Some gritty synth tunes and game voice acting from Ian McShane and Lance Reddick. Troy Baker does menacing well as the titular Hex.
The likenesses might be slightly off, but the game's art style is quite strong, boasting a bold, colourful graphic novel look. An eye-catching, rather stylish game.
A smart idea rendered slightly less appealing by a steep difficulty curve and a few, somewhat overwhelming bottlenecks. It can be a tad fiddly at times, too.
Seven increasingly challenging levels to master and two modes – 'Operator' and 'Expedited' – that are essentially 'hard' and 'much harder' difficulties. Still, kudos to Bithell Games for trying something different.
A serviceable achievement list that places an emphasis on replaying levels and attaining a series of 'par' objectives. There are one or two creative tasks in here, too.
December 04, 2020
Intense, visceral, and uncompromisingly violent, the three John Wick films released thus far (a fourth one is on the way) delivered wall-to-wall action, but video game prequel John Wick Hex is an entirely different prospect. While movie tie-ins are a rare beast these days, you might have expected a John Wick game to be some sort of third-person action affair, like Stranglehold, Max Payne, or something in that vein. Hex takes the guise of a top-down isometric 'timeline strategy' game, an occasionally frustrating and rather difficult turn-based tactical experience, in which you ply your trade as the infamous 'Baba Yaga' himself.
John Wick - master of the brutal headshot.
As you'd expect, this involves shooting or beating up the bad guys, each of John's actions taking a specific amount of time to perform, be it reloading, patching yourself up, crouching behind cover, or simply moving. Thus the game involves planning out the optimum route through each environment, as you beat a path to eponymous boss man Hex, your zig-zagging movements determined by a series of dots. As you carve out a meandering dot-to-dot through corridors, alleyways, stairways, and so on, you'll inevitably run into resistance from Hex's goons, be they gun-toting security, unarmed brawlers, burly martial artists, or ruthless hitmen packing machine pistols, assault rifles, or shotguns. And when you do, you have as long as you like to figure out how to deal with them, unless you opt for the fast-paced and challenging 'Expedited' mode, which gives you seven seconds to carry out each of Wick's moves.
Hex's levels are tricky tactical puzzles, painted in eye-catching, comic book-style with cel-shaded neon colours. Anyone looking for instant gratification – like the sort a John Wick movie might provide – will be in for a shock playing John Wick Hex. The pace is deliberately slow and measured, requiring you engage your brain before steaming in brandishing a loaded handgun. Close encounters with enemies can be resolved using close-quarters combat (requiring focus points used to fight and evade), with pushes, strikes, and takedowns helping preserve precious bullets (when things get really desperate, you can even throw your gun at foes), because even stopping to reload or pick another weapon up off the floor can leave you vulnerable. And it's not exactly the best way to look like a legendary hitman, being shot to death while clumsily scrounging a pistol off the ground. Incidentally, this happened to me on multiple occasions.
As well as managing your ammunition, you'll have health-replenishing bandages to consider, each level equipping you with two bandages to suture wounds, and a pair of handgun clips. The kicker is that a level comprises several short, punchy phases, and if you're careless it's very easy to quickly burn through your allocation of bullets and patches before the end. You can stash extra ammo and bandages in each area, in exchange for the limited amount of Continental coins you're given, with stashes located deeper into a level costing more. Coins also enable you to purchase perks that last for the duration of a level, like reducing movement penalties, decreasing the focus cost of rolling out of danger, or making your shots more likely to hit enemies from range.
There may be a lot to take into account in John Wick Hex, but it's all well presented and clearly laid out, the in-game timeline showing how long your actions take versus the incoming moves from enemies. The game’s cerebral pace and focus on precision – while intuitive – can stilt Hex's sense of excitement somewhat, and as each of the game’s seven levels roll by, an unavoidable sense of repetition can begin to creep in. By the time I'd reached the third stage, set in a rainy harbour, it began to feel like I was doing the exact same thing but in a different environment. By the time the Art Gallery level rolled around, I'd had enough. The narrative (told as a series of flashbacks) isn't particularly compelling either, despite solid performances from Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, as their characters from the movies, as well as Troy Baker portraying Hex.
Hex's neon nightclubs are pretty sexy.
Furthermore, the arbitrary nature of its XCOM-style hit percentages when fighting bosses can be a pain. For some unknown reason, you can be inches away and have a zero percent chance of hitting them with a bullet, despite very obviously being within visible range. It simply makes no sense whatsoever. After double-tapping cronies with surgical precision like a pro, it's demoralising to then be shot in the face by a boss character, while you're stood there wondering why you can't retaliate. Then you might realise that this particular boss can only be taken out using melee attacks, which, again, doesn't make much sense.
Still, in spite of its various foibles and annoyances, John Wick Hex is an accomplished strategy game, and it's certainly unique. Yet a lack of variation and a fairly punishing difficulty level make it something less than the sum of its parts. At times, Hex is an experience that really makes you feel like John Wick, stalking your way between cover, ruthlessly picking off mercenaries and goons with scalpel-like efficiency, but for the most part you're outnumbered, outgunned, and ever so slightly bored as you stare at the umpteenth 'John is dead' screen. At that juncture, I was wishing I was dead too.