Title: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Available On: PC, PS4
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Ninja Theory
Genre: Third-Person Action; Puzzler
Official Site: www.hellblade.com
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Where To Buy: Steam, PlayStation Store
Games have a unique way of incorporating things into their story that most of us would normally never experience. Some allow you to storm the beaches of Normandy in World War II; some let you play as a legendary warrior who uses blade and magic to slay dragons; some let you play as a father-daughter combo fighting against zombies and the impending apocalypse. But few games delve into the personal struggles of the characters they use. And none, and I genuinely mean none, have ever made me feel like I was behind the wheel of someone with severe mental issues… until Hellblade.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a self-proclaimed “indie-AAA” from developer Ninja Theory, the people behind PlayStation’s Heavenly Sword. You play as Senua, a warrior fighting her way through the horrors of the Nordic underworld seeking to save the soul of her dead lover, Dillian. On top of fighting off demonic warriors, you must solve a variety of puzzles in order to unlock sealed doors. All of this would be difficult on its own but is made even harder by the fact that Senua is suffering from schizophrenic voices in her head that try to help and hurt her on her journey.
And these voices are so unbelievable oppressive and remarkable, they’re a character in themselves. At times, they’ll help you find something you missed; at others, they will mock you and convince you to give up and die. What’s truly incredible is how integrated into the game they are. About three-quarters of the way through the game, you hit a portion where the voices disappear for the first time, and it’s only in this moment that you realize how silent the game is when you are being berated by a dozen different voices. Never before in a game have I felt like I was being watched the entire time, constantly having people second guessing my every move and trying to trip me up.
In addition, Senua constantly breaks the fourth wall by looking at the camera as either one of the voices in her head or as a character in her flashbacks. Each time she does this, you the player are integrated further into her story. It truly makes you question whether or not she’s seeing you as these characters or if this is all truly her own delusions breaking through her.
The story and setting of this game are remarkable. It’s not often that a game makes me feel like all my struggling is useless in this world. Senua might be a stellar warrior, but when confronting the bastions to the gates of Hell, and eventually Hela herself, it’s hard not to feel completely out of your league. The Nordic mythology is dispersed throughout the game through a series of runes and sigils that Senua scans, each told as stories by Senua’s old friend Druth, each giving a sort of premonition for the upcoming struggles you will face while also giving you some connection to Druth as a character.
The game mixes both incredible graphics and art with live action clips when Senua begins to have a flashback. While live action typically breaks the suspension of disbelief, it’s integrated so perfectly that you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between these two sequences. The set pieces in the game can either be incredibly beautiful and lonely, like the beaches with ships broken and washed to shore, or horrifying, like blood rivers and hands coming out of the walls trying to grab you. There truly wasn’t a time where I wasn’t blown away by the things I was seeing, or terrified to get too close to the structures I was avoiding.
The weakest part of the game would probably be repetitive combat. Senua is limited to only a few select moves: dodge, block, fast hit, heavy hit, and kick. While combat isn’t the top focus of the game, what Hellblade does with these minimal move sets is stellar, since it doesn’t give you much time to think about how repetitive it is when you’re fearing the penalties of death. A message early on pops on your screen that, if you die too often, the “rot” that is slowly consuming Senua through her veins will reach her brain and permanently kill her. While I didn’t die often, it was a constant fear in me that I’d fall in battle and be at serious risk of killing her off completely.
It was also hard to think about repetitive combat when the boss fights in Hellblade are daunting. While small scale combat has a fair amount of tension, there were moments where I would see the boss come out and audibly freak out as it charged me. And each time I blocked and dodged and got a few hits in. When it finally fell before me, the game pushes the belief farther and farther that you can achieve the impossible, despite what the voices in Senua’s head say.
Verdict: I adore this game. The art is incredible. The acting is stellar. The concept of being constantly berated by voices is unmatched. Prior to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Horizon: Zero Dawn was unmatched as my current game of the year. Now, it’s truly a toss up. If you are looking for a game with an amazing character, story, setting, and vision, then play Hellblade. You won’t regret it.