A stylised timer turn-based strategy action game based in the world of John Wick, by Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell? Well, that is all you really need to know isn’t it? Of you pop, buy this game on PS4 or PC and enjoy.
That’s enough right? No? Apparently the SEO suggests I need to write a bit more, so I suppose I better preach to the choir.
Mike Bithell is one of those names of whom you take notice of whenever he produces something new. To see his name attached to anything is a sign that it will be good. Like many I first became aware of Bithell with 2012s sublime Thomas Was Alone.
Managing to bring raw emotion from a game so minimal is was literally made up of 4-side shapes. It put many other attempts at narrative to shame. That was followed up by the excellent and criminally under-rated Volume and then two other shorts Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular.
Sorry, yes John Wick Hex. Honestly I cut so much above, as this was nearly me gushing about Mike Bithell for an entire article. I am stable Mike, no need to worry. I just respect you is all. Please answer my calls!
When John Wick Hex was announced it was totally out of left-field. How on earth does a film about ultra-stylised violence translate into a turn-based strategy game?
If I had to describe the game, I’d say it is a isometric Superhot styled turn-based game. Also taking some cues from Frozen Synapse an games like that too. However, John Wick Hex feels a lot easier that those particular games and that is for the best.
You’re presented with a level you must move John Wick through. You can only move a set number of spaces and perform an action. It is turn based, so time stops whilst you make your decisions. But every action you take has a time allocated to it. It is this time bar at the top of the screen that is vitally important to your planning and strategy.
Early levels are fairly forgiving in the grand scheme of things, but didn’t feel like it at the time. I barely scraped through and at times had to start again due to many failures. There is a thought that because this is a John Wick licensed game, then all guns blazing is the order of the day. So I took many risks.
Well, I learned my lesson fairly sharpish and took another approach. Not a stealthy one, but a more considered one. Learning when best to use a gun, when to go close quarters, when to hide, when to move. But also learning to take my time to consider my surroundings. It becomes very easy to get pinned down by many enemies and ruin your run at any point.
What is vital is learning to adapt. Because as much as you plan, you’ll need to think on the fly and change how you approach any situation. Weapons are super finite and when you empty a pistol, you’ll need to quickly get one from a downed enemy. You could even find a scenario where you are weaponless and again need to adapt. It is all very clever and makes you work for the right to clear a level.
Yet, when you do get through a level, you feel you have accomplished something and have worked hard to get there. I mentioned Superhot earlier because there are some parts that are similar. The time pause and low-poly style. But one thing that gives it that same feel is the real-time playback of your completed run.
The idea is sound, but it is the one part of the game that doesn’t actually work for me. The animations in real-time look stilted and awkward instead of the smooth choreography you’d want to see based on the gun-fu from the movies. I do get what was being tried here, but it just misses the mark.
It is the only real negative of the experience though, as the game provided a great time throughout the eight or so hours I played for. This is another game where I feel it is one and done though. I could have gone back and tried to play it on a harder difficulty, but I didn’t feel the desire, as I was challenged enough on my first play.
John Wick Hex provides a good time and is certainly worth a play if you are interested in the genre. Whether it is approachable enough for John Wick film fans alone is another question altogether. I am not sure it is, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, then you will be rewarded.
Update: December 2020
I have been lucky enough to play John Wick Hex all over again for the Nintendo Switch port. I can safely say that it still holds up and transfers rather well to handheld too.
Having played through on the PS4 initially, my biggest gripe was being tied to the TV in the living room, the only one we have in the flat. So I had to battle with my son, daughter and partner for TV time. So the opportunity to play it all again in handheld is welcomed.
There are once again issues with text size, but this isn’t as bad as in other games ported to the system. It would be remiss of me however not to mention it, as it is still a bit of a problem. Albeit one I forgot about pretty soon into the game.
The episodic nature of levels means that John Wick Hex feel ideal for the Switch and if you’ve not jumped in yet, then you really should. Mike Bithell continues to produce wonderful titles and this is no exception.
Would a port of The Solitaire Conspiracy be asking too much?