To legions of bemused grandparents, ‘John Wick’ probably sounds more like an artisan candle maker than a legendary assassin. Yet for countless gen Zs, Keanu Reeves’ grizzled action hero is their very own Rambo.
Raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at global box offices and spawning more memes than you can shake a murdered doge at, John Wick is one of the most successful action film franchises in decades. It was only ever a matter of time then before Wick’s Hollywood murder sprees got adapted into a shrapnel-studded video game.
While another Keanu Reeves starring game may be generating all the headlines, this month also saw a, er, less convincing version of Keanu’s likeness hitting the Nintendo Switch. Enter John Wick Hex. Featuring an aesthetic that can only really be described as Fortnite smeared with melted playdough, Hex offers a downright bizarre take on John Wick’s kung fu fantasy. It also doesn’t actually star Reeves at all.
So, what exactly is this weird-looking, Keanu-less John Wick game? Well, John Wick Hex is the equivalent to getting a hand poked tattoo rather than a slickly-stylized stencil. It’s shopping at your local bookstore rather than slinging more cash into the Bezos abyss.
In other words, it’s a scrappy little indie game. Ever since the dawn of gaming, movie studios would belatedly hire a 200-strong developer studio to craft a rushed and (forgettable) AAA epic. Yet this time around, IP holder Lionshead opted to stick to their DIY routes. Much like with Lionhead’s indie-studio-helmed Blair Witch game, for their first playable John Wick outing, the film house admirably hired a lone indie developer: British indie darling Mike Bithell.
Unsurprisingly, for a creator best known for penning a heartfelt story about shuffling blobs, Bithell’s vision for a John Wick game is anything but ordinary. While most people would probably envision a John Wick game as something akin to 2003’s blocky PS2 third-person shooter Enter The Matrix, Hex instead transforms John Wick’s captivating carnage into something far more considered – a grid-based strategy title.
For many gamers, I’m sure the idea of inserting a bullet-spitting badass into a turn-based romp will feel borderline blasphemous. Yet, while a third person John Wick shooter was the crowd-pleasing choice, Hex’s grid-based, strategic combat is actually a surprisingly good fit.
The game plays as if you’re living inside the grimacing assassin’s head, weighing up the dangerous scenarios around him in real time. In other words, its stress-inducing strategy formula transforms Wick’s mindless big screen shootouts into something that feels more akin to a game of chess, having the player carefully choreograph a beautiful ballet of bullets and bloodshed.
With each level taking between five and ten minutes to beat, Hex wastes no time in throwing you into the action. At its core, this is an incredibly simplistic game. Yet underneath its janky animations and unsettling-looking character models, there’s a satisfyingly trance-like cadence to its gameplay loop. When your perfectly-hatched plan sees Wick judo throw a goon over his shoulder, roly-poly out of gunfire and lob a revolver at an attacker’s head, Hex really is a thing of beauty. Why? Because where the John Wick films portray Reeves as trigger-happy killer, in Hex, the eponymous action hero paints him as a master tactician.
Instead of just running in all guns blazing like an invincible badass, Hex demands that you think two steps ahead. Much like traditional real time strategy games like Civilization or Age Of Empires, Hex employs a ‘fog of war’, obscuring most of your map’s surroundings until Wick’s field of view expands. This means you never really know what dangers lurk around each corner. Sure, you can roll behind cover and have a good chance of launching a bullet through that henchman’s skull, but will the two rounds in the chamber be enough to survive whatever’s waiting behind that next door? Thanks to scarce bullets and healing items, every few steps you’ll have to weigh up whether you grab a dead goon’s 9mm or hide and re-fill your karate-enabling focus meter.
For hardcore Wick heads, Hex’s prequel set narrative actually offers a surprisingly essential tale. With sharper writing than the films and a predictably solid performance from Troy Baker as the villain, Hex, this interactive outing adds more depth to the largely one-dimensional Wick lore.
Ultimately, the game works because of its inspired reimagining of the action hero shootout. Allowing players to conduct the beautifully orchestrated chaos of Wick’s fight scenes is a novel idea, and it’s one that sees me returning to Hex time and time again.
Albeit, briefly, anyway. Featuring just seven similar maps – each containing multiple submissions – this affordably priced title is hardly going to keep you occupied for days at a time. Yet unlike the PC version that I so regularly neglect, the Nintendo Switch is tailor made for short burst experiences like Hex. Sitting alongside other pick up and play fare like Bad North or Hades, if you can grab this in an eShop sale, there’s a lot to love here.
John Wick Hex is now available on the Nintendo Switch.
Priced at a reasonable £15.99, there is certainly some budget fun to be had in John Wick’s gaming debut. Buoyed by a tense, atmospheric soundtrack and a generous selection of skill upgrades, Hex is just compelling enough to rise above its faults.
It may not be perfect, but this is a game brimming with style and original ideas – an interactive experience that dares to deviate from the norm. And if that’s not worth celebrating in a world of identikit triple AAA epics, we’re not sure what is.
- Unleashing carefully choreographed chaos is hugely satisfying
- The writing is surprisingly good
- The compelling chess-like loop keeps you coming back for more
- Bitesize levels are a perfect fit for Switch
- Janky animations and ghastly character models are an acquired taste
- While fun, Hex is a pretty samey experience
- It’s lack of polish and chess-like gameplay may be a disappointment to some Wick fans