John Wick is about being a badass and avenging puppies. That's all you really need to know about the character, and that's all the knowledge I had when I went in to play John Wick Hex. Bithell Games has taken the character and world of John Wick and turned into a somewhat slow-paced action strategy game, which sounds like the antithesis of the energy John Wick exudes on the big screen with Keanu Reeves. But hold up, I'm here to tell you that John Wick Hex is actually really good, and a genius deconstruction of action the character is known for.
John Wick Hex takes place in a stylized, cel-shaded world where John's moment-to-moment decisions are broken down so the non-superhuman among us can keep up and execute an equally expressive and interesting fight scene. It plays out in the style of an XCOM-like, but with a single character. You'll slowly be moving through stages one or two paces at a time, with a timer at the top of the screen indicating how many seconds - or fragments of seconds - each action you perform takes.
When encountering enemies, you'll also be shown how much time their actions will take, and using that knowledge, you can piece together an effective counter-attack plan. You can delay an opponent's gunshots by throwing your gun at them, but that might not give you the time you need to counter, not to mention you'll lose your gun. You can move behind cover, but it might be out of range. Crouching and rolling will boost your evasion, but nothing is guaranteed. This combat is at its best when you have multiple enemies to deal with, and suddenly each move you make carries enormous weight.
I played the game with Mike Bithell watching over me and explaining the systems at work, all while joking about my eagerness to throw my gun across a room and leave myself defenseless. But hey, if it works, is it stupid? The game becomes intense when you're weighing up the time you have left before they attack, and deciding which of your moves works best in that situation. A push or melee takedown will allow you to move to a neighboring space after the assault, which can be used to evade out of the way of bullets, and of course, you can shoot enemies, but there's no guarantee it'll kill.
You'll be weighing the timer against all the likelihoods of the success of your moves, and as the game went on, I found myself moving faster and faster through levels, but with small steps each time, ready to take on any new enemies before they spot me. You'll find yourself making good use of cover, rolling between bullets, and executing all of John Wick's signature moves one step at a time.
Eventually, I plowed through enough levels to come up against a boss, and even Mike was bemused at how quickly I managed to take him down, with a couple of health kits to spare. This was all early levels in the game, but they made me incredibly hopeful for the final product. And of course, at the end of each stage, you can click a replay button to see all of John Wick's moves you chose play out in real time, stringing together an action-packed ballet of brutality that you choreographed piece-by-piece. And that is the definition of satisfying.
Although John Wick Hex's premise might sound incongruous at first, let me assure you that you need the additional time to keep up with John Wick's amazing skills and reflexes, and here, it works wonderfully. We are only mortal men, after all.
The game is coming out next year on Windows PC and Mac OS (via Epic Games Store), with console ports coming afterward.