Updated: Feb 16
Available On: PS4
Developer: Bithell Games
Genre: Simulator, Tactical, Turn-based strategy
Released: October 8th, 2019 (PC) May 5th, 2020 (PS4)
If there is one thing, we can all agree on, it’s that we are in the midst of a Keanu Reeves revolution and it has been glorious. The John Wick franchise has hit hard and fast with three action redefining movies that, seemingly overnight, had Keanu win back our hearts and now he’s not only famous, but internet famous too.
On the backs of these films we have yet another licensed tie-in video-game, this time in the form of John Wick: Hex. A turn-based strategy game that helps expand the continental sized universe and give fans that Wick kick we all need to tide us over until the 4th chapter arrives in cinemas. Featuring an original story from the acclaimed game director Mike Bithell (Volume, Thomas Was Alone) Hex tells a standalone story of what happens when you’re anything but nice to Mr. Wick and his pals.
So How Does It Work?
If you’re anything like me, when you think of this franchise, the last thing that would come to mind is a turn-based strategy game. What you want is fast paced gun-fu violence that never lets up right? Right! Sort of, what I mean by that is, yes, the game is turn-based but it’s in the implementation that makes it something rather unique. To capture said violence the conceit here is that you are effectively mapping out every second in real-time. Time passes with every action you take so think of it like being your very own fight choreographer. You have this whole bad-ass fight scene in your head and you’re literally creating the storyboard to how it plays out.
How this works in practice then is, you move Mr.Wick down a corridor, one click at a time. The game will also pause every time an enemy appears on screen and you are then given a list of actions to take that vary depending on your stance, weapon, and distance from the target. Now it wouldn’t be John Wick if the odds weren’t stacked heavily against you right? This might be turn-based but you’ll be fighting for every inch of ground here. Enemies come at you from all angles and if you are not thinking quickly it is very easy to get overwhelmed and get very dead by consequence.The fun comes in how you want to handle any given encounter. Remember, Wick is meant to be the best killing machine alive and the game is not shy about drilling that home.
You have to be aware of enemy placement. Where you are in relation to cover, how much ammo you have left in your weapon and how best to spend your “focus” points (the ability to perform dodges, rolls and take-downs). Do you wait for a guard to get in close so you can initiate a take-down, then duck and roll to cover and try take out the SMG wielding goon in the distance? Or do you throw your weapon for distance, dodge the guard on your immediate left and make a bee line for the now dropped SMG? Crowd control is key. While all this happens, you will have a timeline bar at the top of the screen showing you who is next in-line for an action and what ones you can take to counter. With so many variables at play, I found it fascinating that a turn-based title like this could be so intense, you really feel like every action counts and I often found myself trying to lure certain enemies to my location, to set up a kill box of sorts.
Crowd control is key and so very satisfying
It can be punishingly difficult at times too. A big part of this game, which is a deliberate part of the design, is that ammunition and bandages (your health pickups) are persistent for each level of a chapter. What this means is you do not replenish ammo or items from level to level, you are stuck at the beginning of a level, with whatever you had at the end of the previous. While it is meant to invoke the same persistence that the films have, that of one unstoppable force of nature, it can really screw you over with how doggedly it sticks to this beat. Especially if you barely made it out alive from a previous mission, low on health with no heals, you just have to pray things will work out or bite the bullet (heh) and restart the whole chapter to give yourself a better chance of surviving the onslaught. Which walks the line of humbling to groan inducing depending on how far in you get, and how much patience you have in general.
Do You Even Wick Though?
Going into this I wasn’t too sure; I’ve never been one for these types of games. I suck at chess and having to wait turns to bash someone’s head in (in a video-game mind you) never clicked with me. But the game concept was too intriguing to not try sink my teeth into. So, if you are not that into, or only kind of familiar with turn based type games like me, you might need to adjust your approach. The game does a good job of explaining how the mechanics work, but it took me quite a few deaths and silly mistakes before it started to click properly. It helps that at the end of every level you get to watch as every action and reaction you made gets played out in real-time (see above) and while it can look a little stiff, it is never not satisfying, especially after a particularly tough battle.
This very much feels like a game of incremental value. From the game-play, where every action can make or break a good run, to the art direction and overall look. The almost comic book/cell shaded design looks great in-game but weird in motion. You may have noticed that John Wick himself is rather lanky, the exaggerated design of his character model was a little funny to me at first, but you do get accustomed too it quite quickly. It feels like any one of these design decisions, judged on their own merit against the world it is trying to capture, would fail to scrutiny but as a whole package, I can say it does a great job of enveloping you into it's world. Oh, and one final note on the length, you’re looking at a solid 7 to 10 hours if you’re booking it through each level. Replay value mileage will vary, there’s some personal incentive to be the Wickiest of all the John Wicks and nail a perfect run on each level but a careful minded approach to each situation will see you through and I rarely felt the urge to go back for a do-over unless I really botched it and had to.
Play this game if:
· You enjoy tactical based game-play with a unique fast-paced spin
· You do in fact Wick
· You’re not afraid of difficulty spikes...or spikes in general
· You want a fresh new experience at a fairly reasonable price
All images taken from the official press kit found here
That one breathtaking gif can be found here
In-game gif created by me and uploaded here
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