John Wick Hex (PC) looks arent everything
The video game version of John Wick is not at all what youd expect, but it might just be the best movie adaptation of the generation.
If we told you there was a new game out based on John Wick and asked you to imagine what it was like, we think most people would describe some sort of third person shooter similar to Max Payne or maybe a more action-oriented Hitman. Thats certainly what we expected when we first heard about John Wick Hex, but its absolutely nothing like that. In actual fact its a turn-based strategy game with terrible graphics and one of the best games weve played all year.
John Wick Hex is the creation of British indie developer Mike Bithell, whos best known for experimental puzzle platformer Thomas Was Alone and the almost equally abstract Metal Gear-inspired Volume. Its hard to think of anyone less obvious to make a game about John Wick, but as he explained to us when we met him in June, the games division of film company Lionsgate were specifically looking for a developer to create something unusual and daring. And they certainly got that.
Before you ask, unlike Cyberpunk 2077, Keanu Reeves is not in the game and the in-game character barely looks anything like him. Ian McShane (Winston) and Lance Reddick (Charon, the concierge), do provide voiceovers though, with the story framed in flashback as theyre held captive to a new villain called Hex. Thankfully, the game doesnt delve too much into the film series silly lore though and instead focuses on its renowned fight choreography.
Bithell may not have been able to involve Keanu Reeves but he did work extensively with the movies director and fight team, and despite what you might think when you hear the phrase turn-based strategy this is an impressively accurate recreation of how the fights work in the films. Bithells initial idea was to make something along the lines of XCOM but when someone at Lionsgate pointed out that John Hex doesnt take turns an entirely new concept was devised where the whole game is broken down into steps that take a few tenths of a second each.
Technically the game isnt turn-based at all, as everything happens at the same time, as indicated by a timeline at the top of the screen that looks and works similar to the sort of thing you might see in video editing software. The game doesnt feature hexes either, or at least not in the traditional strategy sense, as instead a pattern of dots, reminiscent of Chinese chequers (which weve just found out is actually German), is overlaid on the top-down view of your surroundings.
You move by stepping from one point to another, the time taken to do so indicated on the timeline. Anything else you do is also shown, from picking up a weapon to firing your gun, and the same is true for any visible enemies so that you can see what theyre about to do as soon as they commit to the action. What follows is a glorious ballet of death, as you time your moves, including dodges, parries, and reloads, so that youre always in the right place at the right time to kill your enemies and avoid injury yourself.
Theres a thick fog of war that hangs over every map, so you cant see anything unless its in your direct line of sight, and so cover is more important in terms of you staying out of an enemys eyeline than it is providing any protection to you. You have a focus bar, that is used up by dodging or more advanced melee combat, and that can only be replenished by pausing for a moment to reorientation yourself which, along with applying a bandage or reloading, wastes precious seconds.
Despite what you might fear none of this is very difficult to get the hang of and if anything the first hour or so seems worryingly easy. But then the game starts to take things seriously and you find yourself having to consider every single action with the upmost care. Although theres no mechanical similarity, John Wick Hex is reminiscent of Into The Breach in that every move counts and no matter how well youre doing a single mistake can mean almost instant failure.
By the time the game starts to get really hard youre absolutely sold on the whole idea and rather than other strategy games we ended up comparing it to the likes of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, in terms of the balletic action youre orchestrating. With very few random elements you know that every time you lose its entirely your fault and almost always because youre not paying proper attention to the timeline.
Although we often found thats not because we forgot about it, so much as we were so caught up in the action we were taking moves too quickly, with the pace and urgency of an action game even though you can sit there all day and ponder your next move if you really want to. We never did that, but we did learn to appreciate the challenge so much that we actively enjoyed being low on health and trying to complete a level without ever being hit (there are no saves mid-game).
John Wick Hex is a fantastically enjoyable and impressively original game, but its not without its faults. Although most of those are limited to its, frankly terrible, presentation. The graphics are awful, not only in terms of detail and animation, but in the way they can make it difficult to understand whats going on as you try to zoom in and rotate the camera to work out where everyone is and what theyre doing.
And while new enemy types and weapons are introduced as the game goes on, and theres a small number of buffs you can buy between missions, the gameplay doesnt really evolve that much over the course of the story. There are no civilians in locations such as a nightclub, that clearly had them in the films, and its never clear whether sound is important. But these are minor niggles and a side effect of the obviously low budget. And even then the game still manages a few neat touches, such as the rain effects and the distant ping of a metal detector as an unseen enemy moves through it.
If this was a big budget game no doubt the graphics would have been vastly superior but theres no way anyone would have risked all that money on such an odd idea. But that risk has certainly paid off with John Wick Hex, which is not only one of the best movie tie-ins weve ever played but one of the most original and enjoyable strategy games of the generation.
In Short: One of the best movie adaptations of all time and an impressively original strategy game that manages to rival even the best action titles in terms of tension and adrenaline rush.
Pros: Fantastically original gameplay that also manages to replicate the action of John Wick extremely accurately. Very accessible, even for strategy novices, and yet highly flexible combat.
Cons: Ultra low-tech presentation can sometimes make it difficult to work out whats going and looks terrible in terms of the visuals. Gameplay doesnt evolve much as it continues.
Formats: PCPrice: 15.99Publisher: Good Shepherd EntertainmentDeveloper: BithellRelease Date: 8th October 2019Age Rating: 16
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John Wick Hex review the definitive Keanu Reeves simulator - Metro.co.uk
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