Sometimes a game comes along and it moves the creative goalposts a bit to the left. Sometimes a developer comes along to make all others sit up and scream ‘Wow, you can do that?” Sometimes there’s a game that takes a chance with its themes, with its casting, and with its overall concept, in order to become a winner. That developer is Ninja Theory and that game is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Released in 2017 as a PlayStation exclusive, Hellblade has slowly gained a cult following amid a host of awards and industry recognition. But what is all the fuss? Is it deserved? Oh yes!
You play the character of Senua, a Celtic warrior set in the time of myths and legends of Viking invasions and apocalyptic stories. Senua is broken when we meet her, surrounded by many voices in her head, commenting over every action and decision. She has lost the love of her life and is found travelling to the mysterious land of Helheim to plead to Hela the god of this land, for her betrothed to be given back to her. On the way through its eight-hour campaign, we learn of Senua’s history, her illness and her journey to this present point in time. There are many enemies to defeat, puzzles to be solved and answers to be found.
Senua’s psychosis is a condition that sees a person have trouble distinguishing what is real and unreal. Voices and visual hallucinations are common, as well as struggling to do the simplest of tasks. Our journey with Senua makes us question what is real in what we are seeing, and this makes the experience an amazing one that has been created extremely well indeed. The complete way that both the development team, and the performers, have dealt with the issue of illness throughout this game is brilliant and informative, while still being entertaining, emotional and exciting.
The gameplay can be divided into three stages. The first is the exploration element, which is always intriguing because the world on offer is so rich and fascinating. Throughout the levels and story there are ancient tablets to discover which offer a magical tale of Norse history and myth. The second element is in regards the puzzle solving and one of the major gameplay innovations in this technique is using your focus. A quick hold down of the relevant trigger will see Senua focus on a rune or door, and it will either open another reality or reveal clues to allow access to other doors. Finding corresponding shapes in the environments that you can “focus” on will magically unlock pathways and progression. It’s a great piece of gameplay invention that I really enjoyed and at times it becomes quite a challenge.
And then we get to the last part of the gameplay – what is quite possibly the biggest part – and that is the combat.
Combat involves you, your sword skills and a calm mind, as you utilise a block, light attacks, heavy attacks and the chance to evade. From the beginning, I found the fights tough and as you progress through the game they will get denser, but at the same time you will get better at all aspects of evasion, countering and attacking. This ensures that the fights are a rewarding experience rather than an annoying one, with a good range of bosses thrown in for good measure. The final fight itself is an epic one… but don’t worry I won’t let on what happens.
Aside from this and there is also a black lurgy creeping up your arm, extending each and every time you die. When it reaches your brain, your progress will be deleted. Won’t it? Can you believe that this is true?
The story and writing found with Senua’s Sacrifice are very strong throughout the whole experience. There is a clever mixing of dialogue, myth and the portrayal of Senua’s inner thoughts throughout. The way the characters are written is not just superb, but brilliantly realised in every moment. The actual arc of the story is extremely satisfying and the ending itself is a thing of beauty.
The performances overall – from the stance of a random fighter to the presence of the lead character – are all unique and brilliantly mo-capped. The lead actress, who was a video editor before auditioning for the part, does a remarkable performance that is nuanced, epic and beautiful. She may have won countless awards, but she deserves them all.
Visually and Hellblade was already delightful when played on the PS4. But now things have been moved up a notch and Ninja Theory have outdone themselves on the beast of the machine that is the Xbox One X. You have three choices of graphical loveliness to choose from; from resolution, to performance to enhanced visuals. Whatever you choose it all looks completely wonderful.
The audio is again a work of genius, from the soundtrack through to the stunning effects and of course the voice work of the excellent cast. The very best experience is found when you spend time with Hellblade with headphones on and I think that is because of the use of a multi-direction mic in the recording of Senua’s voices in her head. The mic would be in the middle of the room, so that the actors could deliver their lines from different angles in order to create that feeling of a multilayered voice effect. Again, its a work of brilliance.
I think you can probably tell by now that I like the game a fair old bit. Going all in, I would say that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a must buy for all gamers, especially those who love character, story and adventure. The performance, design, and journey are all amazing and the gameplay is hugely enjoyable as well, with a little bit of a challenge thrown in for good measure. For £25, it is a great deal and that ensures that Hellblade will be right up there with the Game of the Year choices come the end of 2018.
Buy it, and enjoy it!