E3 2019: John Wick Hex

What if I told you that a video game based on the Keanu Reeves action film series John Wick and it wasn’t a first person shooter?

Crazy, right?

What if I told you that this John Wick video game was not a first person shooter but a top-down, tactical shooter like X-COM?

Madness! Deceit!

Those were my thoughts as I spoke to one of the developers at Bithell Games as he put me in front of a preview build of John Wick Hex and while I did my best to be polite and listen to their pitch, I was feeling pretty skeptical about the whole thing. I mean, how do you translate those highly choreographed gunfights into turn-based combat? As it turns out, the tactical nature of the gameplay may be the only system that can accurately capture the feeling of being a one-man army. My initial surprise and confusion eventually gave way to clarity and grand appreciation because the system the Bithell Games has put in place to track movement and action is, in two words, surprisingly brilliant. 

In simple terms, John Wick Hex is a time based, resource management tactical game. Actions like walking, shooting, punching, healing, and silent takedowns are governed by the time it takes to perform them. As you queue up these actions, a timeline superimposed on the top of the screen fills up with a block that runs its course unless interrupted. Furthermore, when John Wick moves and performs these actions, the world and the enemies in it move with him, so John Wick Hex is actually a time based, resource management tactical version of Superhot. Makes total sense right? 

The key to completing a level is maneuvering John Wick in such a way that he can get the drop on enemies, either at close range or at a distance and knowing how to play with time in order to manage large groups of enemies. Certain actions allow you to move out of the way at the last minute (like rolling to avoid getting shot) or stun the enemy, which will break up their action, giving you time to attack. You spend a significant portion of the game staring at the timeline and trying to figure out to the best possible moves to take down goons while sustaining little damage and, if possible, saving bullets because whatever health and ammo remain at the end of one level carries over to the next. Weapons can be picked up in the field from dead enemies and, to my delight, can also be thrown to take others out. 

The mechanics can be a little difficult to wrap your head around when explained on paper but after playing the game for a few minutes, it all completely clicked in my head. What surprised me most was how well this system works in making you feel as empowered and cool like John Wick. Pulling off multiple kills in crowded environments fees awesome and satisfying when you get it just right. And when the level ends, you can watch a seamless, pause-free replay that’ll really make you feel cool as hell. 

John Wick Hex builds itself around an unconventional gameplay scheme that may run counter to the type of mechanics you’d expect from a gun porn movie but when all is said and done, the tactical gameplay works really well. Learning how to manipulate an enemy’s timeline, taking shots, rolling behind cover, and taking out big, tough goons makes you feel like as superhuman and breathtaking as Keanu Reeves. 

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.