Name: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Ninja Theory
Released: 8 August 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4 and PC
Reviewed on: PC
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has been out for quite a while, and although I couldn’t wait to play it, it had to wait for way too long. I was so hyped for this game that I decided it deserved my undivided attention, and I was unable to give it just that until a few days ago. And boy did the game respond to my expectations.
The graphics are simply amazing! Thanks to motion-capture Senua’s expressions are very much on point all the time. And the fact that Ninja Theory mixes in some real-life filming into the mix is just an excellent addition to the game. The games uses its graphics to let the player know how bad Senua’s psychosis is acting up – and it works brilliantly. The only downside to this is that you’ll need one hell of a computer to get the full experience.
The sound design in the game is excellent too, with binaural 3D sound, which allows the player to somewhat feel how it is to have voices in your head as the voices can circle around you, get further away, be everywhere at once, suddenly sound like they’re inside your neck (No, I have no idea how the audio-designers were able to do that) or simply rapidly shifting between both ears.
One thing I really loved though is the UI, which doesn’t exist at all – there’s no tutorial, there’s no reminders of how to do things. You have to watch Senua’s wounds to see how much health she has left, the same goes for the enemies and bosses. The closest thing to an actual UI is the mirror in Senua’s pocket, that lights up when you can use Focus. But there’s no real UI, and it’s brilliant!
The story is, obviously, the most important part of the game – and luckily it feels like they’ve hit the nail straight on the head. The whole premise of the game is Senua’s struggle with psychosis, mostly with hallucinations and delusions, and the game knows just how to use that to tell the story. I do not know how much I am comfortable with sharing about the story, because you seriously need to play this for yourself to get the full experience. So I’ll try to write spoiler-free stuff.
We join Senua, a Pict warrior, who’s going to Helheim to free her lover – Dillion – ’s soul from Hela, the Norse Goddess of Death. Why does she need to go to Helheim? Well, long story short: while Senua was banished from her village a group of Northmen attacked, and burnt it to the ground, however, Dillion was sacrificed to Hela before the village burned, and Hela does not give back souls without getting something in return.
Senua needs to fight not only several gods on her way to Hela, but also the voices in her head. And the voices aren’t helping her any on her quest, apart from Druth’s (fun fact: who was a real scholar, kidnapped during the Vikings raiding of the Orkney Isles). As far as I’ve understood, he met Senua before the game’s beginning, and told her all she knows about the Norse gods. Senua’s memory of him helps her solve puzzles, and he is the only voice I felt like I could trust.
A cool feature is that there is a very good reason for exploring the map(s), as finding all of the Lorestones lets you see “the true ending”. You can also find several faces during your quest, all picturing Galena, Senua’s mother, who was also struggling with psychosis. The “interactions” with Galena are not needed to unlock “the true ending”, but a scene later in the game makes much more sense if you’ve found all of the faces. Although none of the extra content is needed to finish the game, they really flesh out the story and gave me a much better understanding of Senua’s past.
Do you remember how I told you about Senua struggling with hallucinations and delusions? Even though it screws up reality, it is also a great way to spice up the gameplay. Either by walking through “portals” or seeing things from the right perspective, or perhaps (sort of) go back in time (yup, that’s a mechanic too)! It definitely makes the puzzles harder, but in a good way, because things change in very slight ways, but just enough for players to understand how to solve said puzzle.
Part of going to hell is fighting, which, unfortunately, is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’ weakest part. By all means, it’s not bad, but it’s not anything special. It’s basically just a hack-’n-slash, with little tactical aspect to it, except when you need to use Focus to hurt dark enemies. And even though I played the entire game on hardest difficulty I only died thrice. One of which was when I glitched into a rock while dodging (which luckily was the only glitch I encountered through my 16 hours in-game).
I know “importance” is a weird thing to bring up in a game review – but I still feel the importance and impact the game can make is a major part of the idea behind the game. As far as I know, this is the first time a game (from a studio with Ninja Theory’s fame) has based itself around a protagonist with a form of psychosis. And I really hope this can do the same for those of us struggling with psychosis, as Gone Home did for the LGBTQIA+ community (according to Reddit). And as Life is Strange did, making a point about being bullied to the point of commiting suicide, again according to Reddit, this was an eye-opener for many. Because making psychosis less taboo can make so many lives better, and hopefully make society more open to mental health in general, and I truly believe this game has what it takes to do just that. So should this game be a part of education for psychologists? Yes, by all means. Should it be mandatory to play sometime in life? I really do think so. Is this a prime example of how powerful and important games can be? Definitely!
TL;DR – This game is important, and you really should play it. Right now.
My expectations for this game was sky high, and so is my verdict. This game is a masterpiece, short and simple as that. The graphics looks amazing, and is actually used as a game mechanic. The sound design is a work of geniuses, yes the main feature is the 3D-sound. But the soundtrack too is very fitting for the game. The story is even better, it’s powerful beyond words. Ninja Theory has asked people who struggle with psychosis for help in how to make the game believable, so getting a better basis to build understanding for the condition is hard to achieve. But more importantly, the game helps mental illness being less taboo.
Thank you, Ninja Theory! Thank you, thank you, thank you! This has been an awesome experience!
Replay Value: 9/10
Total Score: 9.5/10
+ The graphics/audio, holy smokes
+ No UI
– The fighting is nothing special