by Henry Stockdale
reviewed on PC
Worthy of the High Table
Youíd struggle to find anyone unfamiliar with the John Wick films these days. Starring Keanu Reeves, the retired hitman first appeared on film in 2014 to critical acclaim, quickly being followed up by sequels and a comic book series. Itís no surprise then to see Lionsgate Entertainment approve John Wick Hex from Bithell Games, an action strategy game that seeks to replicate the signature look of the franchise. Taking the decision to make this an action/strategy game, itís a move which has paid off brilliantly, as Hex not only achieves this aim but also proves to be incredibly fun.
Myth made real
Set several years before Johnís initial retirement, the game sees him tasked by the underworldís highest authority, the High Table, to investigate a kidnapping of the Continental Hotelís respected owner, Winston, and its concierge Charon. The story is told from the perspective of Hex, a mysterious hitman that many consider to be a myth, acting as the gameís narrator alongside Winston and Charon. Hex seeks to use this attack as a show of force, ultimately aiming to reclaim his fatherís former position on the High Table.
The game is set across seven locations, all of which are broken up into several levels. Every level starts with a ďfog of warĒ style cover on the map, meaning that the player can only see what John sees as he moves across a hex-based grid. Each level contains an end goal, usually to reach the exit point or defeat the boss of the area. Time only moves when you move, so the action pauses until you give John a new command, playing like a mix between XCOM and Superhot. Thereís no time limit to your movements and no difficulty settings, though players looking for the extra challenge can choose the expedited mode that gives you just 5 seconds to complete an action.
Time is of the essence
If you move into a new area and spot an enemy as the fog of war clears, the action will be interrupted and you then decide whether to attack or find cover. Hex takes realistic time considerations for each action, not only including attacks but also reloading your weapon, bandaging your wounds, refocusing and movement. Actions such as crouching will provide cover but also drain Johnís focus, which can be refocused at the cost of time. All attacks will advise of preparation time in grey, followed by the time to execute this action in pink, so you have to be careful as the enemy can interrupt your move by attacking first.
Every attack also includes a probability bar, showing your odds of success for such a move and a rundown of the targeted enemy's stats. Upon approaching an enemy, you can utilise a range of moves to knock them to the floor or stun them. Just like the films, John will always double tap an enemy, so if you choose to shoot them instead, each shot uses two bullets and he can also throw the gun for damage.
With every new area after Chinatown, Hex provides a limited number of gold coins that allow you to purchase buffs for John, such as rolls requiring less focus or decreased penalties on long range shots. Use them whilst youíve got them as unspent coins arenít carried over. You also have limited ammo, with John losing any leftover bullets in your magazine when reloading. Picking up dropped weapons doesnít add to your ammo supply, it just replaces the gun you had. Once a level is completed, you can watch a replay of your moves without the delay between actions, which mimics the feel of the films pretty well.
Itís important to note that your ammo, health and bandage supply donít replenish when you enter a new level within an area. So if you find yourself depleting your stocks quickly, it becomes nearly impossible to beat as you reach the end of the area. You can restart to the beginning of an area, which can be annoying, but thankfully levels are quick to complete. Itís a game that requires patience as the difficulty can be unforgiving, so for anyone planning to blindly charge into rooms full of enemies, Hex is not for you.
What Hex instead offers is a much richer gameplay experience, one which not only captures the essence of the films but does so in a way which proves to be genuinely enjoyable. Itís certainly not an easy experience, as time management becomes critical in later levels of an area. Being resourceful and finding cover is key to survival, as youíll be vulnerable if an enemy finds you whilst healing or reloading.
Itís clear that Bithell Games have polished Hexís presentation to a high degree, with the cel-shaded visuals invoking the franchiseís signature neo-noir look and an energetic soundtrack to complement it. This is boosted by the addition of comic book styled cutscenes and the return of both Iain McShane and Lance Reddick to reprise their roles as Winston and Charon respectively. Sadly, Keanu Reeves does not return to voice John Wick but even without his input, Hex feels at home in the John Wick universe.
A Strategic Call
The decision to make Hex a strategy game was a smart choice, translating Johnís famous precision and actions in a way that an FPS game simply couldnít achieve. Whilst itís a shame that Bithell Games couldnít get Keanu Reeves on board with his co-stars, Hex proves to be a fun experience, one which challenges players but is never unfair in its difficulty. Itís a solid adaptation of the franchise and will leave fans satisfied.
Captures the spirit of the film franchise, An engaging and fun experience, Keeps you hooked with an original story
Difficulty is unforgiving, Short run time