• After completing each mission in John Wick Hex, players are invited to review the results from a cinematic perspective, where it plays out in real time. It's a cool way to recap your tactical efforts. Good Shepherd Entertainment
  • Thus, this gallery includes snippets of various Wick maneuvers and takedowns.
  • All of the blood in these moments is hot pink, not blood red, if that somehow seems more kid-friendly to you.
  • This gallery is taken from an earlier mission, so as to not spoil some later locales.
  • Wick already took down a few perps on the right. Now to finish the room.

Game Details

Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Platform: Windows, Mac
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2019
Price: $20
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Links: Epic Games Store | Official website

Can a proper John Wick video game truly be made? You may look at a film series like John Wick and assume its guns, martial arts, fast cars, and worldwide mafioso hideouts are the stuff of a dream video game.

But for me, I imagine that game's design perspective and start sweating bullets. The character of John Wick is a laser-focused, ultra-durable hit man, all perfect aim and uproarious slapstick. How do you translate that hero's superhuman prowess accurately in a video game yet somehow make it challenging to play? Can a real-time action game, either first- or third-person, ever do that sensation justice without automatically cheating its players into Wick-like perfection?

The first true game based on the series, John Wick Hex, answers this quandary with a clever angle. The films' hero has an uncanny ability to scan and understand an entire room full of bad guys like he's a supercomputer. If he can figuratively slow time down and pick off his foes with precision, couldn't the video game version do the same?

Eyes on the timeline

  • We've seen decades of turn-based tactics games. But we've safely never seen one quite like John Wick Hex. Every mission starts on one edge of a map, divided into hex-shaped movement points.
  • If we elect to move, we get a preview before doing so. Notice that bar at the top? That's a timeline indicator…
  • …and you'll need to mind this at all times, especially when you and an enemy might queue up simultaneous commands.
  • Here, that tiny pink cone coming from John's head is an indicator that your previously scheduled movement or action was interrupted by noticing someone in the distance.
  • As John moves closer to a perp, he can take a between-actions moment to decide how to engage. (It'll be violent.)
  • Lining up a gunshot will cost quite a bit of time but will also likely kill.
  • A quicker option is to throw the pistol in John's hand. That's faster, but while it stuns the foe, that won't kill, and you'll have to spend an extra moment of time to pick a new pistol up.
  • More tutorial text.
  • How long each attack takes matters.
  • Certain maneuvers, particularly your crouching moves, use up a separate "focus" meter. You'll have to spend approximately two seconds of game time to restore spent focus, so use that sparingly.
  • Boss fights are a particularly compelling dance in John Wick Hex, as they force players to get in close, use melee attacks, and then dodge around and fend off weaker thugs before the boss's health is completely drained.
  • Synthesizing all of your available maneuvers.

The resulting video game, as designed by Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone, Volume), has occasionally been described as "John Wick chess," but that description doesn't do this game's best bits any justice. Instead, imagine the tactical movement and combat of classic XCOM games married with a "time moves when you move" twist from Superhot.

The game takes place before the events of the first John Wick film, which means it recalls the titular character's past as a legendary hit man before he "got out." Two of the film's biggest actors, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, appear as voice actors for Winston and Charon, respectively, and they narrate Wick's bloody search to take out a man named Hex. Weirdly, Hex joins the narration crew, which immediately asks a compelling question: how could one of the famed Baba Yaga's targets live to tell the tale?

We eventually find out, but not before leading Wick through seven bloody "chapters" of tactical combat. The above gallery spells out the game's flow and mechanics. Players guide the character of John Wick around a hex grid of spaces in various Wick-appropriate locales, so it's all nightclubs, seedy alleyways, rich villains' outposts, and so on. Time is frozen by default, until players toggle a specific command (walk, crouch, roll, attack), at which point time moves forward both for John and for anyone else in the vicinity. Time will freeze the instant John notices a new perp in his line of sight, as well, at which point you can begin plotting how to kill them. (No, there's no "diplomacy" option for the world's most deadly assassin.)

"Fog of war" fills the air around John, so players must move him forward carefully toward each level's "exit" point (marked by an icon, even through all the fog) and then be prepared to react whenever a foe materializes. Sometimes, players can bee-line to the objective point and be done (though you won't survive if you leave any nearby baddies alive). Other times, the objective point will have an icon indicating that John needs to kill more perps before he can leave. Either way, until John leaves a given zone, foes can materialize from a number of nearby doors and gates, all marked by hot-pink markers, and they, too, are professionals in the killing world.

John's superiority over the other assassins is represented in one clear metric: time. Every Wick action takes a sliver of time less than anyone else in the room, and so long as he minds his position and tactics, he can defeat everyone else in the room without much struggle. The catch is, the odds ramp-up as Wick racks up more victims, so you won't survive without juggling a series of consequence-filled decisions, each taking up approximately half a second of real-time action.

If a few enemies surprise you, the timeline at the top of the screen will indicate which oncoming threat might attack first. Does that mean John should target the first foe in the damage timeline? And does he have time to line up a gun shot? If not, should he throw his pistol instead as a faster but weaker attack? Might he be able to use a foe as a human shield if he spends a limited "focus" point system to crouch and somersault into a different position?

Stylish, refreshing, but maybe a bit too tough

  • The Wick we see in cut scenes is not the best Keanu Reeves facsimile. But these are frozen vignettes, not animated, and they're fine enough in that respect.
  • Ian McShane fares a bit better in his virtual form.
  • Hex, standing here, is one of the narratoRead More – Source