As soon as I saw that John Wick Hex was headed to the PlayStation 4, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I am a massive fan of the John Wick films and was especially curious to see how this cinematic action series translates into a tactical game. Overall, I had a lot of fun playing John Wick Hex. I loved exploring John Wick’s visually striking world in a clean and tactical way. But unfortunately, the repetitive gameplay wasn’t enough to keep me engaged for hours on end.
In the Shoes of an Assassin
The gameplay of John Wick Hex is one of the most striking elements of the game. It is a bold choice to turn the world of John Wick into a tactical game, rather than the obvious FPS, but this choice pays off. Throughout the various levels, you have limited ammo, bandages, and Focus, so you must be creative with your actions. Your Focus bar allows you to take more dynamic actions (dodging and melee combat). However, each of these moves isn’t without a cost, and you must continuously “refocus” John to perform these moves multiple times. As someone who is still new to tactical games, I found the simplicity refreshing. I didn’t have a ton of options that could bog down my decision making. Instead, I had to consider what the best maneuver was in a given situation.
Another compelling gameplay element of John Wick Hex is the fact time is on your side. Literally. Instead of turn-based moves, time in the game only moves when you do. Likewise, when an enemy comes into view, time freezes. This pause allows you a moment to calculate your next action. Do you have enough Focus to roll out of the way? Or enough ammo to gun down this enemy efficiently? The clever time mechanic creates a unique tactical experience that gives you control of every action-packed moment.
Simplicity and Replay
There is even an option to replay the entire level you just completed as a John Wick film scene. You are treated to dynamic angles of your John Wick self knocking out enemies, focusing your thoughts, and picking up weapons along the way. As a fan of the films, this is a fantastic feature. There were a few levels where I pulled off some stellar John Wick moves that warranted a re-watch. Conversely, there were also a few levels that made me embarrassed to re-watch my footage. John Wick doesn’t look AS COOL when he’s going back and forth behind the same van six times.
The gameplay’s simplicity is not only its strength but a bit of its weakness. After watching the same five moves during every level, I lost interest in replaying my footage. Likewise, while the health system and Focus features are unique and challenging, they can ultimately make or break you in the last level of a chapter. Health items are incredibly limited. If you take damage and use bandages in the earlier levels, you may not be able to successfully navigate the more difficult sections. The same goes for Focus. If you do not utilize your Focus abilities and refocus incredibly efficiently, complex segments and boss battles can be incredibly tough to beat. Sometimes, the best but most time-consuming option is to restart the Chapter all over again. While John Wick Hex provides players with simple gameplay choices, the repetition and unforgiving nature of the gameplay can often be discouraging.
A Tale of Revenge
John Wick Hex is a prequel that takes place before the first John Wick film (noted at the beginning of the game with the text “Some time ago…before Helen”). I love the prequel take and the lore sprinkled throughout the game. It is obvious that Bithell Games has a deep love for the films. They even got Ian McShane and Lance Reddick to reprise their roles. The story themes are simple ones: power, revenge, and the gall to take on the devil himself.
During this prequel, we see a glimpse of the assassin John Wick was before he retired. While we don’t get a lot of in-depth interaction with John (as his journey is namely shown through Hex, Winston, and Charon’s cutscenes), it is this absence of character that shows us a lot about who John was. He was a cog in the assassin machine before he met Helen. A ruthless and tactical killer who gets the job done.
Despite the gameplay levels having little to no dialogue outside of grunts and yells, these cutscenes truly carry the game. I looked forward to completing a chapter to see the next narrative installment. The tactical and action gameplay is not what solely make this a John Wick game. It is the characters, stakes, and yes, even the Keanu Reeves character model. The narrative of John Wick Hex immediately made me feel like I was truly in a John Wick film.
The subtly of the sound design perfectly blends with the bright and stark visuals. Each level features low percussive and ominous tones that escalate when enemies engage. With tactics games, there is a lot of thinking involved. Thus it makes sense that the music isn’t completely overwhelming. It is the perfect blend of stealth and struggle.