John Wick Hex is an action strategy game where the actions you make define a ballet of bullets, leaving many dead in your wake.
In the films, John Wick’s character, played by Keanu Reeves, takes a quick, calculated approach to killing. In almost every fight, he is faced with an onslaught of menacing killers, some obviously trained better than others, who wish to see him lying in a pool of his own blood. With swift and thorough movements, he picks them off, one by one, with a string of violent hand to hand attacks and follows through by finishing them off with multiple ‘taps’ from his pistol, or basically any weapon he can get his hands on. His precision is uncanny and it makes for wonderful choreography as he lays waste to his assailants and moves through rooms like a machine executing commands.
John Wick Hex offers a ‘what if’ scenario, focusing specifically on John’s more active days as an assassin. Bithell Games takes the whirlwind action of John Wick’s epic fight scenes and makes them timed, calculated chess moves, giving you access to almost a god-like choreographer’s power to see how everything meshes together in a scene. When you play through a level in John Wick Hex, it does feel more like number-crunching than action, but the end result is typically the same, with John still standing and piles of bodies strewn about the floor.
Your moves for John are somewhat turn-based, but every single action from you and your assailants are defined by a visible timeline at the top of the screen. Every action, from reloading to picking up ammo, will cost you seconds of reaction time. This makes time a manageable resource, requiring you to focus on how your actions fit within the confines of your allotted window before Hex’s goons can fire a shot at you. Your movement is calculated too, and even though you are able to duck behind objects, if you time everything out right, you can move through a scene like you’re the ‘Baba Yaga’ himself, firing and moving through waves of enemies with minimal effort.
Every time there’s an encounter, you have to determine your course of action. Dodging is an option to avoid gunfire, but you can also choose to fight in hand-to-hand combat, disrupting your foe’s ability to fire their weapon. Choosing to stick to fisticuffs also leaves you open to attack from other enemies nearby, so it’s all about options and measuring their consequences. The easy approach isn’t always the best approach, as you’ll sometimes inherently find you’re faced with assailants from all directions, having to pick through actions perfectly or surely face a quick demise.
As you pick through the menus of options, you’ll see the time shift on the timeline to correspond with how long it would take you to do that action, and more importantly, it will show you who will hit first. If you choose to try to sneak up and surprise enemies, you can take them out with less effort, but once the shots begin to ring out, you’ll wish you had stuck to a quieter approach, as this will bring more guys rushing in to join the fight. Any time you have multiple enemies closing in on you, especially in boss fights, it can lead to situations where you feel overwhelmed, and can sometimes feel unfair. Because your ammo and health are withheld through each stage in a level, you’ll feel the pressure from any slip-up in your calculations and may just want to restart the first stage if you get off to a bad start.
You are able to subdue some of this difficulty by spending coins to stash supplies such as bandages and guns throughout the level, but honestly, they are better spent on adding stats to Wick’s abilities, such as reducing Focus cost for moves or adding to your overall health. One of the main reasons to opt-out of spending precious coins on weapons is that there are literally piles of them at your feet after each encounter, and you can only swap your current gun for a new one instead of piling up ammo like most action games. Bandages, on the other hand, are more rare, but using them to heal yourself in the middle of a firefight takes planning and you’ll often find yourself taking more damage as a result, rather than healing it.
The approach to John Wick’s tactical assault on his foes through timed, meticulous mental planning works well as a game. When you nail the action with a series of melee attacks and gunshots, it can often feel like you are building up the epic fight scene yourself, and the game even offers you a replay function after each stage, in order to see how it looks in motion. These replays hardly ever look decent visually, as the stuttered action choices makes John and the enemies look like toys being moved around a playset, but it’s neat to see how he ultimately moves through a set, picking off baddies, and does so with flourish and style — hopefully, anyways.
With a nearly invincible action hero such as John Wick, his game had to do something unique to carry this level of intensity and precision to a playable form. Thankfully, the use of literal ‘bullet time’ works well in the chess-like format, and taking down rooms of bad guys, even though ridiculously hard at times, feels great as an end result. The graphics in John Wick Hex feel very much like watching a comic book unfold, with stark colors and hard lines, and works well within the confines of what is needed for the game, visually. I would absolutely love to see a full action game starring John Wick down the line, but Bithell Games did a great job with what they delivered, and while it may not be for everyone, it works much better than I thought it would have at first glance. John Wick Hex is a strategy game that distills his murderous rampage into choreographed dance moves, and I am one hundred percent down to boogie.
John Wick Hex is available now on the Epic Game Store.