John Wick Hex has to be one of the most unorthodox, unexpected pitches for a major licensed property of all time.
You’d think the concept would write itself – either a fast-paced, bullet-filled first-person shooter or an adventurous third-person romp chock filled with action. Ask most studio execs how they’d see this go and their gut instinct would almost certainly be to compare it to a Stranglehold or a DOOM.
When I chatted to the team at Gamescom last year, however, they were keen to stress how supportive and excited Lionsgate were by the concept of Hex. And when I got hands on with it back then, my mind was blown by just how satisfying it all was.
I came away from that presentation a little perplexed, but also massively reinvigorated and genuinely excited by what the future of licensed games could – and should – be.
This isn’t so much about the blood, guts, and thunder you see in the film’s amazingly choreographed sequences which are now the stuff of legend, but it’s about the art of combat, the essence of war, and closely examining John’s timing and strategies.
One of the things I noticed immediately is the almost diagonal-like movements. Watch the films – the way John takes corners – the movement of his head, the stature he holds as he enters a new room. Take note of how he holds his gun, the way he moves his body, and even the way he reloads.
Hex is a great study, perfectly capturing all of that, and it forms the basis of the game, which is both a smart and fascinating approach for a franchise that is full to the brim with glory kills aplenty.
Yes, John Wick Hex is still all about shooting guns, effective striking, timely takedowns, and expert positioning, but it’s also a game of waiting, choosing the right technique for each situation, and picking the opportune moment to look after yourself.
Let’s break this down. In Hex, you have a health bar, focus bar, and an ammo bar running along the bottom. The ammo bar is obvious in that once your clip is emptied, you’ll either need to reload if you have a magazine or pick up another gun off a body or in a stash.
Health will deplete if you’re shot or hit, so you’ll need to use precious bandages to look after yourself in a moment of quiet.
Focus, meanwhile, forms the basis of your actions. For instance, John can crouch and roll around to get out of harm’s way, but each time he does that, he’ll lose some focus. Eventually, you’ll have to stop and refocus yourself when enemies aren’t crawling all over you.
It’s interesting to note that all three of these bars will carry over between chapters, so if you were at death’s door at the end of the last chapter, you’ll start the next in the same spot. Likewise, if you have no ammo, you’re going to need to find a gun, and fast.
Now John can use some hand to hand combat to help him out in a pinch – you can takedown enemies, strike them, and even parry their attacks, but that won’t always help you as some enemies are brawlers and much more resistant to attacks than those carrying guns.
And all of this is determined by the two timelines, the top one being John’s actions and the bottom one his enemies. Some actions will take John longer than others, which is where the strategy element comes in. In some ways, you’re playing the timeline above you, not the game in front of you.
For instance, throwing your gun at an enemy – while that might seem a last resort thing to do – is actually one of the quickest actions in the game, and is sometimes all you have time for. This will daze an enemy for a while, giving you a chance to either go in for the kill, or deal with any other foes that might be around.
John can also creep up on enemies, taking them down quietly so as not to draw attention to himself and even wait for the opportune moment if you know an enemy is near and you want to ambush them unexpectedly.
Hex is just a lot of surprising and satisfying fun and you can tell it’s a true Mike Bithell game with quippy dialogue and intricate strategy that will occasionally remind you of the excellent Volume.
But it also stays authentically Wick with the beautifully presented comic book style, the flashy neon lighting, and the mix of gentle and skin-crawling symphonies that bring out the goosebumps. They’ve even got some of the original cast in to really lend an air of legitimacy to the proceedings.
So, yes, you could have been made to feel like John Wick by running around a vibrant nightclub in first person view, double-tapping a pistol, jumping out of windows, and having epic bare knuckle brawls, but there’s something about Hex that actually goes a step further than that.
Now you actually have to think like John, and when you view the replay at the end of each level, you actually see just how close you are to the man himself. It does truly help you understand what the team were going for here and why it actually works so well.
There will almost certainly be the John Wick shooter that people expect at some point down the road, and I’m sure it’ll be great. But now that I’ve played Hex, I’m no longer sure that’s the best way to encapsulate the essence of what makes these films so great.
The more I play Hex and understand it, the more I love it. And when more and more enemies come, as the game starts to feel more and more like the films, barely giving you any respite or chance to catch your breath, the closer I feel like I’m connecting to the character.
The concept of John Wick Hex is genius and it works better than any of us could have imagined.
John Wick Hex is out now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Reviewed on PS4
Code Supplied by Good Shephard