If I’d told you that one of the best action games of 2019 starred that fella from the Bill and Ted movies, made you question every move you made in agonising detail and had more pink than a warehouse full of unsold Can’t Take Me Home CDs, you’d probably have had me shipped off to the nearest madhouse. And yet the evidence would be right there in front of you, in the form of John Wick Hex.
A brand that deserved a video game adaptation from day one, no one could have foreseen that the infamous hitman’s return would have come arrived in the form of not only an amazing action spectacle but also the best damn game of chess you’ve ever played. Mike Bithell and his crew took the gritty core of John Wick Hex, and created a game of tactics where your greatest currency wasn’t the bullet you had chambered in your handgun, it was the moments between decisions of life and death.
Originally launching on PC back in October, John Wick Hex is now on PS4 and it’s still hexcellent stuff. It’s pretty much a direct copy of the PC game as well, from the excellent neon visuals and pulse-pounding soundtrack all the way through to the naff story and occasionally wonky character animations. I’m not going to rewrite my entire review for it, so I’ll instead copy and paste my words from October down here and call it a day, as I still feel exactly the same about John Wick Hex on PS4 as I do about it on PC.
Which is that it’s a damn masterpiece of action, strategy and twatting some random gangster in the face with an empty gun.
Disclaimer: No puppies were harmed in the making of this review, I promise.
Jonathan, oh Jonathan…what have you done?
If there’s a patron saint for unstoppable ass-kicking and responsible pet ownership, then that holy figure is undoubtedly John Wick. A force of nature in a trendy suit with an uncanny ability to end lives in grim fashion, Wick is the modern day action hero who carved out a new template for what a morally ambiguous hitman should be capable of on the big screen.
With a kill-score that numbers in the hundreds across a trilogy of the best action film franchise that the 2010s had to offer, it was only a matter of time until John Wick got a video game treatment. Fans were hungry for lean and mean action, developers were chomping at the bit for a chance to put their own touch on the silver screen icon and somebody had to toss a Continental Hotel coin into the air so that a decision could be made.
Out of all the possible scenarios, studios and publishers that could have made a John Wick game, seeing Mike “Thomas Was Alone” Bithell’s name pop up with an announcement that John Wick Hex would be a turn-based strategy game was about as unexpected as murder on consecrated ground. How could you even begin to boil down the slick action of the film trilogy into a genre where time is never truly of the essence?
By adding the split second decision-making of a flight or fight response to the mix, which has helped create one of the best and deepest action game experiences of the year, that’s how. I’m saying it now: John Wick Hex is a ballistic ballet of action and cunning.
John Wick Hex from Good Shepherd Entertainment ably takes the raw style and suspense of its cinematic source material, boils it down to the bare essentials that powered the films during their most exciting gunfights. That visceral sensation of reacting to mobs of cannon fodder soldiers, carving your way through them like a ballistic scalpel and creating a path forward that is littered with dozens of corpses.
Fluidity is the name of the game in John Wick Hex, and even with all the time in the world within which to make a decision you’ll often find yourself sweating as you balance risk and reward against the one enemy you can never truly defeat: Time itself. Tick tock, Mr Wick. Tick tock. The idea is simple: Wick can move forward several spaces at a time on any given map, respond with bullets or let his fists do the talking for him as a variety of henchmen zone in on him from all sides.
It’s here where John Wick Hex shines, as you’ve got to balance timing with offensive options, juggle the effectiveness of your guns against the lethality of your fists as you switch between bullets and brutality. When you’re in the zone, when you’re smoothly weaving through enemies like the Baba Yaga of underworld lore, John Wick is a one-man dinner reservation machine that can take a licking and keep on kicking.
When you do it wrong though, John Wick Hex is a game that quickly reminds you that the most infamous assassin in the underworld is still just a man, still flesh and blood whose rampage can be stopped within a few turns if you charge in with a gung-ho attitude and zero tactical finesse. That’s an aspect of John Wick Hex which may be a turn-off for some players: its sheer difficulty.
There are times when the action flows beautifully and you feel like an unstoppable gun god that bullets fear, whereas other stages that happen to have a random element of unpredictable enemy placements on the map are pure dog eat dog showdowns that you’ll be lucky to scrape through. Wick may be able to patch himself up with a bandage here and there, but they’re a scarce resource that you’re responsible for in a world that has you constantly scavenging weapons so that you can stay a step ahead of the competition.
John’s trusty handgun and 9mm pick-ups are delightful double-tap death-dealers with outstanding reliability, whereas other weapons come with their own pros and cons. Revolvers may be nail-drivers but they take forever to line up a shot, machine pistols are pay ‘n spray weapons that only work effectively when you’re right on top of an enemy and carbine rifles are so overpowered that you’ll only pick them up in a mere handful of levels.
All of this cycles back to the challenge of John Wick Hex, as your first few runs might result in you wanting to restart a stage all over again just so that you return to more challenging encounters with more health and better weapon options. It’s the kind of experience that’ll make you want to toss your computer through a wall or raise your fist in righteous triumph when you finally clear a hurdle, something which is simultaneously frustrating and uplifting in equal measure.
But those highs always outweigh the lows of John Wick Hex. Barring some wobbly ragdoll physics, John Wick Hex is the thinking man’s action strategy game. It’s gloriously rendered in a neon haze that has a layer of dust on the camera lens, its threadbare story is secondary to the idea of being John Wick Hex and its a damn shame that Troy Baker’s simmering volcano of a performance as Wick himself isn’t a canonical part of the cinematic side of the franchise (While Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprise their own roles from the films to move the story forward).
You can even sit back and revel in all of your carnage, as each completed stage stitches all of your action together into a (nearly) seamless action scene, complete with stylish jump cuts, exotic camera angles and stylish neon pink blood splatters. Depending on how you play John Wick Hex, it’s undoubtedly fascinating to see many minutes of action boiled down to a short bullet festival.
There’s a joy in the authenticity of having a line of sight that impacts on your ability to hit targets, the dodge rolls between cover points and fighting your way out of a corner when a trio of martial artists try their luck against your experienced fists.
Last Updated: May 20, 2020