It feels like Keanu Reeves is literally everywhere right now. Microsoft may have brought the internet’s favourite Matrix veteran on-stage for some Cyberpunk 2077 news at E3, but that wasn’t the only game with some Keanu Reeves related action at the show. John Wick, the smash-hit action movie franchise that’s partly responsible for the renaissance of Reeves we’ve been experiencing this year, has got a video game spinoff coming down the pipe. It isn’t some action shooter with bullet-time and Arkham-style combat, though. Instead, it’s a small-scale tactical game from the mind of indie darling Mike Bithell. Oh, and it’s absolutely incredible.
Sure, when you think of John Wick, your mind instantly goes to picturing all of the wild gunkata and hand-to-hand madness that he gets up to in those films. Rather than adapting that action for the keyboard & mouse, though, Mike Bithell and Good Shepherd Entertainment had a different approach in mind. John Wick Hex instead gives you the tools to methodically plan each and every one of these badass actions, putting you in the mind and shoes of Mr. Wick himself better than any real-time action game could.
Imagine a top-down version of Superhot, or a video game interpretation of that bit from the Sherlock Holmes movie where Robert Downey Jr. plans his next ten moves in his head before instantly executing them. You move across hex-spaces through a series of small environments that are littered with enemies, but when you move, they move. Encounter an enemy and you have a variety of actions you can perform, from shooting them to grabbing them, tossing your gun or even rolling out of the way.
Each of these actions takes a certain amount of time to set up, and a certain amount of time right afterward to actually occur. The trick to John Wick Hex is making sure your actions occur before the enemy can perform their own, otherwise you’re left open to getting shot, being parried and all other kinds of nastiness. A time bar along the top of the screen constantly shows you the length of your next action, and compares it to bars just beneath that track the timing of actions being performed by any enemies on-screen. The ability to quickly compare like this makes it quick and simple to strategise, adapt, and overcome.
That’s at the heart of John Wick Hex: quick and simple tactical action. Your toolset is compact, yet versatile. You control just one character with a handful of ranged, melee, and defensive option, and because of this, I never felt myself being overwhelmed by my options when encountering a new enemy. If ranged attacks didn’t work, I’d check my melee options. If all else fails, I’d evade and escape. After just a couple missions to practice and learning, I found myself totally comfortable with the unique tactical gameplay, and instantly addicted to the free-form chaos that ensued.
There are a lot of great visual touches that help make things as comprehensible and easy to follow as well. The art style of the game has a sharp, cel-shaded aesthetic that makes enemies clearly contrast with the environment. Graphical details even feed into the game design, like the fact that jacketed enemies always carry guns while those without jackets will always be melee-attackers. Again, it’s all in aid of making everything quick and easy to assess and act upon.
There’s a lot of thought and care put into John Wick Hex, when a spinoff for the film series could have very easily just been a quick Unreal Engine action shooter rush-job. Mike Bithell has taken his talents for sharp game-design and unique ideas and applied them to an iconic franchise for an unforgettable combo. John Wick Hex is sleek, simple, and super addictive. My time with the brief hands-on demo was already a blast, so I can’t wait to see what the full game has in store.