Review: The Hex
You load a game, you play a game, you turn it off. If it’s a good game it’ll stick with you for a bit, and if it’s a great game you might start thinking about the world it represents. What would life be like for the characters you meet? How does their society function? And maybe, if you’re in a particularly odd mood, you’ll wonder how they would feel about being video game characters. The Hex is a game built around such musings, a mystery that finds its answers in the tragic lives of video game characters behind the screen. It goes far deeper than that, as well, into the uneasy compact between creator, creation, and consumer that defines every game that reaches release.
The Six Pint Inn is a stop for wayward video game characters, a refuge off the beaten path for protagonists who might not be so heroic anymore. Six characters have gathered there on this auspicious night, their histories intertwined in the many titles they’ve appeared in. But something more is afoot, for there is word that one of them is planning a murder this very evening. Taking control of each patron in turn, you will experience the events that led to their arrival at the Six Pint, tales of game development gone awry and disillusioned fans. As the narrative comes together you’ll learn the true origins of these characters, their rises and falls, and the dark fate that awaits all of them by the end of this tale.
The Hex is one of those games that’s loaded with twists and turns that must not be spoiled, but we can talk broadly about the themes that make it so impactful. To build the central story of the events at the inn, you’ll play through the pasts, or rather the games, of the six major characters. They span a wide range of genres and familiar themes, from happy-go-lucky platforming to brutal top-down shooting, arcade fighting to turn-based tactics. You’ll see what each game world looks like from the inside, with characters aware of their place in the digital universe and environments cobbled from code, not soil or stone. But more than that, you’ll see the effect that developers and players can have as well.
Games are not static works of art. They are constantly evolving and changing in surprising ways, whether by player feedback and developer patches or the spread of game meta and mods. Instead of sticking to a familiar meta-narrative of genre-savvy or self-aware characters, The Hex explores how the characters themselves interact with their players and developers. They are creations and tools, and when given life they are bound to have opinions about being nerfed or compressed or badly reviewed or abandoned in Early Access. There’s a lot of commentary to unpack here about trends in game development and consumption, presented as a struggle between the characters themselves and those entities using them for their own purposes.
Between the evolving narrative and gameplay shifts, The Hex could be a tough title to get a grip on. Fortunately, the overall design is one that accounts for this potential with some very smart choices. Controls throughout the entire game are just WASD, the mouse, and left-click, which is immediately comprehensible across the many familiar game styles. The core of the game is a side-scrolling adventure, meaning you’ll mostly be walking around and talking to people during the main story, before diving into another discrete game world. There’s also a fantastic gameplay loop for most of the character arcs where you’ll be introduced to basic game mechanics, and then find a story reason to break them. This lets you scoot along in the game at an accelerated pace, until you run into new meta-game challenges that require you to break things to their fullest.
I wasn’t sold on The Hex when I started it up, my attentions being more on the kitschy weirdness of the meta-narrative and the simple throwback pleasures of the different game modes. But very soon the meta elements began to get more poignant, and began to intrude on the gameplay in unique and exciting ways. This builds throughout the entire game in impressive fashion until it bursts in the finale with unexpected consequences. I won’t lie, there’s an element of creepypasta to it as well, but even if that’s not your scene it can’t ruin the impressive connections between the central characters. The deeper you look into The Hex the more brilliant secrets you’ll find, and diligent players may even find connections that reach beyond the game itself. If you’re ready for a very different take on a video game story, one that digs into the actual roles of players and creators, you’ll get more than you bargained for here.