There are a ton of games on the market below the Triple-A gold standard of $60 that are still great games. There's totally free titles like League of Legends and Fortnite, and then some in the $20 to $30 range that you can sink tons of hours into, like Rainbow Six Siege, Minecraft, Risk of Rain 2, and Rocket League. Although they may be cheaper, or free, these games boast incredible quality and the devs likely expect to make up the lower price in sheer amount of sales.
John Wick Hex is not one of those games.
Hex is a $20 game on the Epic Games Store, but unlike those titles that are cheaper and still have that addictive or competitive edge, this game is one that you'll finish and say, "Yeah, that was worth about $20." Nothing more, nothing less. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
John Wick Hex is a fun game. We sunk a few hours into it and while there are certainly some things we didn't like about it, it was hard to complain at all, because it was only a $20 investment. Conversely, the parts that were fun and innovative exceeded expectations, so we'd call that a win for a cheaper game like this. Like any good, self-respecting pessimist, though, I should start with what I didn't like about the game. If it was even $10 more expensive, I wouldn't recommend buying it, but because it's only 20 bucks, it's worth a pick up even with these flaws, so don't get bummed out too hard.
John Wick Hex fails in fundamentals where larger studios know better
John Wick Hex was developed by Bithell Games, an indie game studio that's only known for one other game: Thomas Was Alone. Thomas Was Alone is a pretty barebones indie game, and the studio's only other noteworthy title, Volume, isn't different in that regard. Both are good games, perhaps even great games, but they're small in scale and it shows. John Wick Hex doesn't deviate from that path, despite it's very direct tie to such a massively known movie franchise.
Bithell did a lot right with this game, and we'll get into all of that later, but it also failed in ways any larger studio just... wouldn't. Very basic things, like game pacing, rhythm, screen noise, and voice acting, fall short, probably due to the studio's inexperience and much smaller scale. These are things that many indie game devs struggle with, unfortunately, and Hex couldn't break free from the stigma.
Game pacing and rhythm issues are by far the worst, especially at the start of the game. While the game is teaching you to fall into a pattern and track the timeline, it interrupts you with an invasive "NOW DO THIS" pop-up every time you start to feel it. Those pop-ups completely pause the game, killing your rhythm and ruining any chance you had at testing ahead and figuring things our for yourself. And like many other annoying tutorials from other indie games, it never seemed to end. Larger, more experienced studios know to avoid killing the player's rhythm that early into the game, which is the most crucial part of the game for trying to retain that player's attention, but Bithell didn't keep that in mind.
There are some other minor complaints I had, like how ungodly slow zooming in and out with your camera is, but the only other major complaint I had was the voice acting. The game's cast was colorful and steeped in interesting back story, but I just couldn't get into their characters with how shoddy the voice over work was. Some characters were difficult to follow, because they spoke too loudly or too quietly at random dialogue lines, and some audio quality was just too poor, resulting in sound tears and muddy consonants that made regular spoken words sound devoid of realistic conversation.
Not only that, but the camera work, shifting between each character as they speak in cutscenes, was also poorly done, and I often had no idea which character was which. This is an issue most larger studios don't suffer from, either, as they usually pull talent from a trusted acting union or at least have a more robust audio production team. Normally, this isn't a major issue, but in Hex, it was so pronounced that I had trouble ignoring it for most of the game.
John Wick Hex is a work of art
Now, though, we can talk about the fun stuff. While the issues are hard to pass on, Hex does a lot of cool stuff. Namely, the music and visual design are stellar. I can't think of many recent games that immediately let you feel the theme of the game in such a pronounced fashion. With dull electro, ramping up to solid guitar riffs heavier bass when combat gets the most intense, the music feels incredible. It's violent, but also rhythmic and colorful, just like the game.
Speaking of the color, the game is largely coated in dull hues of grey and black, with the occasional strip of white. Dotting this dull, bloody landscape are deep and bright neon pinks and blues that pop out more and more often as the level you're on speeds up in pace. More enemies means more color, and every splotch of color usually means something, like a bullet is coming your way or you take a hit. The colors feel great paired with the unique dystopian soundtrack, and what's more impressive is that those spurts of color feel useful and rhythmic. The game can best be described as a violent work of art, and that statement alone definitetly outweighs the negatives, even if only by a little.
The controls are innovative
The controls are a strange combination of a massive quicktime event and Superhot, where you're constantly racing against a timeline, trying to outsmart and outpace it as it shows you when enemies will strike, move, and shoot. It's a timetable management game, at its core, forcing you to balance reloading, performing takedowns, shooting, rolling, and even crouching against the timeline. It sounds very basic, but it's a fun system that presents a challenge at every level.
There are some balancing issues with the game, though. While it's fun, there are definitely and clear ways to exploit it, and once you figure those out, the fun's out the window. For instance, when fighting the first boss of the game, I figured out that if I could get into melee range with him, I could kick off a chain of takedowns, keeping the boss pinned to the ground without a single fighting chance until he died. After that, I tried takedown chains on regular enemies, too, and it made the game a trivial task of just figuring out how to quickly get into melee range to insta-kill baddies. There were some levels where obstacles prevented me from chaining takedowns, but in most levels, it helped me navigate waves of seemingly important bad guys with way too much ease.
Once I became aware that I could replicate it very easily, and then stopped doing it on purpose, the challenge (and therefore fun) came back to the game. That's the sort of thing that probably would have been caught by more play testers or other QA analysts, so possibly another crutch to the small studio, but obviously you can just get around it by, well, not doing it.
Overall, the game's solid. It's pretty, it's fun, but it's not without issues. In other words, it's worth the $20 you'll pay for it, but not much more.