September 16, 2019

Preview: John Wick Hex

As someone who can’t always keep up with the pace needed to play first person shooters and look cool, one of my favorite things about 2016’s Superhot was the ability to play the game at your own leisurely pace, analyze roughly how long you had to make cool specific moves, and to slowly play through dramatic action set pieces as a puzzle, watching them back at full speed afterwards and seeming like you’d done something unbelievably cool. Allowing the player to stop enemies from moving by not moving yourself made recreating cool action set pieces attainable, and the pace of replays made the end result seem dramatic and controlled.

Having played through the opening sections of John Wick Hex at a recent press event, I kept being reminded of that aspect of Superhot, for both better and worse. While I don’t think this strategic John Wick game nails that feeling as well as Superhot did in its current state, it certainly feels like that’s the kind of adaptation of the action movie franchise this wants to be. Give players plenty of time to plan out their elaborate murder ballet, then watch it back and hopefully feel like you created a respectable real time John Wick action scene.

John Wick Hex is a grid based strategy game based on the John Wick movies starring Keeanu Reeves. The basic idea is you play as Keeanu in a nice suit, wandering through streets murdering people while managing positioning and meters. Movement on PC is handled by clicking on locations to move to, revealing more of the map as new things enter your line of sight. If you have line of sight on a target, you can shoot, with a percentage chance of success or failure. If you’re right next to someone, you can melee attack them to conserve ammo or reposition yourself. You can crouch for added stability or to leap and roll out of harm’s way, you can throw your empty gun at enemies to stun them and give yourself an opening to attack, but the interesting core of the game is definitely its timeline system.

John Wick Hex is a turn based game, on a real time timeline. What this means is that after each of your actions the game pauses for you to decide what to do next, but different actions will take different amounts of in game time to occur. It’s quicker to throw your gun than to line up a shot and shoot at the enemy. It’s quicker to dodge roll away than it is to run. When you go to select an in game action, you will see up the top of the screen not only how long the action will take to start, but also how long it will take to cool down, and how long it will take before other characters take their actions.

This is initially a bit of an information overload, particularly because this demo was missing the tutorial which will apparently exist in the full game, but I can see what it’s going for. By giving the player far more information and control over success or failure than they would really have in this situation, it makes it easier to pull off the ludicrous combat moves that you see in the films. If you can see that an enemy can shoot you before you have time to shoot them, you can check their percentage odds of hitting you. If those odds are high, you can check what you do have time for, either to 100% get to safety or drop those damage odds. You at all times have all the information you need to escape situations where you are impossibly cornered, and there is something really cool about that. It took a little getting into the rhythm of the game, but by the final couple of levels of the demo I felt like I* had the hang of it.

What is currently a little bit messy is the replay system, which aims to string together your actions and create a cool cutscene to watch sped up in a similar method to games like Superhot. The problem is, it fails to have the level of polish you might hope for. All enemies shot to death are gut shots rather than any stylised headshots to look like you were an effective assassin, rolls across the arena to pick up new weapons show up as wandering needlessly off track for nothing in the replay, and at least at present the animations are a little unpolished. The idea is fab, but it could benefit from some polishing up, maybe a slightly snappier pace, and maybe not showing the full gameplay, cutting past non combat diversions.

For those looking for extra challenge, the game has a mode where you still play turn based rounds, but you have a five second timer to make choices between actions, dramatically increasing the pace for those looking for a more real time experience.

While my time with John Wick Hex was fairly brief, the game certainly shows promise. If you like the idea of a strategy game with plenty of info about real time action usage, and replays after the fact showcasing your work, this may well be worth keeping an eye on. On some of the later levels where I had a better idea of what I was doing some of the replays looked pretty cool, and I can certainly see in places what this game hopes to be at its best when it releases. If it can execute properly on the concept, this could be a really fun little game.