It’s not unusual to see big game publishers licensing the rights to certain blockbuster movie hits, so it was really only a matter of time until we saw ourselves facing down the barrel of a John Wick game. Quite surprisingly, though, one of the first real games to feature the dog-loving assassin isn’t by a big publisher looking to make a quick buck off moviegoers. Instead, acclaimed indie developer, Mike Bithell and his team at Bithell Games managed to get Lionsgate to approve a unique take on the beloved assassin. The results? Something as truly extraordinary as the movies themselves.
Like looking into a graphic novel
The first thing that really sticks out about John Wick Hex is the graphic novel-like art style that Bithell and his team have chosen. It’s a style that works out perfectly well with the theme of the game—mass murdering a bunch of bad guys on your way to save a couple of pals—and it never detracts from the world around you.
Each set of the game is built beautifully, bringing back alleyways, nightclubs, and a slew of other locations to life as you try to make your way around, taking out bad guys the entire time. Every new room you discover is a treat, and the style of each character that Bithell and his team have brought to life here fits perfectly within the game world, and really helps to push the story forward. It’s a graphical style that fits the John Wick universe very well, as the character and setting already feel like things pulled straight out of a comic book or graphic novel.
Everything about the visual style—from the animations, the gunshots, and even the melee attacks—come together to make an extremely enjoyable experience for turn-based strategy fans. Blending together mechanics from games like Xcom and even SuperHot, John Wick Hex is best enjoyed when you take your time making the most of the world around you to take out your enemies.
No ammo? That's fine I've got fists
A lot of times, video games based on movies focus on plot points from the movies that they’ve been pulled from. With John Wick Hex, though, Bithell tells a story from Wick’s prime hitman days. Hex, the villain of the game, has kidnapped Winston and Charon (still voiced by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick respectfully) to rebel about The Table, the rigid rulers of the international criminal underworld. Wick’s mission is quickly made clear, as he infiltrates the various estates and businesses of Hex’s allies to figure out where the villain is holding Winston and Charon.
It’s an intriguing tale that fits in quite well with the movie series despite being set so far before it. It’s clear from the way that story beats out that Bithell and his team worked closely with the writers on the movies to find out where they needed things to mesh so that the game could work so well with the backstory given to Wick in the movies. This makes for quite a treat as you dive deeper into John Wick Hex, slowly discovering more of the secrets and story that lay beneath.
If you were looking for a shoehorned story, then you won’t find it here, and while the main focus of the game isn’t intricate cutscenes—I’d much rather watch my replays after each round—it all flows together quite well to create a cohesive experience. That’s another shining point I want to bring focus to. Like SuperHot—which replays your actions after you complete each level—John Wick Hex features a replay option that allows you to view all of your actions after you complete each level. This allows you to experience each encounter at more of the pace you’d expect from John Wick, and it really makes for some satisfying kills as you watch actions that took you 10 minutes to set up play out in a matter of seconds.
Not your usual movie/video game crossover
John Wick Hex is an absolute delight to play. I never noticed any performance issues, and the graphical style helps to create a very unique experience. As a big fan of turn-based strategy, Bithell and his team hit the nail on the head when they created Hex’s combat system, as each attack feels meaty and satisfying when you take out an enemy.
Levels are the perfect length, and while I did run into a few frustrating encounters at points throughout the campaign, it wasn’t because of bad game design, as decisions you make in John Wick Hex can oftentimes come down to life or death, especially if you don’t pay close attention to the Timeline mechanic, which is another thing I’d like to talk about before we close out. Most turn-based strategy games utilized a timeline-like mechanic based on AP points and action speed.
In John Wick Hex, players will need to pay attention to a similar mechanic to try to get away from enemy attacks, or even interrupt them. This makes for a fun and sometimes frantic attempt to stay hidden from enemy fire as you try to keep Wick out of harm and constantly moving to take out bad guys. I failed quite a bit at this during my time with the game, but each failure brought me closer to enlightenment, which in turn brought me closer to taking my enemies down.
When it comes to movie and video game crossovers, most developers fail to capture the spirit of the movie’s characters while also bringing their own spin to the world. Bithell Games has managed to do both here, and if John Wick Hex is as close as we ever get to becoming John Wick, then it’s close enough for me.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game provided by the publisher. John Wick Hex is available for PC and Mac on the Epic Games Store as of October 8.
John Wick Hex
- Unique and beautiful art style
- Story and plot fits well in the John Wick universe
- Addicting and enjoyable gameplay loop
- Forces you to think on your toes
- Some encounters can get frustrating quickly
Josh Hawkins posted a new article, John Wick Hex review: Thrill of the kill
Wow, looking at the Metacritic split on this
I understand, vaguely, that there is a difficulty spike that "hurts" the game in this, but if you have play Bithell's past Volume, that wasn't a surprise. Otherwise, the bad reviews are like "I don't like John Wick, so I don't like this" :P
Yeah, the difficulty wasn't at all surprising to me. I've played every game that Bithell and his team have released thus far and was expecting it to make that jump at some point.