The movie franchise that sees Keanu Reeves as a (semi)retired hit-man seeking vengeance has been a critical and commercial success, spawning multiple sequels with a fourth movie to release in 2021. Bithell Games, the team behind Thomas Is Alone, has crafted a highly stylized simultaneous turn-based strategy title, that still makes you almost feel like the Baba Yaga. Some may have thought the franchise would have been better suited for a John Woo style action game; however, I enjoyed the slower pace of John Wick Hex, as it gives you time to make those precise gun-fu style decisions from the movies.
Both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprise their roles from the movies, as Winston, the owner of the Continental Hotel and Charon, the concierge, respectfully. Keanu Reeves, however, is not the voice of the titular character. The talented voice actor Troy Baker fills the role of the game’s antagonist. Serving as a narrative prequel to the film series, John Wick Hex is set before Mr. Wick meets his future wife, Helen, back when he worked for the Tarasov Mob (a small part of The High Table). A visual timeline represents every action taken in the game for John Wick and his enemies. Each of the linear designed levels are constructed on top of a hex-based movement system. Time pauses after you’ve completed any action, movement, or locate a new enemy.
Each of your actions takes precious seconds or fractions of a second to complete. Since your turn and your foes happen at the same time, you can see how long your action will take when compared to what your enemies plan to do. There are definite moments where you feel like you are John Wick, taking down a group of enemies by combining close-range shooting, takedowns, and strikes. Heck, you even have the option of throwing your gun, dodge rolling, picking up another weapon from a downed foe, and using the rest of the clip to take out his friends. Although the speed of the game is determined by how quickly you make decisions, the precision behind the choices is what hooked me. Yes, it is not as fast-paced as a pure action game, but I still felt like the ultimate assassin with sequences almost playing out like they would in the movies.
Ensuring that you don’t move directly in the line of sight of an enemy with his gun drawn, you must take notice about how long each action takes. At first, things may seem slower than it should be, as you take extra time to eliminate any mistakes. Everything that you’ll need to know is displayed in the timeline, so any errors are purely on your decision making. Of course, being a tactical strategy game, there are percentages to shooting, based on distance and line of sight, etc. Most of your actions take a specific portion of your focus bar; however, it can be refilled by choosing to do nothing.
The seven chapters in the game are broken up into a handful of different levels, where your health and equipment carry over till the end of the chapter. A careless maneuver near the end of the chapter means you’ll have to restart back at the beginning. At the completion of a level, the game presents you with the option of watching a cinematic replay. As neat as it was to see all of your actions play out continuously, the jerky hex grid movements and animations. Coins can be spent on a bunch of various temporary buffs, or by stocking weapons or bandages for your next run. Ones that reduce the cost of Focus for specific actions, like the dodge roll (which I shamelessly abused), were a definite favorite of mine. Added additional firepower depends on how you want to tackle a level but generally isn’t needed considering you can pick up weapons off the ground from dead enemies. There is an additional expedited game mode, that penalties you from taking too long for each of your turns.
Although John Wick Hex doesn’t play like you’d expect considering the source material, it still is a fun and entertaining title. The narrative is kept on the lighter side, really only existing so that you have a name to hunt through each of the chapters. The actual gameplay is delivered intriguingly, something I would never have thought of.Note: John Wick Hex was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.