LICENSED game adaptations of movies have traditionally been something of a mixed bag. While a lot of them are not great, some of them are quite good and capture the spirit of the films. This is one of those rare games.
John Wick: Hex, developed by Bithell Games and Lionsgate and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment on PC, puts you in the bespoke suit of John Wick himself as you shoot and martial art strike your way through a large, large number of goons in your quest to stop kingpin Hex.
The game is set before the films and does an excellent job of capturing the feel of a neo-noir comic book, aided by the voice acting talents of Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, reprising their roles at the Hotel Continental’s owner and concierge respectively.
The actual gameplay is also unique – Movement is via a hex-based grid on the floor and the actions are nominally turn-based, but time is a factor with both your actions and those of your enemies displayed on a bar at the top of the screen, forcing you to adjust your tactics depending on who is likely to act first in a situation.
It’s reminiscent of video editing software and works really well, especially given John Wick’s nature as a man of action – something like an XCOM turn-based system would have encouraged players to lie in wait, while John Wick Hex’s game design encourages movement and progress.
This meant that I got to pull off some cool moves like opening a door to a room, double-tapping the nearest guard, doing a judo throw to drop an attacking enemy, firing at another opponent, throwing the now empty gun at someone else who appeared, stunning them, rolling across the floor, punching them out of commission, and taking their gun before moving onto the next area.
There are some issues with the way combat is implemented – for example, knocking someone to the ground then striking them will cause that person to suddenly get up to receive the strike – and the replay available after each level doesn’t flow very well, with some of the animations seeming a bit jerky and not as fluid movement-wise as you’d expect for a John Wick title.
Despite being attached to a big franchise, the game is essentially an indie title so allowances have to be made for that – but the developers have done a good job creating a game that is both fun and captures the spirit of the movies at the same time, even if it’s not as polished as it could be.
A few mechanics weren’t well implanted, either. Your health (or more realistically, lack thereof) carries over from sector to sector, which means you can find yourself forced to complete the final area or two of a level – sometimes including a boss fight – without taking any damage. An option to start each sector with full health would have been welcome. Yes, you can stash bandages throughout the whole level, but really,
The other thing is you can’t loot magazines from guns, which can be frustrating at times because I often found myself discarding a gun with five rounds left in the magazine for one with eight rounds – instead of being able to take the magazine (which, in real life, simply involves pressing the magazine release on the side of the grip; it’s basically a muscle memory procedure for any moderately competent shooter) and thus have five in my gun and eight in reserve.
Your firearm options are fairly straightforward, or you can do kung fu on people to deal with them – but you don’t get to improvise and garrotte some hapless gangster with a USB charging cable or shiv them with a biro or any of the other creative murder methods Mr Wick is a master of, which seemed like a missed opportunity to me.
I also couldn’t help but feel there was a layer or mechanic missing from John Wick Hex, though – perhaps something involving trying to piece together information to work out where to go next, or something similar – and as much as I enjoyed it, it did start to get a bit repetitive after a while, but it’s not a hugely long game so it didn’t outstay its welcome.
I had fun with John Wick Hex, even with its imperfections – it’s different, the story fit well into the canon, and it was playable in bite-size chunks, which is quite appealing too.
It may not be an Italian classic, but there’s still plenty in John Wick Hex to keep you working again – and organising a lot of dinner reservations in the process.