Title: John Wick Hex
Developer: Bithell Games
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
The Boogeyman. The Baba Yaga. An unstoppable killer. All of these are names of one man who has taken the film scene by storm: John Wick. Since the premiere of his first film in 2014, Mr. Wick has become synonymous with the word “badass.” In years past, a thriving action film franchise would’ve come with several licensed video games that would vary profoundly in quality (I’m looking at you, James Bond). This console generation, however, licensed movie games have become a rare breed. It seemed that the John Wick franchise would escape the realm of video games until John Wick Hex was revealed just before the release of the third John Wick film.
Though one might expect an action-heavy first-person or third-person shooter from the franchise, John Wick Hex is a strategy game. While intense action and strategy might not necessarily go together, John Wick Hex aims to put players inside the mind of John Wick as he makes quick decisions in combat. This leads to a much slower experience than you would see in any of the films, but don’t worry, it still makes you feel unstoppable.
The John Wick series has become rather popular within the cinematic action genre, though I doubt many would say their popularity is due to a deep story. Every film basically has the same set up: John Wick wants revenge, and everyone is out to kill him. This is really all a good action film needs but, after seeing the same story repeated for three whole movies, it has started to get a bit old for me, but this isn’t a movie review. Similar to films, John Wick Hex provides another generic plot for Wick to murder hundreds of goons.
John Wick Hex acts as a prequel to the films, taking place years before Wick retires from the life of an assassin. Hex, the leader of an international criminal organization, has kidnapped Winston and Charon, owner and concierge of The Continental Hotel, a safe haven for assassins. In response, the High Table, an organization that oversees all organized crime, sends John Wick to rescue the duo and take vengeance on Hex.
As you might have expected, this story bored me to tears, and I found myself skipping through cutscenes not long into the game. Luckily, seeing as how the story is so bland, it doesn’t really affect the gameplay, so players that choose to skip it and won’t miss out on much.
Aside from the dullness of the story, the cutscenes that accompany it are even worse. John Wick Hex features a very stylized cel-shaded art style that looks amazing from afar during gameplay. However, when the character models are zoomed in on, they look incredibly goofy and lifeless. The cutscenes don’t feature any motion, but even dialogue over still images of the character models felt off. Hearing Hex scream about how much he hates Wick while his character model holds a single dead expression on screen makes it incredibly hard to take the story seriously.
Still, John Wick Hex is built around its gameplay and not its story. As previously mentioned, the game puts players in control of John Wick as he makes his way through waves of enemies throughout different stages. Each stage is made up of a few various levels. Most simply task players with getting Wick from point A to point B, which would be easy if it wasn’t for the hoards of enemies standing in your way.
Gameplay plays out similarly to the popular FPS Superhot, where time only moves when you move. The world is set up in a grid. When you move, enemies move as well, so each turn must be taken with extreme caution. Wick can take down enemies either with close-range melee or with ranged gunplay, which affects the various enemy types differently. Enemy classes range from specializing in melee to specific weaponry such as revolvers or machine pistols. Each action characters perform uses an allotted amount of time, so taking a second to plan out a strategy will allow you to take less damage.
When a player takes an action, it comes with a percentage of success, meaning luck and RNG play a role during an attack phase. I never felt particularly cheated by this, but there were a few rounds that I had an easier time with, which was only due to the types of enemies that spawned and the success of my shots.
Though the gameplay is a bit complex at first, it doesn’t take long to get a grasp on it. Admittedly, I stumbled through the first stage and died a few times, but after understanding the movement and John’s skill set, I was getting through at a steady pace.
Each stage in John Wick Hex is increasingly difficult, so I never truly felt like any level was easy. New weapons and enemy types are introduced as players progress, which definitely keeps you on your toes. However, I found myself getting bored during long play sessions due to how tedious some levels can be. One can only take down the exact same enemy in the exact same way so many times before it starts getting old.
Whenever players finish a level, they are given the option to watch what they just did in real-time. While this is a good idea in concept, it doesn’t really pan out all that well. The nature of the game’s grid system means most movements look clunky and stiff when playing out, making these replays unintentionally hilarious at times and awkward at others. Pairing this with the fact that enemies ragdoll as they are killed, which causes them to sometimes glitch through the environment, makes John Wick Hex appear much less cool than it thinks it is.
I should mention that John Wick Hex typically runs well, and I didn’t run into many bugs, but the game did crash on me four times. I was lucky enough that this never happened in the middle of levels, and all of my progress was always saved. If this would have happened right at the end of a long, stressful level, however, I think I would have broken my controller just from pure rage.
John Wick Hex is a unique experience that marks a return for movie licensed games. It does just enough to stand out and provide an enjoyable adventure for fans of the series through some solid strategical action sequences. It’s not going to leave your heart racing as the films did, but it will provide you with a few hours of entertainment across its various levels.
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