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E3 2019: John Wick Hex Preview: Time Is Ticking, Mr. Wick

E3 2019: John Wick Hex Preview: Time Is Ticking, Mr. Wick
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One of the bigger surprises for me at E3 2019 was the playable demo for the upcoming strategy game John Wick Hex. The game was unveiled earlier this year prior to the release of the third film in the series, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. While the game looks beautiful, with the cel-shaded art style, it left many people scratching their heads as to why a licensed John Wick game wouldn’t be some sort of heavy action game, emphasizing the “gun-fu” techniques the films are known for. But, after playing through roughly one hour of an early build of the game, I can confidently say that John Wick Hex distills the core elements of the movies into a unique and creative strategy game, putting you into the mind of John Wick himself, and giving you total freedom to make decisions.

Turning John Wick into a strategy game is no small feat, and creator Mike Bithell, known for his award-winning work on games like Thomas Was Alone and Volume, had his work cut out for him and his team. Bithell has worked closely with Lionsgate, the studio behind the John Wick movies, as well as the writers to create a game that not only feels genuine to the films, but also exists in the same universe. John Wick Hex takes place before the events of the first movie⁠—prior to his wife, Helen, passing away, and well before the group of Russian gangsters killed his beloved dog, Daisy, sending Wick on a brutal killing spree to avenge his loved ones. It will be interesting to get more of a backstory on Wick, potentially giving more context to the five-issue comic book series that explore his earlier life. We may also get more information about The Continental, a secret organization that provides services to skilled hitmen around the world.

John Wick Hex is laid out in a series of missions that involve navigating a series of interconnected maps and meticulously taking out enemies. The levels are viewed from an isometric perspective, but the camera can be rotated 360-degrees and zoomed in and out, allowing you to see from every angle. Levels are laid out in a grid-based pattern with small dots on the ground. Each of these dots represents a space that you⁠—and enemies⁠—can move between. Every action you take, however, costs time, which is an essential resource in the game. As you move John around the map, enemies will move as well. Once John spots an enemy, he can begin to plan out his attack. But, if an enemy spots John, a small indicator will alert you, interrupting your planned movement and giving you time to plan your next move.

The most unique feature in John Wick Hex is the timeline mechanic. At the top of the display is a persistent timeline, similar to something you’d see in music or video editing software. The timeline represents the flow of time, and every action you take is displayed in real time. Likewise, enemy actions are also represented on their individual timelines, giving you transparency into what they are planning as well. Certain enemies are fixed in each level, meaning they are always in the same location. Other enemies, however, are variable, which means every time you play a level, much of the enemy type and placement are randomized, adding to the replayability of the game. With that being said, the game becomes a moment-to-moment decision simulator as you look to get the drop on enemies. John is equipped with his signature pistol, which fires two bullets at once. Enemies also carry a host of different weapons as well, such as pistols, shotguns, and rifles, with some opting for hand-to-hand combat instead. During combat, you are given a menu to choose your action. This menu includes the ability to shoot your weapon, wait (which advances time), switch stances (allowing you to squat down and roll), parry, strike an enemy, throw your gun to stun an enemy, and takedown. Each of these actions adds varying amounts of time to your timeline, so it’s critical to read your enemies’ actions and choose accordingly. The most important thing to understand is that time continues flowing with every action you take, so you must be very deliberate with each decision.

During my demo, I sat down with Alexander Sliwinski, the COO of Bithell Games, who shed some light on the development of this ambitious title. So far, the game has been in development for over a year and they are working with some very talented people. For instance, level design is handled by Steve Lee, who previously worked on BioShock Infinite and Dishonored. They also worked with a stunt team to figure out the precise time it takes for each action, such as reloading a gun, taking down an enemy, and more, to ensure the timeline mechanic is as authentic as possible. There was one feature that wasn’t present in the demo that Alex is really excited about—and that’s the replay option—available after each level is completed. But, this isn’t just a quick recap, it’s actually a fully rendered cinematic that plays back all of your decisions in real time. This effectively allows you to craft your own John Wick scenes, complete with all the flashy gunfights and combat, just like the movies. The team at Bithell Games is very excited to be working on this project, and can’t wait to deliver the finished product.

John Wick Hex is slated to launch first on PC and Mac, with consoles planned for a later date.

What are you most excited about in John Wick Hex? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and for all your other coverage on upcoming games and more, stay tuned to Mammoth Gamers.

My name is Matthew Adler. I am a Freelance Video Game Journalist and also the Host and Creator of In Your Element: A Gaming Podcast. In Your Element is a general gaming podcast with an emphasis on indie games. I feature a variety of different guests each week for discussion around specific topics. Check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other major podcast services!