What truly goes on in the mind of someone suffering with a mental illness? Ninja Theory look to provide an accurate depiction of this in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Previous work of the developer include Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and the Devil May Cry reboot, this stands as a pretty good track record for the team and when they announced Hellblade I was interested in where they were heading.
Senua is a Celtic warrior of the Pict tribe suffering from psychosis which has created a warped reality in her mind. She commences a path of loss, redemption and strife as she journey’s through the hellish underworld created by her own mind. The opening scene doesn’t hold back in delivering the full experience to you, sailing along a river on nothing more than a log whilst surrounded by mist, the voices in Senua’s mind constantly whispering, it becomes apparent straight away you are about to witness something special.
Hellblade mixes classic action hack and slash with puzzle and adventure in a blender and produces something that shows the best of what these genres are all about. Combat is limited throughout the game, commencing at certain spots and moments. The number of enemies vary with each encounter however the latter half the game would contain more enemies every fight, along with more variety. Each type you come up against will have different weapons and attack styles which you can understand quickly and come up with a strategy to effectively slay them.
The controls are intuitive, you can pick up and play with ease but to apply that to combat you need some form of skill to vanquish your foes. Constant attacks are not going to work, combining your attacks with expertly timed parries and dodges is essential, otherwise you will get torn the hell up. I was constantly on my toes in every battle because of the way the camera works you lock onto one enemy at a time and you can’t see behind you, so movement across the area is just as vital. You need eyes in the back of your head. This kept the combat from becoming stale, there wasn’t one instance I felt I was drifting through, I had to scratch, claw and earn my way to triumph.
Early on it’s made known that death was to be feared, with each one the dark rot would crawl its way up to your brain and eventually result in perma-death, the game would delete your save and you would have to start again. This was always on my mind playing through and it showed in how I played, I was more cautious and on the defensive more than the offensive.
The puzzles you come across can be head-scratcher’s, find the correct shapes out of the various objects in the world and stand at the correct angle to see them form the rune you need. Some are very easy to spot, others you have to use a mixture of your wit and the game’s mechanics to overcome. Ninja Theory worked out a healthy balance between making them too easy and too hard to provide a mix, with the most difficult only taking me 20 minutes to conquer.
A visual masterpiece is hard to deliver but I’m certainly happy to argue that this is a perfect example of one. Everything from the characters, locations and effects feature unique aesthetics with in depth fine detail. Senua’s costume and look is beautiful and true to what research would say a character of her backstory would wear. Each area I came across I would look around taking in my surroundings, marvelling at the Norse architecture. Various liquids would look different in how they reacted to player interaction, water, blood and strange goo each with their own cosmetic look and effects.
Sound in the game has been designed to fully immerse you in Senua’s world and more specifically her mind. Playing with a pair of headphones is an absolute must to get the full experience. Whilst playing you have voices speaking to you throughout offering words of encouragement sometimes, but most of the time words to demoralise Senua. Being told your not good enough, that you can’t save those you love, that you should quit are powerful in putting you in the shoes of the protagonist and establish that connection with the world. At several points I felt like I needed to take the headset off and have a break from it all, but that’s when I realised why should I get a break when those who suffer can’t? So I kept at it wanting to become less ignorant to this dark, toxic world some people’s mind’s battle with all the time.
Music is less seen throughout but when its present, it plays a prominent role in conveying what the moment is all about. The track played during the final battle made that fight feel absolutely epic, like everything I had done before now had certainly led to this, urging me to keep going and never to give up.
An incredible performance from Melina Juergens really brings together the whole package. She brings this relatable, flawed character to life. Not just by voice, but by movement too, every mannerism has a purpose to it, each facial expression shows you the pain and anguish Senua suffers.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 9/10
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has been the dark horse of the year. Expected to receive numerous Game Of The Year nominations for its outstanding storytelling, stunning visuals, brutal gameplay and menacing sound design. This look into psychosis can be used to educate players on the deluded reality experienced by those who suffer with such mental illness.
OVERALL: 9.6/10 – EXCELLENCE
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.