10 Badass Action Games That Will Make You Feel Like John Wick

1 year ago 203
John Wick looks thoughtful on the subway.

Screenshot: Lionsgate

As John Wick 4 hits screens this week—likely before kicking screens, then shooting them seven times, before sticking a sword in the screen’s face—it seems an excellent time to consider which games can evoke a similar feeling of glorious mass slaughter.*

Now, feeling like John Wick is perhaps not the ideal state of mind. No man has ever grieved his puppy so hard, for so long, with such a high body count. Not even Owen Wilson in Marley & Me. Four films in, Keanu is clearly never likely to be done, and so neither are we.

We’ve compiled together a selection of mighty-violent video games that share the spirit of the John Wick movies. Which is to say: ludicrous amounts of chaining violence.

*Disclaimer: mass slaughter in real life is extremely rude, and should not be performed. But in movies and gaming it’s absolutely fine, and we shall not be examining this matter any further at this time.

Let’s start with the obvious. The Max Payne series on launch was directly associated with another Keanu Reeves property, The Matrix, what with its directly lifting the bullet-time mechanic from the Wachowskis’ film. However, as the series went on for three games over the next decade, things definitely drifted more toward what would eventually become John Wick territory.

Released in 2012, Max Payne 3 precedes Reeves’ current ongoing roll by two years, moving its action from New York to São Paulo, Brazil, where Max gets himself muddled up in a battle between warring factions, and a need to fill any and all of them with bullets.

Still featuring the series’ trademark bullet time action, where you can slow down time to precisely aim at multiple enemies at once, it certainly offers you Wick’s uncanny murderous abilities. It’s also a huge ton of morbid, self-loathing fun.

Tragically, there hasn’t been a new Max Payne game for over ten years now, although we were recently promised remakes for the first two in the series.

Sticking with obvious choices, we could hardly miss out the game with his name in the title.

A top-down turn-based strategic game, the idea here is you plan out Wick’s attacks in any given situation, and then watch them play out in real-time when you’re done.

How successfully it achieves the goal of recreating the sensation of being in John Wick’s mind is somewhat up for grabs. At the time of its 2020 release, Kotaku staff both loved and hated what it offered. Either way, it’s a fascinating approach to an enormous movie license, to have it developed by a tiny indie team in such a low-key manner.

Let’s venture to the other extreme, with 2007's Stranglehold. Again, preceding the Wick movies by a full seven years, this was a game celebrating what must surely be one of the Wick franchises biggest inspirations: the films of John Woo.

A sort-of-sequel to Woo’s 1992 film, Hard Boiled, it even stars the same actor in the lead role, Chow Yun-fat. It continues the story of a cop—Tequila Yuen—caught up in the Triad crime syndicates of Hong Kong, who flings himself around the streets, balconies and rooftops of the city while murdering people in “Tequila Time.” Which, yes, is just bullet time.

However, separating it from the Max Payne franchise, Stranglehold goes to extra lengths to celebrate your violence with its star system. The game judges your style as you go about your slaughter, awarding you more stars for involving the environment in your assault, and for how balletically you go about the whole bonkers nonsense.

It’s oddly forgotten, these days, given it was actually a bunch of fun in its first half. (The game rather loses its way when action transfers from Hong Kong to Chicago.) To play on console you’ll need to find a PS3 or Xbox 360 disc in your favorite thrift store, but for PC you can still pick it up via GOG.

In deciding what video games evoke the spirit of John Wick, we’ve pretty much settled on: you shoot loads of people and feel cool doing it. And there’s surely no game that delivers that better than FPS Superhot?

Here’s the conceit: time only moves when you do. Stand still, and so does time, meaning that you can plan out your actions between moves. There’s a bullet hurtling toward you? Stop, and so will it, and then you can dive to your left or right to avoid it. We’re pretty sure this is how Wick works too.

The 2016 PC indie hit then went on to greater acclaim with VR releases, perhaps most significantly on the Oculus Quest in 2019, by which point more than 800,000 units of the VR version had sold. There you literally have to move your body for time to progress, with the freedom to move your head around while things are frozen. Epic.

Putting this in quick succession after Superhot certainly now craving the crossover Superhotline Miami. In the meantime, we at least still have Hotline Miami and its sequel.

The 2012 top-down shooter requires that you burst into a location, and kill absolutely everyone inside in showers of pixelated blood and viscera. Which [checks notes] is the plot of all four John Wick movies!

