Game Review: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade_-_Senua's_SacrificeHellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice by Ninja Theory
PS4 Edition, 5 to 7 hours
Published 8th August 2017 by Ninja Theory
Genre: single player, action, adventure, psychological horror, puzzle-solving
Source: Buy on Amazon
Trophy list

Synopsis: Inspired by Norse mythology and Celtic culture, Hellblade follows Senua, a female Pict warrior who must make her way to Helheim by defeating otherworldly entities and facing their challenges, in order to rescue the soul of her dead lover from the goddess Hela. In parallel, the game acts as a metaphor for the character’s struggle with psychosis, as Senua, who suffers from the condition but believes it to be a curse, is haunted by an entity known as the “Darkness”, voices in her head known as “Furies”, and memories from her past. To properly represent psychosis, developers worked closely with neuroscientists, mental health specialists, and people suffering from the condition.

Overview: Hellblade brings an intense, gritty experience to its players. The storytelling in this game was so compelling that it had me glued to my chair the entire night. I found myself unable to put the controller down because I wanted to find out what happened next. I’d wanted to play this a while ago, and I’m glad I finally did.

What I loved about the game: The best thing about Hellblade without a doubt was how they implemented Senua’s psychosis. I could easily tell the amount of research the developers had done. Playing through the game was terrifying at times; those voices in Senua’s head came unbidden, telling her to do this or that. I found myself questioning my actions in the game and retracing my steps just to check if I’d really gone on the right path. It also occurred to me that because Senua was suffering from psychosis, how much her hallucinations tortured her gave weight to the importance of other people out there suffering the same.

I enjoyed the Celtic and Norse influences to this game, even though the latter is more apparent. The Norse mythology has always been one of my favourites. I’d grown up with its stories (thank you, Final Fantasy and Ragnarok Online), so seeing this game’s take on it was really refreshing. I felt it was a more accurate depiction of the Norse myth than what media represents it today. Not that I’ve anything against it.

Favourite part: Surtr’s domain

What didn’t work for me: I wish that there was nothing I disliked about this game, but that is, unfortunately, not the case. There were a lot of things about Hellblade that needed work on.

For starters, I expected a lot more combat since it was advertised as an action-adventure game. I’ve no issues with story-focused games, like Life is Strange or games from Telltales, but Hellblade gave me the impression that I’d be fighting a lot more, especially since Senua was a Pict warrior. Despite combat being sparse, fights became repetitive and dull quickly, even on the highest difficulty offered. Once you figure out how easy it is to break the enemy’s poise and when to attack them (which can be done on your first encounter with each type), the game becomes a breeze, even with bosses. Sadly, this also made Hellblade insanely tedious whenever I had to fight something.

Because the game was story-focused, this meant spending a lot of time prancing about, listening to the voices in Senua’s head or her talking to herself. Due to this, the game felt more like an interactive movie to me. A really slow-paced one. I got that this was for the storytelling, which was fantastic, but it got really dull when all I could do was walk around slowly, waiting for dialogue and lore to end before I could continue.

Speaking of lore, I hated that there was no chapter select function. I missed only one lore in my entire playthrough, in one of the shard challenges, and had to replay the whole thing up to that point just to get it. Maybe I’m being salty, but I think a chapter select option would be great for the game. I’d have used it just to replay Surtr’s domain.

Lastly, while I don’t deny that the graphics were astounding, I stumbled into one too many bad renders. If the camera was faced a certain way, objects could be easily clipped, spoiling what would be a scenic view. Both Senua and enemies could get stuck too, making it frustrating, especially in the former, when I had no choice but to fall in combat just to move around again. There were also instances where things looked wrong and out of place. I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be that way or if it was something the developers missed.

Conclusion: Hellblade could have easily gotten five stars from me just for its psychological representations and story. I just found way too much flaws in it that prevented an immersive experience. Despite that, I still think it should be a game that everyone should play once, if only to be more aware of mental illnesses.

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