STAFF REVIEW of John Wick Hex (Xbox One)

Saturday, January 23, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

John Wick Hex Box art I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to play John Wick Hex, as we all know the reputation that licensed movie based games tend to have. While there have been a few decent games based on movies, they are far and few in between and usually disappoint, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from John Wick Hex. Truth be told, I had only watched the original movie, so I had to do some “research” and catch up on the trilogy before playing. After three John Wick movies under my belt in a single day, I was ready to dive in and become The Baba Yaga.

The John Wick movies was brilliantly performed by Keanu Reeves, giving us a glimpse of what the life of a former assassin is like. Not just any assassin either, one of the most feared from anyone that knows his name and pedigree. If you were on his list to eliminate, there’s really nothing you could do, regardless of the size of your gang. If you’ve not seen the movies, they surprised me with not just your typical action, but how brutal Mr. Wick could be with direct headshots and his fighting abilities. John Wick Hex looks to recreate this action, trying to have you think strategically, not simply going in guns-a-blazing like most action games, but instead using precise and methodical decisions and actions.

Set prior to the events of the movies, this adventure has John on a mission long before meeting Helen, trying to rescue Winston and Charon from a new villain, Hex. While I didn’t expect Keanu to reprise his role for John in a game, which he didn’t, the infamous Troy Baker does voice the antagonist, Hex. Shockingly though, Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston and Lance Reddick as Charon, adding some true authenticity to the John Wick experience.

John Wick is a professional hitman, taking out his enemies with complete precision and brutality. If you’ve seen the movies you’ll know what I’m talking about. John Wick Hex tries to recreate the action from the films, giving you control of Wick’s signature ability to take out anyone, regardless of the odds or how outnumbered he may be. Every move you make has consequences though and takes time, so you’re going to have to think and plan ahead, as John Wick Hex isn’t your typical action shooter game.

I fully expected a typical action game where I was going to be John, blasting his way through countless enemies to get to his target, like in the movies, but Hex is nothing as I expected. Instead, the gameplay revolves around time-based actions and movements where you need to plan ahead nearly every action beforehand, almost like a game of chess, but filled with guns and death. As you progress through the 6ish hour campaign, you’ll come across new locations and unlocks, but you’ll always have to be deliberate in every action you take, as you can’t play this like other shooters.

Movement is done on a hex-like grid, showing where you can move, though most of the locations are interior hallways and buildings, so the decision for hex-based instead of a regular grid feels odd at times, with an isometric view. Ammunition is also limited, which is realistic, but will cause a lot of frustration when you run out of ammo mid-fight. This also means you’ll need to take out your enemies and use their weapons against them, but even picking up guns and shooting takes time, which is what Hex is all about; managing your time.

Now, in the movies John is basically unstoppable, not invincible, but can take out nearly an infinite amount of enemies regardless of the odds or what’s at his disposal. In Hex though, I don’t feel quite as badass as Wick should, as you can become quickly overwhelmed if you become surrounded by more than a few enemies at a time. You have limited ammo and even in close quarters, John doesn’t feel quite like he should when compared to the movies. I fully expected that I would be able to combo from gunfire to strikes to takedowns, but it’s not really laid out as such. Instead, you need to make numerous smaller movements, all while trying to survive and make your way to your objective, killing anyone that gets in your way.

As you begin your journey, you’re given a light tutorial that shows you the basics of how to fire, move and melee, but not much effort went into teaching you how to strategize your actions. Because every action and movement costs a certain amount of time, represented by a bar at the top of the screen, you’ll see how long it takes to move John to a specific hex position, reload, strike, takedowns, throwing guns and every other action. You don’t gain any new moves or abilities as you progress, so all of the move sets you learn in the beginning is all you’ll be able to do throughout the rest of Wick’s quest to save his colleagues.

Now, regardless of being able to become overwhelmed quickly by swarms of enemies and the lack of being able to combo and chain actions together, it still feels like I’m John Wick when things go right. That being said, it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to really understand how to properly play Hex, more specifically, how to manipulate the poor AI once you learn how it works. When you start to plan your moves with precision and purpose, Hex starts to come together as the Wick simulator that I expected, even if it’s not quite as badass as Keanu in the films.

Learning how to best utilize the time for every action is how you’ll be successful with John. Enemies have the same time constraints that John abides by as well. Even though it’s played with a top down isometric view, John can only see enemies that are within his visual range. If you’re hiding behind a corner or wall, you won’t know what’s on the other side, as the same goes for doorways. Once an enemy is in sight, time stops and goes into a pseudo turn based combat which is where you need to watch the timeline at the top to see when John and enemies are going to perform their actions. It definitely takes some getting used to, and I can’t think of another game that does something quite as similar, but totally fits the John Wick combat persona.

One feature I really enjoyed was watching your graceful performance after a level is complete. Once you reach the exit you can watch a replay of every action you did but in real time, as if it was a scene from one of the movies. Now if this was a smooth and fluid replay it would look great, but remember, it’s just replaying all the actions you just performed, so if you ran in spot back and forth, or did weird actions, it shows this as well. Sometimes instead of a scene ripped straight from one of the movies, it’s almost as if I was controlling John like he forgot how to be the infamous Baba Yaga and instead should have Yakety Sax as his soundtrack.

The replays also showcase how janky the animations can be, which I started to notice the more I played. For example, when picking up a new gun, John makes the animation as if he’s already holding it before actually picking it up. The same goes for the melee combat, as it’s clear that specific animations are tied to moves like strikes and takedowns, but it’s all very janky instead of a singular fluid motion going from one enemy to the next. That being said, John has his iconic stance and aim that Keanu performs in the film as he’s moving forward and scanning rooms for any targets.

John Wick Hex utilizes a cel-shaded type of visual aesthetic that feels like it could have come straight out of a stylish comic. You mostly resemble a younger Keanu, but it does look just a little off from a complete resemblance. The audio is done quite well though, with the voice acting done by talented actors across the board, though John not having any lines or voiced by Keanu feels a little empty. By far, the gunplay is the best of the audio experience, as each shot sounds impactful, complimented by that signature Wick brutality with headshots and no mercy.

When it comes to being a John Wick simulator, Hex feels great... eventually. It takes some time to get the hang of the unique timeline mechanics but once you wrap your head around it, you somewhat start to feel like John Wick, even with his limited move set. It has its flaws, but it was still an interesting experience throughout, as I wasn’t expecting an almost puzzle-like experience instead of a straight up shooter.

While not the best movie based game out there, John Wick Hex is far from the worst as well. It’s got an interesting story that is cannon within the movies’ timeline, and some of the actual actors, aside from Keanu, reprising their roles adds some authenticity to its commitment of being more than just a simple cash grab most movie based games tend to be. While you might not feel completely like the deadly Baba Yaga from the movies, you’ll still feel like quite a badass hitman once you learn John Wick Hex’s intricacies.

**John Wick Hex was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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