“Hell is reaching deep inside of her. She has dreamt of this before. They say dreams are visions as thoughts of our hopes and fears as dreamed by our inner eye. But, what if each one of us is dreaming even when we are awake and all we can see is what our inner eye creates for us. Is this what hell is? A world shaped by Senua’s nightmares? Maybe that’s why people feared seeing the world through her eyes. Cause if you can believe that what Senua’s sees is true, maybe yours will be too.”
– Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Designer: Ninja Theory
This game seemed to be extremely difficult to review while in the middle of playing it. There were a few times where I would sit down with every intention of writing my thoughts and impressions, yet felt like I would not be able to do this game justice. It wasn’t until today, when I finally had the chance to beat this game, that I feel as though I have the ability to express what it is that I feel for this game.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a psychological action/adventure game developed by Ninja Theory and made for the PlayStation 4. The creators wanted to give the players a type of experience that is considered to be taboo by social standards and has never been displayed so thoughtfully or accurately in any medium.
The story is based on Senua, a Keltic warrior who has become an outcast due to the fact that her tribe believes she is cursed and that she will bring ruin to her people. While in exile, she hears that her village is under attack, and feeling that the love of her life, Dillion, might be in danger, she returns only to find that everyone is dead and her companion has suffered a fate worse than death. She witnesses the aftermath of his brutal death which triggers a metal break within herself. She begins to hear voices in her head that tell her how she can save Dillion’s soul and hopefully break the curse within her. However, this will not be easy as she will have to literally fight her way to hell and back. Throughout the game and as major moments in the game are revealed, the voices in her head become louder and more direct. Senua will actually look back, lock eyes with you, and speak as if she is talking to you directly. This was pretty amazing to witness and really made me feel as though I was the voice in her head. The first time that this happened in the very beginning of the game gave me an understanding of what the adventure might hold, and gave me even more of drive to see what the rest of the game had to offer.
It’s hard to talk about the story without giving too much away. What I can say about this game is that the story itself will not hold back any punches and will force you to experience things that not many have had the discomfort of experiencing. Senua will face many different foes that feel as though they were taken directly from a Lovecraft novel while placing the setting of the adventure around beautiful landscapes and foreboding dungeons.
It’s impossible to get lost while making your way through Senua’s story. The game is designed to be very linear and often times will just require you to walk from point A to point B. In a lot of ways, this game is a walking simulator with certain battle sequences. This may sound like a bad thing, but the voice acting and overall story telling make the hours of walking very enjoyable.
One issue that I had with the gameplay was puzzle solving. There are no variations to the puzzles that you solve and will require you to find specific runes in the area in order to unlock a door. The runes will be different shapes that objects in the area will take to the form of and this requires you to walk around aimlessly while focusing on different objects in the hope that it sort of resembles a weird “T” shape. Though I understand the relevance of such a puzzle, I felt as though it killed all the momentum of a previous fight or story sequence and would often take me out of the experience completely.
Hellblade is absolutely stunning and it really shows off the power of the PlayStation 4 Pro. You control Senua through a third person, over the shoulder, system which will focus on the immediate area right in front of you. This particular playing style gave me the ability to take in everything that was in front of me and allowed me to see the detail in the world.
Your adventure will take you from the rancid and bug infested swamps, to war torn beaches and castles on top of mountains. You will fight your way through burned down villages and run for your life in dank and dark catacombs.
Each area felt alive and offered its own beauty and horror which made the game feel like it was given that extra special detail.
The fighting in this game was pretty basic and did not require too much effort in order to master it. You could often times fight wave after wave of enemies and never be hit if you simply rolled out of the way and timed your attacks. This was a welcome feature however due to the fact that dying too many times during your play through will result in you having to start all over from the very beginning. When first told this, I did feel a particular panic start to set in, but it made the game that much more engaging and really gave me a sense of dread during each battle. It was only when fighting the first major boss that I actually died, but was able to learn from my mistake and press on.
The bosses are a welcome addition to the same enemies that you will face over and over. Each boss that I fought was memorable in their own way and exemplified the area in which you encounter them. The main issue that I had with them was the amount of time that it would take to actually defeat them. I would figure out a good pattern and would often be hacking away at them for what felt like hours. Roll three times, hit them a few times, roll some more, use my focus, hit them a few times, roll some more…over and over until a cut scene.
You are given a very simple set of moves that you can use in combat. You have a light attack, heavy, melee, evade, and block. It wasn’t until I had fought a few waves of enemies that I realized that I could actually mix and match my attacks in order to create different combos. If you run at an enemy and press the light attack button, you will jump in the air and thrust your sword right in the chest of your enemy. I enjoyed figuring out the different attacks Senua could do and found better ways to defeat different enemies as the game progressed.
It’s hard to put into words how I feel about this game. It touched on a topic that many are not able to talk about, let alone actually play a game that revolves around it. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will stand the test of time and will become a bench mark for how narrative driven games should be created. The sense of constant dread over your own slipping sense of reality while learning more about what plagues Senua will stay with me for a long time. I encourage anyone that owns a PlayStation 4, or even if you know someone that has one, to play this game. It is defiantly a game that went under the radar and that has a real chance as Game of the Year.