If you’re looking for escapism while in quarantine, there’s never been a better time to get into video gaming, whether you’ve strayed from the ol’ Dualshock or have never picked up a Joycon. Grand adventures await in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, exquisitely satisfying street brawls are on offer with Streets of Rage 4, and the tranquil shores of your very own island in Animal Crossing are lowkey some of the best therapies for the doldrums of physical distancing. Two of the titles I’ve been spending some quaran-time with recently, Raw Fury’s Kingdom: Two Crowns and Mike Bithell’s John Wick: Hex, are strategy-based and provide you the opportunity to build an empire or just survive in an unpredictable world, while both put their own nontraditional spin on tried and true formulas.
Kingdom: Two Crowns (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mobile, Steam)
City building sims are nothing new, dating back as far as 1989’s Sim City. But what has always been a relatively samey presentation – a top-down or ¾ view of your whole little fiefdom – is upended with Kingdom: Two Crowns. Transposing the intricacies of developing a functional, prosperous, and well-defended kingdom to a 2-dimensional, side-scrolling plane doesn’t seem like it would work, but it actually does. By incorporating two-player gameplay and cleaning up some of the issues (chiefly, not having to start over completely if you die) of the game’s predecessor, Two Crowns is a surprisingly deep experience for something that looks like it hopped off an early 1990’s Macintosh. It’s made even deeper with it’s transformative (and free!) add-on content, like the Shogun expansion which converts your world and monarchs to those of feudal Japan. The newest add-on is called Dead Lands, and it converts the world of Kingdom to a Victorian horror setting, with new spooky mounts – a giant beetle is a personal favourite – and monarchs that each have their own unique abilities. I have to admit that Kingdom didn’t grab me at first, but it’s simple but eye-popping graphics and addictive gameplay have wormed their way into my brain.
John Wick: Hex (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems)
When you think of a John Wick movie, where does your mind go? Now, what would you expect a John Wick video game to look like? For me, that game would look something like the Hitman, Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear, or Max Payne titles, which offer a blend of heart-racing, fast-paced action and the ability to plan and (literally) execute brutal kills. Bithell Games’ John Wick: Hex gets the last part right, but whittling the John Wick license into a turn-based game and slowing the action to a crawl is an uphill battle, to say the least. Just like when Metal Gear: Acid spun off that franchise into a card-based strategy experience, I’m not sure this works entirely. Your mileage may vary, but the arrhythmic stop-start of the action in Hex just doesn’t say ‘John Wick’ to me. What saves Hex, though, is it’s presentation. The game boasts excellent voice work from Ian McShane and Lance Reddick, reprising their characters from the Wickverse, and a cel-shaded style that reminds me of Simigo and Annapurna’s Sayonara: Wild Hearts, which is one of my favourite games right now. If you’re into the strategy side of John Wick, though, and want to interact with the seemingly-invincible killer’s brain as he forms battle plans when he walks into a room, Hex rewards you with a very cool and authentic story to tide you over until John Wick 4’s release.