When people think of John Wick, careful and deliberate planning probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The action hero is defined by kinetic battles, stylish gunplay, and a sense of inertia that propels him from one conflict to the next. So, naturally, the best genre fit for a video game adaptation is… strategy? That approach to the license was a surprise when John Wick Hex was announced, but you don’t need to play the game long to see how well it fits.
As you could guess from the name, you control John Wick as he navigates levels arranged on a hex-based grid. Though it’s a tactical game, it isn’t strictly turn-based; instead, it operates on a timeline system, where different actions have different properties. For example, moving one space takes less time than aiming and shooting your gun, which is an important thing to consider since your enemies are bound by the same rules. When foes are nearby, you see all of their timelines at the top of the screen, so you need to weigh your actions against theirs. Can you fire off a shot before they can? If not, can you get out of the way? If not, how can you minimize the damage and put yourself in a more advantageous position?
In the levels we played, John Wick has several options to answer questions like that. He can kneel to increase his accuracy, and from that position, he can also roll (which helps him evade gunfire). From close range, a takedown can stun foes (or kill weaker ones), but this maneuver also comes with a step that allows you to continue moving. This syncs up with one of the core elements of the action scenes in John Wick films; characters are almost always moving, plowing forward and using whatever weapons they can get. When your handgun is out of ammo, you can throw it and use the time it’s in the air (plus the brief stun period if it connects) to charge forward and use a melee attack.
Not all of your arsenal is based on finders-keepers acquisition.. While developer Mike Bithell wouldn’t detail how players can customize their loadouts (or even officially confirm they can), he implied that you will have some way to prepare for missions beyond grabbing whatever you can off bodies. Another thing Bithell couldn’t elaborate on was a grayed-out “Watch Replay” button that appears when a stage is finished. Assuming this feature makes it through to the final release, it seems safe to assume that players will be able to watch a seamless run of the level they just finished, more focused on the rampaging than the tactical consideration.
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There are still deeper options and mechanics to explore, but the bottom line is that these elements all work together to create a sense of action that feels consistent with what makes John Wick cool. Even if the action isn’t happening at pulse-pounding speed, it seems to retain the sense of reaction, momentum, and cleverness that makes the combat in the movies so fun to watch.
We got a good sense of the gameplay in John Wick Hex, but other elements of the project are currently off-limits. Bithell can’t confirm anything about the story or voice cast (like whether Keanu Reeves will be in the game), but we do know that John Wick Hex is a prequel. In the movies, the legendary assassin comes out of retirement; the game is focused on the era before that retirement. While a deeper look into the universe would be cool, this franchise is all about the combat, and John Wick Hex seems to have the right skills in that department.