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The parents' guide to what's in this game.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Wick Hex is a downloadable turn-based strategy game based on the popular John Wick movies for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs. Players control John, a professional killer who operates by his own code of ethics, which involves being loyal to and protecting his friends. He spends the game using guns and his lethal hands to kill hundreds of bad guys on his way to save his friends from a villain named Hex. Combat's turn-based, encouraging players to think strategically before deciding what to do next. Pinkish red blood splashes with each gun wound, and bodies pile up on the floor. Players can watch replays of entire levels shown from cinematic angles meant to mimic the look and feel of action movies. John sees this violence simply as a means to an end, and never shows remorse or concern for those he kills. Dialogue contains strong profanity, including the F-word. Parents should also be aware that this is a challenging game that could prove frustrating to players who struggle with patience.
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What's it about?
JOHN WICK HEX doesn't waste much time getting into the thick of combat. After a brief scene that shows Winston and Charon -- John's allies from the films -- being held prisoner by a villain named Hex, players are thrown into the action, which takes us through dozens of gridded scenes spread over around half a dozen locations. Combat's presented from a raised perspective, with movement and actions governed by a timeline at the top of the screen. Players click to move John to a desired space, but his movement is interrupted and the game paused as soon as he has line of sight on an enemy. From that point on, the movements of John and his enemies happen more or less simultaneously, but only after the player chooses what John will do next, which could mean moving, crouching, striking with his hands, or shooting with his gun. Players need to adjust their strategies as new enemies wander into the scene, looking for dropped weapons when they run out of bullets, or waiting patiently crouched behind a pillar for enemies to reveal themselves. Once a level ends, players have the option to watch a replay that shows all of John's actions in real time from cinematic angles, making it feel like a choreographed action scene from a film.
Is it any good?
Turn-based strategy games don't come much more accessible or fast-paced. Thanks to its focus on a single character and a blissfully simple interface, John Wick Hex almost feels like it takes place in real time. It only takes a few simple choices to command John to make his next move, and enemies act at the same time as him, so there's never any waiting. And while tactical thinking is a must -- waltzing into a room without any thought to lines of sight, cover, or parrying attacks is a recipe for failure -- the action's dynamic enough that players must also think on their feet and react quickly to new threats. You may have thought you had enough bullets, but a missed shot or a fresh group of enemies bursting through a door could change that, forcing you to, say, throw an empty pistol at someone to stun him while running for a dropped weapon. And ensuring you're in the right stance -- standing or crouched -- in each situation and that you have enough "focus" energy left to carry out your plans is key.
Be prepared, though, for a bit of frustration. If you run out of health (or bandages, which restore health), finishing off a location can become so hard that you may feel forced to start over from scratch with an aim to play more conservatively. An easier difficulty option that, say, refilled health prior to each scene would have gone some distance toward easing this issue. Be aware, too, that certain elements of the experience lack polish. The automated cinematic replays, for example, sometimes choose awkward camera angles that don't provide a good view of the action, and some of the tutorials and instructions can be a bit confusing. The PS4 version of the replays are somewhat better than the PC version, but you'll still have some shots blocked by walls or columns when you're playing the action back. Luckily, though, the bulk of John Wick Hex is straightforward enough that this shouldn't prove much of a problem for most. It's got a great rhythm, and it manages to capture the thoughtful fighting technique of its hero surprisingly well. Well worth investigation for older players who enjoy turn-based strategy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. Is the impact of the violence in John Wick Hex affected by the cinematic style of violence that's shown in combat sequences? Why do some of us perceive violent, morally gray characters like John Wick to be cool?
Do you like having a chance to think before acting so you can plan out strategies, or do prefer relying on instinct and reflexes in real-time action scenes? Does taking time to make your plans play out seem wildly different than the faster paced action of the movies?
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