John Wick Hex plays like a top-down Superhot but isn't nearly as entertaining as the film.
John Wick Hex isn't nearly as entertaining as the films it's based on but definitely delivers an equally high body count. Developed by Bithell Games, creators of indie titles like Thomas Was Alone and Subsurface Circular, John Wick Hex plays like a board game version of Superhot viewed from a top-down perspective, but unfortunately unrefined animations and a fluctuating difficulty curve keep this movie-based shooter from being as fun as it could be.
In John Wick Hex, players take on the titular role of Keanu Reeves' John Wick, a former and current assassin tasked with finding and confronting the game's villain, the also-titular Hex, who narrates the story both through comic book-style animated cutscenes and with voiceovers during gameplay. The entire game is coated with a slick, distinctive graphic novel cel-shading reminiscent of the PlayStation 2's XIII, and while it doesn't do a great job recreating the stark realism of the tie-in film's cinematography, John Wick Hex's lanky-legged art style is enough to make the title look unique.
The game of John Wick Hex is played in seconds. Two seconds, to be precise, displayed at all times at the top of the screen in a handy timeline format which not only includes information about John's own upcoming actions but the intentions of enemies around him as well. In the best John Wick scenes, Keanu Reeves' reflexes can at times feel almost precognitive as his character flips around, drives over, kicks back, and shoots enemies with grace and ease in an almost superhuman manner. In the game, as John Wick themselves, the player can see it all coming.
Like Superhot, every step and every action in John Wick Hex moves time forward, but players can take as long as they want deciding on their next move. Much like an intense table-top game of Stratego, John must take his time and study the available free areas, enemies, and environmental hazards if he wants to make it through levels unscathed. Complicating matters is the vision cone, which obscures any and all enemies players can't see from their current location. Thankfully this works in 360 degrees and is not limited to the direction John is facing, but it means enemies may sneak up on him from a previously cleared room due to some levels featuring apparently unlimited re-spawning opponents.
For most levels, stealth is both encouraged and ultimately fruitless as eventually a door will open somewhere off screen and an enemy will begin shooting, thus alerting everyone to John's presence. Individual levels are split up by location, with each location featuring a handful of different stages for the player to fight their way though. Health and ammo are carried over between stages, and although the game allows John to stash bandages and extra clips in select levels throughout each location one hard stage can still ruin a run if the player makes more than a few stupid decisions.
Difficulty in John Wick Hex comes in waves. Some levels introduce enemies one at a time, making them almost comically easy to deal with. Other levels introduce multiple enemies at the same time, and since John can only ever do one thing at any one moment it becomes exponentially harder to deal with them without taking damage. While the former may be a statement that one could make about most games, especially those in the shooter genre, it's John Wick Hex's limited options for engagement which make large encounters with enemies frustrating rather than exhilarating.
John can shoot, he can move, he can crouch, hit, push, parry, and he can perform a "takedown" on enemies. If he's out of bullets, or if the player is just feeling froggy, he can also throw his gun at opponents, but another one will need to be picked up if he wants to fire again. Enemies have both stamina and health meters, with select boss characters needing to be worn down with melee attacks before John is able to kill them properly. The takedown move is particularly useful as it is a one-hit kill for most of the weaker enemies and also lets the player direct where John lands after the move's animation is over, often allowing for a chain reaction-style mode of play where a room full of low-level enemies can be taken down in quick succession without ever having to do anything other than the same move over and over.
Upon completion of a level players are given the option to watch a replay of their actions, now played at full speed in normal time and shot from theoretically cinematic angles. This mechanic is a fantastic idea for turn-based games in theory, showing what actually occurred as opposed to the stilted, slowed-down "game" version the player just experienced. In practice a combination of incomplete animations and player intent turn these segments into embarrassing pantomimes of a John Wick action scene rather than the stylized embellishment they would like to be. Many times, even when not holding a gun, Keanu Reeves stands hunched on screen, his hands clasped around an invisible pistol, apparently because that's his default stance. Enemies who lie writhing on the ground appear suddenly to be standing straight up when John decides to strike them, seemingly because that's the place they need to be when that animation plays out. There are no transitional frames between these actions, they just occur suddenly. In regular gameplay, from top-down and zoomed out, this is fine. When replayed at normal speed and viewed through close, dramatically angled lenses, it just looks silly, not part of the world of John Wick, and since these scenes are delivered as a reward for completing a level the fact that they ruin any dramatic tension a player may have somehow experienced is far ruder than Halle Berry's dogs could have ever been.
John Wick Hex, for all its cinematic aspirations, lacks the refinement to grasp what it's trying to reach for. Hardcore fans of the action thriller movies may find some enjoyment in stepping into John's shoes for another adventure, but everyone else is likely better off just watching John Wick: Chapter Three - Parabellum again.
John Wick Hex is out October 8th on both Windows and Apple PC. An Epic Games Store code was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.