunition will spawn, if any action boosters will be applied, or if no modifications will be enforced. All health and ammo are finite, carrying over into each section until the location is complete, making decisions in the preparation phase crucial.
Once a level is completed, the player is able to watch a real-time replay of their choices, the result of which is much like an action-movie. Due to the hexagonal pathing, movement can look stiff during these sequences. However, this detail does not detract from how impressive the concept is. Seeing Wick roll to dodge a bullet, take down three enemies in a row and then shoot an unsuspecting guard is deeply satisfying. This feature creates a lot of replayability, as the player cannot help but wonder how they could play it again to make it look more badass.
Players new to strategy games should be prepared before jumping into John Wick Hex, as the core mechanics can be unforgiving. Despite being a strategy game, luck often impacts the outcome. Typically, failure in a strategy title teaches the player a lesson which they can apply in their next venture. However, applying a lesson learned can be difficult when the enemy AI creates unique variables in each instance. Armed enemies may only drop three bullets when last time they dropped ten. A melee character may spawn instead of a ranged one, preventing the player from gathering additional ammo. The randomisation of the game can be frustrating at first, but with time comes a greater understanding of how best to manipulate the circumstances for greater success.
To clarify the above, the situational aspect of the game is how the game is designed. Bithell wanted to create a game filled with suspense, where actions acted as dialogue in a way that was truthful to the movies. Even though these aspects can be overwhelming for new players, it is the exact same reason that will keep them coming back. John Wick Hex is absurdly addictive. The thrill of the action, the fast-paced decision making, and the pride of overcoming difficult levels are all why this game succeeds on so many levels. Bithell Games promised players the chance to be John Wick, and by choosing the genre least expected, it has delivered on that promise.
Reviewed on PC. Console releases planned for a later date.