Neo-noir action-thriller John Wick (2014) has come to the Vive in its new VR wave-based arcade shooter John Wick Chronicles. Recreating the look and feel of the film franchise while offering up a heavy slice of gun play and plenty of moving targets, the game can be an exciting trip into the John Wick universe at times, but ultimately ends before it even begins.
John Wick Chronicles Details:
“Hello Mr. Wick. This is the Operator,” an official-sounding lady tells to me in my bluetooth earpiece. “I trust you’ve opened the cigar box and are aware of your task. You’ll find your target in the parking garage across town. You know where to go and what to do. Good Luck.”
A picture of a man dressed in a white blazer is in the cigar box too, along with a gold coin—the sensible assassin’s preferred payment method.
The Continental’s Hotel Manager, played by the Lance Reddick, pipes in this time. “Your old friend Ethan Powell is back. Management is requesting your assistance in diffusing the situation.”
Who’s Ethan Powell? I don’t remember him from the first film, and while I haven’t seen the second one yet, a cursory Google search reveals nothing. But apparently he’s the bad guy for this game, and it’s my job to shoot him until he dies. I can do that.
What follows is an all-out gun battle in a multi-level car park, and all of the goodies are there for your amusement. Submachine guns, assault rifles, pistols, frag grenades, and all of them can be dual-wielded and sprayed around with nary a care. Movement is ‘on-rails’; you’ll be positioned where the game wants you, without any ability to locomote beyond your own physical playspace.
Reloading is simple, you just lower your weapon and click, you get another magazine from your infinite pile of ammunition. Without any difficulty settings, it becomes apparent there are actually easier guns to wield, the easiest of which are dual submachine guns, available on every level. It’s fun blasting away and crouching for cover, recalling moments of my youth playing Time Crisis 3 (2002) in the arcade.
Unlike Time Crisis though you don’t need to be a good shot, because eventually your spray-and-pray trigger discipline automatically gets you health buffs, body armor, and gun add-ons like laser sights to make the waves of baddies that much easier to deal with. If you’re searching for the high score though, you’ll of course want to grab a sniper rifle or M4-A1 assault rifle with red dot sight, but they’re by no means required to complete the game.
Story mode has three levels, and consequently three bosses headed by the strangely invincible Ethan Powell. If you run through each level once (excluding a surprisingly fun shooting tutorial), gameplay tops out around one hour. Once you beat story mode, you’ll gain access to ‘free mode’ where you can up the difficulty by adding manual reload to guns, something that really should have been an option beforehand for hardcore shooting enthusiasts, but it’s a welcome addition just the same. Each difficulty setting in free mode (maxing at Baba Yaga’ level) has its own leaderboard should you want to try to post the high score and prove how much of gun expert VR has made you.
Despite the added modes, it’s hard not to feel a little bit cheated out of what could be a multi-hour adventure with multiple bosses, locales, and gun mods.
Creating a unique and engaging video game based on a film isn’t an easy task. For every critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) there are a thousand other movie/game tie-ins that just don’t cut the mustard. I’m looking at you Ghostbusters (2016).
John Wick Chronicles is decidedly better than average in this respect, but there is always the danger with a game when it becomes a vehicle for promoting the film instead of focusing solely on delivering a whole experience to the player. While visually stunning in almost every aspect from the detail on the guns to the photo-realistic mug of Lance Reddick, it’s hard to take the game’s story mode seriously when halfway through you’re unceremoniously forced to watch a trailer for the film that just so happens to be launching the exact same day as the game. Seriously. A trailer.
Granted, I was ambushed by Ethan Powell (you remember him from five seconds ago, right?) and didn’t have time to finish the trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2, but the effect was clear: This is a commercial—a fun, short commercial that you’re paying money for.
Outside of the nuts and bolts of a game, like how guns fire or how items are scaled—things John Wick Chronicles nails quite well—watching a commercial for the movie in the movie-themed game goes one step too far, effectively tarnishing an otherwise visually stunning, albeit far too short arcade shooter.
If this game had been offered for free, it would have been a recommendable immersive promotion for the film, but its attempt to straddle the line between promotion and product makes it master of neither.
Since this is an on-rails experience that leaves you stationary outside of the few moments when you change levels via some sort of elevator, all movement is natural, making this an exceedingly comfortable experience that could theoretically be played for multiple hours without complaint.