And unlike some of the older games on this list, Hotline Miami’s deliberately retro pixel art means it hasn’t aged a day in the 11 years since its original release. That’s buoyed by plenty of releases on different systems over the years, the most recent being 2019's Nintendo Switch version. (Sure, it came out on Stadia in 2020, but we don’t talk about Stadia any more.)

This is perhaps the most pure rendition of the outrageous violence at the core of John Wick, even if it lacks the motivational canicide.

We’re including this on the list not because we want to, but to save on the server costs of hosting all the people coming to comment that we didn’t. Yes, you’re right, Cyberpunk 2077 stars Keanu Reeves. But no, you don’t play as him, and unlike the John Wick movies, it’s not brilliant fun. At least, not if you’re expecting The Witcher 3, cyberpunk edition.

It’s a bit like saying The Lake House is the same as John Wick. Although, imagine if it were. A film about a lonely doctor who writes letters to an architect living two years in the past, and then they both just kill everyone they ever meet. I’d watch that.

Taking its inspiration from a bunch of games already on this list—Hotline Miami, Max Payne, StrangleholdThe Hong Kong Massacre is a natural fit for our Wicklist. Like Woo’s movie/game, the top-down shooter is set in Hong Kong, and features a cop taking revenge on the Triad gangs who murdered his partner.

In order to achieve these goals, you’re equipped with bullet time and dodge-dives, along with machine guns and rifles, thus ticking all the John Wick boxes.

So if you ever wondered, what if Hotline Miami but amazing cutscenes and more realistic graphics, this is the answer. It’s not nearly as superbly crafted, but it’s a bunch of super-tricky shooty-bang fun.

Offering a more rounded Wick-like experience, 2012's Sleeping Dogs takes things into the open world, letting you run, jump, slide, drive, swim and ride through Triad-ridden streets as cop Wei Shen.

Combining Arkham Asylum-like melee with parkour navigation, it offers a proper sense of packing a punch, as you race around Hong Kong making formerly alive people much more dead. It should have been the start of a great franchise, were it not for being published by Square Enix at the height of their ludicrous sales expectations. Despite shifting 1.5 million copies, this wasn’t enough, and a sequel and spin-off were both canned.

Developers United Front really ought to be working on a John Wick game made in the same style, but instead no longer exist. As, sadly, seems to be the case for the promised movie based on the game, of which nothing has been heard since 2018.

To be absolutely clear, The Punisher is a pretty poor game! Released in 2004, and developed by a pre-Saints Row Volition, it should have been brilliant. Using the Marvel license for the least Marvel-like character, this was coming from a studio that was riding high on its splendid Red Faction games.

Apparently visiting the set for the awful 2004 John Travolta-starring movie, the developers were certainly inspired to create something of equal quality, even pinching the film’s lead—Thomas Jane—to voice their Punisher too. The result was a mostly dull game, interspersed with the most astonishing violence. And it’s this violence that scores a slot on our list.

With his entire family murdered by the Mafia, Frank Castle is out for his skull-laden revenge, and to get it he’s going to lamely try to copy Max Payne right down to its bullet time, but get everything just a bit wrong.

But where the game shines is the feature that caused the original version to be labeled by the ESRB as a “torture simulator.” Various enemies would have a skull above their heads, which meant you could torture them, and then on special occasions, there were “Special Interrogation” options, where a scripted sequence would allow you to, say, feed someone feet-first into a woodchipper. Or drill into their heads. This was one of a handful of games to ever be censored by the UK’s classification board, the BBFC, for just how grim these sequences were.

As a revenge shooter, it ended up feeling like a flattened out Max Payne, but those moments of ultra-gruesome murder certainly saw it spike to the heights of this list.

Now this is the John Wick game we want and deserve. Back in the 1980s, any action franchise would be guaranteed to receive a side-scrolling brawler, inevitably published by Ocean. Tragically, in this wanton times, no such thing can be assured. So thank God for MuriloDev and Danilo Dias who went ahead and made ahead and made it without anyone’s permission, then put it up on Itch.

Just like games of 40 years ago, it’s ridiculously hard, but as Ethan pointed out in 2019, not impossible.

It blows our minds that every major film studio doesn’t hire an indie dev to create a side-scroller of their every movie. Come on, Lionsgate, you know you want to.

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