It's just crazy enough to work.
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John Wick films are riveting to watch because of how fluid and precise all of Keanu Reeves' moves are. You get a sense that he's always one step ahead, able to predict the next movements of his foes and adjust accordingly. It's not always perfect though; John gets battered and bruised when he makes an error, reminding him that death is just a second away should he not maintain a death-dealing rhythm. With Bithell Games' interpretation of this action franchise, all these pillars of John Wick's combat are upheld, which is surprising given the turn-based nature of John Wick Hex.
John Wick Hex puts you in control of the titular assassin during his lucrative time as an assassin before any of the films, when John's skills were at their sharpest. You overlook the action from above, moving John around the linear stages by clicking on points for him to move to. Each action takes up time, represented by a bar on top of the screen that lets you easily see what commands you've enacted, and how long they will take to execute down to the second.
Directly underneath this is another timeline for enemy actions, letting you compare how long their moves will take in comparison with yours. While time is paused between your turns, you can cycle through each of your available moves and get an idea of how long it will take to execute in the timelines above. This lets you make the best decision possible for the scenario, calculating your actions so that you can pull off a headshot on an enemy before they get to return fire, or just as quickly duck behind cover before poking out on the other side to return a shot.
Despite being turn-based, John Wick Hex lets you take turns so quickly that it's easy to string multiple actions together fluidly once you feel more comfortable with the repertoire of offensive actions open to you. It felt great to throw my handgun across a small courtyard to stagger an enemy about to fire at me, then use the afforded time to take down another enemy close by before picking up their handgun and finishing off the previous one. When strung together Hex flows by much faster than you might expect for a strategy game, while still pushing clever decision making to the forefront of its gameplay.
John Wick Hex aims to make you feel like your scripting one of the many action sequences in one of the films. Each small decision you make influences the full symphony of death that John orchestrates, with a feature at the end of each level letting you see your actions unfold in real-time. Bithell Games co-founder, Mike Bithell, explained that they were also careful to ensure this approach made logical sense. Games like XCOM will often introduce randomization in what should be a certain situation, which is one example where Hex makes some changes based on their title character.
"It's the logic of the fight that when you're watching as a viewer, you think, yeah, that seems how you would fight, and that's the driving principle of every choice we're making is, does this feel like it's sensible?" explained Bithell. "Like you say, if I'm directly in front of a guy, the chance of me hitting him is 100% every time. Because it is. If I'm John Wick, he would not miss at this range. One of our starting assumptions with the game was that we thought that John Wick never misses. You go back, watch the movie, he totally does, but he misses in places where that feels logical."
So far Hex feels incredibly faithful to its source material, while also being a tactically satisfying turn-based strategy game too.
Bithell was coy regarding just what story Hex was going to tell, given that it is detached from the trilogy of films out now. But he did say that Lionsgate has given him and his team a lot of freedom to experiment with both their own story and its effect on the series' mythos, allowing them to tell a tale that Bithell says will be surprising to fans.
John Wick Hex excels so far at making you feel like the ultra-instinctive and clinical assassin that Wick is. It will be crucial to see how its enemy variety and level-design both test your strategies as you become more comfortable with your abilities. But so far Hex feels incredibly faithful to its source material, while also being a tactically satisfying turn-based strategy game too.