Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice comes to us from developer Ninja Theory, who brought us the revamped Devil May Cry in 2013. Now they deliver to us a story about a young warrior woman who is journeying to what seems like the underworld, so that she may bring back her lost love. Meanwhile she fights her own personal demons as she suffers from a “curse” that we would know as a sort of Schizophrenia.
We’re almost immediately introduced to the voices insides our heroine’s mind before our heroine’s herself. My biggest tip for this game is a simple one, WEAR HEADPHONES. I grabbed my Astros, as the game recommended playing with a headset. Boy does it really enhance the game. Hearing voices coming from left, right and even behind me. They serve to put Senua through the real troubles, they never leave her side, at times mocking her, telling her she’s useless and that she should just give up and other times encouraging her. Sometimes they even help you get through more tougher situations. During battle, once the voices told me to duck and I avoided being hit from behind which was a rather cool moment. Though the voices are more haunting and troublesome than they are helpful to Senua.
Hellblade handles the topic of mental health tactfully here, it doesn’t mock or parody it. It shows the true dark side of it. It clearly has been a long part of Senuas life and has been a burden for her family, but not the man she loves. So, it gives her that drive to bring him back.
Hellblade’s controls are pretty straight forward, although don’t expect any training or screen prompts. The first enemy I encountered, I was straight up button mashing, trying to figure out what buttons on the Xbox One controller did what. Button mapping is in the settings however. Also note that I was playing this on PC with an Xbox One controller. Hellblade is currently only available on PC and PS4.
Combat is present but isn’t a major force in Hellblade. Sure, there are a number of different enemies you come up against but combat is pretty straight forward, especially if you have ever played a Dark Souls game before. Not to compare this to the Souls series or say Dark Souls is easy (it isn’t) but in Hellblade, when an enemy goes to swing you duck, dodge and wait for an opening to hack away at them until they fall. After some point in the game, you receive an artefact that in a way slows down time for brief few moments and allows you to get a few good hits in on some of the more faster, well defended enemies. But to return to what I was saying, combat here is pretty light, it is hack and slash but combat is such a small part of this game, so don’t buy this looking to have a God of War hack and slash experience, Hellblade is much more than that. It’s about listening to the voices explaining back stories and taking in the world. There are even these totems, that when you focus on them, take a moment to give you Nordic and Celtic history from some memorable names you might have heard before.
Level design is fairly linear and, besides coming up against the occasional enemy, most of the time you find yourself trying to complete some light puzzle solving to continue on your way. A lot of the road up ahead on your journey is blocked behind doors, that are sealed by magic runes that you have to locate somewhere nearby, and use line of sight to put them up against a part of the world to complete that symbol. These puzzles are supposed to show that Senuas focus allows her to see these intricate symbols but to me, they just grow tiring and cause the game to come to a screeching halt, just when things are getting interesting or intense, you’re suddenly floored by having to stop and line up puzzle shapes, it just really killed the immersion for me.
To finish up, I want to talk about a controversial part of the game that was reported on, and that is the perma-death mechanic. Senua gets rot infection on her arm and you are told that if you die too many times, and if the rot reaches your character’s head, you will die and it is game over meaning your progress is deleted. This isn’t entirely true, that’s basically there to keep you stressed out. It isn’t until the end that you see what eventually will happen that gives you this “OH” moment. So, don’t stress, it is really hard to die, of course depending on what difficulty level you’re on.
Audio & Visuals
Hellblade is gorgeous, at least it looks it on PC where I played. Senua looks amazing and it may be because she is the only human character you see, but she is by far one of the best character models I have seen in a game.
As I said above, Hellblade is best played wearing a headset. The voices circling around your head really do a good job of drawing you into the game, and a symptom of a mental disease was really handled and implemented well in the game.
Hellblade is an excellent game that’s topic is genius to be implemented into a video game. While not the greatest game I’ve ever played, it is certainly one to remember. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is truly unique, however it is bogged down at times by puzzles that grind the game to a halt, and combat that just feels like a dance I keep repeating over and over. At the current price, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you come across a price drop and it hits the $30 mark, I say go for it because you’ll get a good 6-7 hours out of it.