I have been a fan of the John Wick franchise since the first film was released back in 2014 and after witnessing everyone’s favourite Baba Yaga wreak havoc in another two films, I was excited to hear of a John Wick game coming to consoles in 2020. After an initial release on PC in late 2019, John Wick Hex arrived on PlayStation 4 in May. John Wick Hex was backed up with a release on Xbox One and Switch this week and I was intrigued to see how it would play.
Winston and Charon are being held hostage by the international crime lord, Hex. The High Table as set a bounty for their rescue. In classic John Wick style, he takes up the contract and works his way through a series of locations and varying bosses to rescue the two hostages.
Not only is Hex the main villain of the story, it is also an integral part of how the game is played. With the map and movements set out in a Hexagonal style grid, you must move John Wick around the screen set by step. Although tedious at times, the movement mechanics of this game play an integral role in your survival.
The gameplay of John Wick Hex is unique to my previous experiences. As mentioned, you are presented with a grid like display with multiple option of where you can move your character to next. The games HUD provides multiple sources of information; Your ammo, health and focus, but most importantly it displays the current timeline of your moves. Every move or action takes time to execute, as it does for your foes. Each encounter pauses the game to allow you to plan your next move. However, you need to ensure that that the move you are about to make sets you up for the best possible outcome in the moves that follow. The strategy to this game is remarkably like chess, you always need to be thinking two or three moves ahead to ensure your survival, as the next move you make, could well be your last. You also need to plan your loadout before each mission. But be careful, if you stash your bandages or weapons in the wrong spot – you may not survive!
This style of gameplay did take me a bit to get used to. I am usually the type to dive in headfirst and hope for the best. I found myself dying more than I was progressing. My first run though the game put me into an unwinnable position, and I was stuck, getting frustrated and going nowhere. So, I stepped away and revisited the game the next day with a fresh mindset and I must say, I am definitely enjoying it much more on my second playthrough and I am actually progressing in the game.
The fighting mechanics are just as unique as the movement of your character. Each encounter presents you with a range of options from simply shooting at the enemy, or if close enough, you can melee your opponent by either a strike, push, takedown or parry. Initially I was shooting a lot and quickly discovered that was not the best option all the time. Your ammunition is finite and with myself being a serial reloader (shoot once, reload, repeat), I was losing all my ammo pretty much instantly. Once it is gone – it is gone, and you need to take down an enemy to pick up their weapon to regain a firearm. The Push and Takedown moves will each use up your Focus, which can be replenished by ‘refocusing’. Every action takes time, and you need to ensure that whatever you choose, you have enough time available to execute it without being attacked.
Another aspect to the game is the line of sight of both yourself and your foes. The map will cleverly display shaded and lit up areas in order to let you know that you are either visible or hidden. If you are spotted by an enemy and then hide or crouch behind cover, they are identified by a marker so you can cleverly plan you next set of moves. You can also just stay and wait for your foe to move into a more favorable position to take them down.
Overall, I was initially disappointed with the game, however after enduring it and experiencing how unique it is, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. I absolutely love the stylish comic book style visuals and design of the game, from the characters on-screen to the cut scenes, everything is very easy on the eye. However, my main issue is with the subtitles. They are white text with an opaque background that at times are hard to decipher. This could easily be fixed with a quick update to switch the text to something a little bit more legible or even larger. The music, however, is absolutely fantastic and definitely sets the tone to get your heart pumping as you manoeuvre your way around each map. The only issue I have with the gameplay is the wait to move. Each time you wait, it takes up 0.2s of your timeline. I really wish there was a way to bank up the movements to save time in pressing the buttons to action several in sequence.
John Wick Hex is great fun to play and it is easy to see why it won Best Strategy Game in 2019 at the Game Critics Awards. I am glad to see it getting some more love on new platforms that will hopefully find a range of new fans, like myself, for this style of gameplay. I can definitely see myself playing much more of this game!
John Wick Hex is available on all platforms with physical releases available from your favorite game seller.