It takes a person of stone not to appreciate the John Wick films. A distillation of the past three decades of action movies condensed into a couple of hours of mayhem, the two flicks are a must watch for anyone who loves the vicarious rush of well choreographed nonstop violence. For fear of spoilers, the titular character shoots lots of dudes in the head with an increasingly elaborate style that is still, somehow, presented with a bizarre form of minimalism. Even the barebones “lore” surrounding the criminal “Management” is intriguing, if a little silly. Need to dispose of a body and would also like something to drink? That’ll be a gold coin for each. Despite the bizarre economic scales, there is so much to like. With the almost unending string of violence the movies hinge upon, it makes perfect sense for a game to emerge. This brings us to Starbreeze, Grab and Gameco Studios’ John Wick Chronicles, a virtual reality side story for the franchise.
Using another stay at the criminal hotel, The Continental, as a framing device, John is contracted by the Management to pluck a particularly nasty thorn from the side of the Earth. The actual experience of being at the Continental feels incredibly cool in VR. It’s such a minor thing, but taking a gold coin from a briefcase and handing it to the clerk manages to do more to pull the player into the world than so many other titles with the most inviting narratives. Taking the conveniently placed elevator to the basement training room or to the hotel suite keeps the player from needing to move around too much, even if, strictly speaking, it doesn’t exactly fit the architecture in the movies.
The action, however, has been well trod in the VR space. John Wick Chronicles is another gallery shooter, and one that doesn’t take particular advantage of the intellectual property. The player is set at a certain point on the field, with a selection of weapons laying nearby. Enemies run onto the field to get shot. Some have armor and some don’t. Every mission is capped off with a boss fight that requires some well aimed shooting or throw of a grenade to defeat. If this all sounds rote for people familiar with VR, that is because it is. Even the cover system has been done many times over in other titles.
This isn’t to argue that a gallery shooter can’t still be good, and this isn’t terrible. The issue lies in the fact that the action in John Wick is imbued with a heavy physicality, with most of the kills being very close range. Admittedly, this would be hard to translate into a VR space as there would be a lack of physical resistance that could be distracting when disarming a gunman and shooting him in the face. Once again, though, Raw Data needs to be pulled out as an example. When an enemy gets close, they can be pistol whipped to knock them back, with a follow up shot to the head to disable them. (Man, Raw Data gets so much right.) In John Wick Chronicles, most everything happens at a distance, though some of the foes do occasionally get close.
This might make me sound like a sadist, but the decided lack of gore also misses the Wick mark. In the films, chunks go flying off of the baddies when they get hit. The blood and bone gets strewn about like everybody is some sort of obscene piñata. The paucity of this type of visceral feedback does a disservice to fans looking for the same kind of thing when they get their hitman on. The fact is that the fifteen year old Soldier of Fortune 2 captured the obscenity that this game should have displayed in a more accurate fashion.
These issues, plus the incredibly short hour and a half playtime, leaves a feeling that the fan just paid for an advertisement for the just released sequel. Admittedly, the same can be said about quite a few licensed games, but this is quite a bit more shameless about it, considering that one of the levels even starts with watching a trailer for the film on a large screen TV in Wick’s suite. Were the game given away for free, or the trailer be an “extra” accessed from the front menu, this would be forgivable. As it is, it just feels crass.
Now, with all of that out of the way, John Wick Chronicles isn’t worthless. Anyone looking for a decent gallery shooter will have a fine time with this one, assuming expectations have been properly tempered. The guns handle extremely well, making the actual act of firing the weapons, even against the cardboard cutouts in the training room, pretty fun. By default, reloading is automatic by lowering the weapon, but a more involved reload is also available, so people from both camps can be happy with that.
This game can also boast having the best VR sniper rifle system I have seen. (Please note the qualifier.) While the player isn’t holding the rifle the way they would in reality, bringing the scope close, closing an eye, and lining up the shot feels great. There’s no concern for bullet drop or wind here, but this isn’t that type of game. Also, the boss fights are just the right kind of challenging, with the need for careful aim in between throwing oneself to the ground and getting up quickly, working up a sweat.
Most of this review was spent pointing out where John Wick Chronicles fails fans of the movie, and that is a major issue. While it doesn’t always work out, even the worst licensed game still has hopes of trying to capture the feel of the franchise it’s using. Outside of the Continental, this game doesn’t. One cannot help but think that there were some grand designs for what the game was going to be before the deadline in the form of the sequel’s release reared its head. Anyone who can put that aside and wants a decent gallery shooter can have a good time with John Wick Chronicles. The targets are plentiful and the game likes to use all 360 degrees around the player for their spawn points, meaning it takes advantage of the ability to turn around, something that some other similar titles can’t even state. So, while John Wick Chronicles cannot be recommended at full price, it’s worth snagging when a proper sale comes around.