One of the best ever video game movie adaptations comes to PlayStation 4, but the John Wick game is not what you’d expect.
Ordinarily you’d imagine that a video game adaption of John Wick would be huge, but we wouldn’t be surprised if most people had never even heard of John Wick Hex. It was only released on PC last year and doesn’t feature the likeness or voice of Keanu Reeves – instead its stilted, cartoonish graphics are almost laughably bad and probably put most people off before they had a chance to find out it wasn’t even an action game. But it’s not, it’s one of the best new strategy games of this generation and one of the most authentic movie adaptions ever.
We’ll be honest though; John Wick Hex is a staggeringly ugly game. It looks like a tie-in to a comic book series that never was, with exaggerated proportions, stylised colours, and Thunderbirds style animation. We’d say the top-down camera view doesn’t help but not only is it necessary for the gameplay to work but the optional replays at ground level are sadly risible.
The reason the game’s so good is that film company Lionsgate actively searched for someone that would make something other than the usual action game and so signed up British indie developer Mike Bithell, who’s best known for platform puzzler Thomas Was Alone. His original concept was to create something similar to XCOM, but when it was pointed out to him that John Wick doesn’t take turns he came up with something more unique.
While Keanu Reeves is not in the game (although Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are) Bithell was able to work with the films’ fight team to come up with a way of simulating the action of the movies in video game form. Perhaps that would be possible in a Devil May Cry style game, at least for a very high-level player, but more likely it would just devolve into generic, panicked action. In John Wick Hex though, literally every step feels like you’re choreographing your own action scene – where each decision means the difference between life and death.
The game isn’t actually turn-based but instead it runs in real-time and pauses every time you need to make a move or an enemy makes theirs. You move through the maps via points on a hexagonal grid, but where the surrounding area is covered in a fog of war effect, so that you can only see enemies if they’re in your line of sight. The time taken to perform any action, from moving to shooting, is indicated on a timeline at the top of the screen, which allows you to judge when you can safely attack or when you need to get out of the way.
It doesn’t necessarily seem that way at first, but the basics of the gameplay are actually very simple, with the focus firmly on strategy rather than special moves or abilities – a focus meter that depletes when you dodge or engage in melee combat is the closest it gets to that.
And despite our fears, and the fact that the original was designed to work with a mouse and keyboard, the controls translate perfectly well to the PlayStation 4. All you’re doing is clicking between the different nodes of the grid, so the DualShock 4 is able to cope perfectly well as you snap between each one.
Thanks to the graphics, things can get a bit messy, visually, when there are a lot of enemies on screen but since the action is always paused between commands you’ve got plenty of time to work out exactly what’s going on. Apart from the visuals the game’s only other flaw is that the gameplay doesn’t really evolve much as it goes on, although naturally the level layouts become ever more complex and the enemies – including some particularly tough bosses – more dangerous.
Especially at the price, John Wick Hex is an excellent game and the perfect example of how to adapt a movie while capturing exactly what makes it so unique and turning that into engaging, and in this case highly original, gameplay. But because this is an ugly-looking strategy game that seems to have negated the draw of the licence and made John Wick Hex a more difficult sell than it should be. But we wish other movie tie-ins had even half the ambition that this does, no matter what they look like.
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John Wick Hex PS4 review summary
In Short: A fantastic movie adaptation that may not look the part but manages to perfectly translate the action of John Wick into video game form.
Pros: Original and highly engrossing strategy gameplay that’s fast-paced, clever, and not reliant on gimmicks. Perfectly accessible for every type of player and the controls work well on PlayStation 4.
Cons: Awful graphics and generally poor presentation, that occasionally makes it difficult to tell what’s going on. Gameplay doesn’t evolve a lot as the game goes on.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Release Date: 5th May 2020
Age Rating: 16
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