review:-john-wick-hex-–-stylish-turn-based-action-with-too-many-rough-edges

Review: John Wick Hex – Stylish Turn-Based Action With Too Many Rough Edges

John Wick Hex is a rather clever turn-based action/strategy effort that sees you step into the blood-caked boots of Keanu Reeves’ stylish and unstoppable killing machine – a man who’s always ready, willing and more than able to punch, kick, shoot and fling his gun at the heads of as many bad guys as it takes to do the bidding of the High Table of Assassins.

There are some really neat ideas and a nifty time-manipulation mechanic at the core of this one that can do a great job of making you feel as though you’re taking part in carefully choreographed fight sequences straight out of the movies – however, it’s all held back somewhat by slightly unreliable mechanics, janky character animations and a lack of variety running through its seven somewhat samey levels.

The story that’s told here ties nicely into the events of the John Wick movie franchise, and fans will no doubt be pleased to see the likes of Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprise their roles as Charon and Winston, with Troy Baker also joining in the fun as the titular Hex, an angry man with a bloody score to settle. It’s all told through graphic novel-style cutscenes that bookend each of the action-packed levels and, although it doesn’t particularly go anywhere interesting or throw up any real surprises, it certainly gives proceedings a nice air of authenticity having the actors from the movies lend their voices to the tale – and Austin Wintory’s score does a fantastic job of setting the right mood.

Kicking off with a very quick tutorial, John Wick Hex wastes no time in flinging you into its turn-based battles, giving you a quick overview of its tricksy timeline mechanic, tactical options, movement, focus points, gunplay and so forth. Upon jumping into a level, you’ll find yourself in a Superhot-style world where time is paused until you make a movement. You pick your way across enemy-infested areas via nodes and slowly reveal your surroundings which are covered in a fog of war that hides your foes beyond a certain distance. Once you’ve got your eye on a bad guy, you can choose to take them out by shooting from range – an action which will draw the attention of anyone within earshot – or, more preferably, get up close and personal for some of Wick’s signature CQC bad-assery.

Where shooting an enemy may be loud, it’s also quick and easy, and doesn’t cost you any of your precious focus points – a vital resource for pulling off close-range strikes, takedowns or flashy stunt-rolls that can pull you quickly out of range of a bullet, foot or fist. Focus points can be replenished by finding a quiet spot and some space to refocus Wick, an action which results in him shaking his head in a very «woah, dude» Keanu way, giving you a fresh bar of points with which to take down anyone dumb enough to get too close.

Every single action you take in John Wick Hex also takes a certain amount of time to complete, a factor which is indicated via a timeline sat at the top of your screen. John has his own timeline and any enemies he’s currently engaging with also have their incoming action times represented alongside. An assailant who’s about to pull the trigger or throw a fist at you will have the duration of that action flagged up, giving you the opportunity to cycle through your choices in order to find a counter-measure that can be pulled off quick enough to beat them to the punch or interrupt their action. A parry is a quick option that will beat an incoming attack if you’re fast enough to get it in, for example, and simply stepping to the nearest node, crouching or rolling is a fairly reliable way of dodging a bullet.

The more complex the manoeuvre you want to pull off, the longer it takes to complete, with bandaging up wounds to heal yourself, reloading your gun or performing sick takedowns the most expensive options in this regard. It’s all very simple to understand and, when it’s flowing well, it does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re a stone-cold killer capable of taking down a gangster, stunt-rolling across the floor to pick up a discarded gun and rising to your feet just in time to throw it at an incoming goon, nailing him right between the eyes before finishing him off with some CQC. Once you’ve completed a level, you can then watch the entire thing back in a replay from various camera angles, an element that would have really added an addictive, perfectionist aspect to things if it wasn’t for the fact it looks so glitchy and janky as it plays back your performance.

Indeed, there’s a level of jankiness here that really begins to eat into your enjoyment of John Wick Hex as time goes on. Animations are stiff and shoddy, replay camera angles are glitchy and enemies have a tendency to disappear into the fog of war when it seems you should definitely still be able to see them. More frustratingly, bad guys also often appear, as if out of nowhere, from a direction you’ve just been through and cleared out; this leads to frustrating deaths, with your best-laid plans falling apart in the process; stealth comes across as rather pointless when you get caught out by some unseen foe emerging right in front of your face.

As we already mentioned, there’s also a real lack of variety to proceedings; the core gameplay is undoubtedly quite fun, but what you’re doing in the opening level is more or less exactly what you’ll be doing by the time things wrap up some six or seven hours later. Yes, there are some tougher armoured bad guys who take more of a beating and a handful of bosses who you’ll need to grapple with in order to whittle down their focus levels before finishing them off but, overall, you’ll find yourself utilising the same small number of manoeuvres against the same small selection of grunts from start to finish. Randomized enemy patrol routes help to alleviate this repetition to an extent, and this is the kind of game that encourages you to perfect a level from start to finish, but – especially for the rather steep asking price on Switch – there really isn’t a lot to this one when all is said and done.

Performance in this Switch port is, thankfully, on a par with the PC and PS4 versions of the game with everything running smoothly in both docked and handheld modes – so if you’re already a fan you’ll be pleased to find this one arriving here in decent shape – but we just can’t help wishing there was more care taken with the finer details as this is so close to being a cracking little movie tie-in. With a bit more fluidity to those animations and replays, more variety over the seven levels on offer, some meaningful stealth and enemies who perform a tad more reliably overall, this would be an easy recommendation. As it stands, it’s a very clever idea that’s fun for a time, but winds up feeling fairly middle-of-the-road thanks to some disappointingly clunky execution.

Conclusion

John Wick Hex is a clever turn-based strategy offering with some cool mechanics that, when everything comes together, can absolutely make you feel like you’re Keanu Reeves’ unstoppable assassin, kicking, punching and shooting your way through an endless procession of hapless goons. However, there’s an unpolished element to proceedings, with a lot of repetition across the seven levels on offer, janky animations, shoddy replays and some unreliable AI behaviour that begins to grate after a time. With some more variety and a touch of polish, this could have been a really nice little movie tie-in, however, as it stands it’s just alright; a brilliant idea that needed more time in the oven.

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