There’s possibly no bigger franchise in action movies right now than Keanu Reeves’ John Wick. Given how much action is in each movie, it seems like the perfect movie to be made into a game. The question here is: is John Wick Hex a cash-grab relying solely on the movie’s name, or is there a solid game underneath the license? Read on for our John Wick Hex review.
Yeah He’s Back, Just Not How You Pictured It
I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay offered by John Wick Hex, mostly because I’m a pretty big strategy game guy myself. Yes, John Wick Hex is a strategy game with turn based elements thrown in the mix. Levels are designed with hexagonal movements and turns are based on a timer where each move takes a specific amount of time to execute. It really makes you think when deciding on what you want to do, as one wrong decision could mean potential death. And it’s here that the developers, Mike Bithell Games Limited, have truly captured the essence of “John Wick” as despite being a ruthless killer, everything he does is all executed with precision and planning.
Early on, I found myself rushing in for kills in an attempt to clear areas as quickly as possible. This soon proved to be ineffective due to the amount of time wasted on grunt soldiers over the beefed up enemies, thus getting me killed more often than not. The latter stages were far more unforgiving of this playstyle, so I quickly had to change things up and found that there was a deeper depth to Hex than I thought. Being able to stun enemies, change my focus to another, dodge, and then continue my assault all felt too satisfying to see and reminiscent of the films themselves. It felt like a “proper” representation of John Wick without actually being a full-on shooter. As strange as that may sound, it actually works. You see, to understand what it means to be John Wick, you have to think like John Wick, and Hex delivers on just that. Sadly, however, things do fall apart as the great Boogey Man soon finds himself dealing with a painfully tedious gaming trope.
One vs. An Army
I’m not one to shy from a difficult game, mostly due to the satisfaction of overcoming a tough fight. The Dark Soul series, in particular, is crowned as one of gaming’s hardest series. Yet despite that, when you actually sit down and take a look at what makes those games so hard you learn that they’re rather far from that. Sure, enemies can be unfair, and at times cheap, but most have set attacks that can be learned along with movement patterns. It is, to say the least, a well-designed series. This isn’t being brought up to compare John Wick Hex in terms of difficulty, no this is being brought up to show you how to do difficulty right.
There is a lot of things about John Wick Hex that make it pretty unforgiving, but you can learn from it and attempt over and over again. The problem is, that learning gets thrown out the window when the levels decide it wants to amp the difficulty artificially by endlessly throwing enemies at you. I could not tell you how many times I’ve cleared an area, just to have five more enemies spawn out of doors and then continuously do so until I advance forward. And to make matters worse, this seemed to happen randomly as in one run you can breeze on through, while another you have trouble just getting through the first few rooms. It’s not hard, it’s just unfair and there’s no learning around it. And yes, they did tell us that they would spawn out of pink lit doors, but even that rule gets thrown out in the final two missions as advancing would cause enemies just to spawn out of mid-air.
To make matters worse, those enemies that would endlessly spawn would frequently cause the game to crash on the PS4. It seemed to have happened more often when we were engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a ranged enemy closing in, causing the game to freeze and then completely closeout. This was especially frustrating after spending 20 plus minutes in a stage, only for it to crash right near the end. Not a very good experience for us on the PS4, though performance may vary on the other platforms.
The game also features a pre-plan mission stage where you can select perks and items to be stashed in each stage. While a nice idea, we almost found no reason to select anything other than health packs to help us counter the spawn system. Guns were an option, but pointless seeing that those very same guns spawn with enemies and can be picked up after killing them. In truth, they were better off leaving all these items as general pick-ups in the levels rather than giving us the option to add them. There’s also a replay feature that plays the whole level out in cinematic form, though due to the hexagonal movements it looks awkward and severely unpolished.
The Legend of Baba Yaga
The reason why I love John Wick films so much is that they try to keep you in the dark on the world, thus creating mystery. There’s a whole system at play with how the continental works in the world of John Wick, and the character himself has earned a reputation. One so high that he’s described as the guy you send to take down the Boogeyman himself. To say the least, the movies are absolutely amazing with the way they’re able to tell a story without actually telling us what it is. Looking at John Wick Hex, this actually gives us a different view at John Wick himself, Whereas in the film, he starts off as a retired assassin, here he’s in his full glory, earning the title Baba Yaga. I won’t say it’s an extraordinary one, because the premise of it is apparent, but it’s one that falls in line with the rest of the films. I enjoyed it despite the visuals not looking so great, and strangely enough for a small title as Hex is, the team somehow managed to secure some top name voice actors. Troy Baker voices Hex, the main villain of the game, but returning characters Winston and Charon are both voiced by their respective actors. Yeah, you read right, they got both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick to lend their voicing talents for John Wick Hex. How can anyone hate that?
As fun as I found the gameplay and story to be, the game lacks a decent amount of polish that can honestly be fixed with some post-launch updates. There’s just too much frustration that goes into dealing with the technical aspect of things, and a lot of poorly designed mechanics that hamper the gameplay. And at $20, you are only really getting a play it through once experience as there’s not much of a reason to go back and play as there are no unlockables and only one additional difficulty. I do hope the developers get a chance to take another crack at the series as I feel they understand what a John Wick game needs to be. For now, I would maybe suggest you hold off for a few patches or a fire sale on the game.
- Fun gameplay that really tries to put you in the shoes of John Wick
- A stellar cast. I mean, they got both actors from John Wick, Lance Reddick (Charon), and Ian McShane (Winston). How? Who knows, but it’s fantastic.
- Loved the story
- Poor performance on the PlayStation 4
- The gameplay gets bogged down by troubling mechanics.
- Boring music
- Pointless pre-planning stage
- Unpolished replay system
A review copy was provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4. You can read SP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.