Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Game Review

4.2 (84%) 5 votes

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an action-adventure hack and slashes video game developed and published by Ninja Theory for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation. Before discussing the Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice lets talk a little bit about Ninja Theory.

Ninja Theory is an independent video game developer based in Cambridge, England. Founded as Just Add Monsters in March 2000, the company was purchased by former Argonaut Games CEO Jez San in November 2004. Its Headquarters is located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It’s Founded in  November 2004, Cambridge, United Kingdom. At Gamescom 2014, the company announced Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The game was released worldwide on Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 4, on 8 August 2017.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review

There are stunning visuals and aesthetics coupled with some remarkable motion capture. Melina Juergens’ performance as Senua. Strong and responsive combat. Interesting puzzles with a few neat twists. Perhaps one of the best modern narratives of any media available. Excellent audio production.
There is only one disadvantage of this game is Combat can be very simple and occasionally repetitive (lack of manual targeting can be weird at times). Some perspective puzzles can be frustrating. Exploration is very on-rails and doesn’t venture far off the beaten path.

The Gameplay

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a remarkable beast. It’s an experience through the mind of a young woman tormented by events that would render most people helpless (which is also something she’s trying to deal with). It’s a reminder that psychosis isn’t simply meant to be cursed or shamed, even by the person suffering from it. It’s a journey through a horrifying wasteland of the mind and the underworld, the demons of both mixing together and creating an all too real picture of mental and spiritual torment. However, what makes Hellblade so remarkable is its razor-sharp focus on story-telling and the unrelenting depiction of Senua’s torments, memories, and desires.

Let’s talk about those voices, which highlights the audio brilliance of Senua’s Sacrifice. Senua has a number of voices in her head and they’re all different. There’s the tired elderly voice that’s narrating events while offering her own advice in her own way. Some voices are curious about whether Senua even has a chance. Others soundly mock her and laugh at her. There’s at least one voice that encourages her and believes she can actually win. Another voice is Druth, who met Senua at one point and guides her through a number of the initial trials. Then there’s the “shadow” that’s seemingly following Senua around, berating her, taunting her and bringing her down.

The Story

The player begins the game as one of Senua’s voices, though we don’t speak very much at all, joining her en route to Helheim as she attempts to resurrect her fallen lover. “Resurrect” is probably the wrong word – Senua’s village had been slaughtered and the “shadow,” told her to take her lover’s head to Helheim to bring his soul back. That’s the long and short of Hellblade’s story as Senua deals with all manner of beings, hallucinations and terrible memories en route to Hela, the mistress of the underworld. The entire experience is gorgeously captured, from the rippling water and blinding light as Senua travels up the river to every minute expression on her face as she wrestles with the voices while attempting to stay alive in combat.

And yes, the voices do speak out to you in combat. They become afraid, warn Senua of danger, and will often tell her when to dodge or strike. They’ll warn her when she’s close to dying, which is a neat way of telling you to hang back and avoid taking damage. Little nuances include calling out when an opponent will avoid your attacks and counter you. Combined with the stellar animation, magnificent texture work, and lighting and seamless audio mixing, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an experience that will wear on you.

Whether that’s good for you or not in the long term is debatable but it makes for a unique, unparalleled story-telling experience. Much of the credit must be given to Melina Juergens for her depiction of Senua, showcasing everything from the sheer, wrenching frustration and anger she feels to those brief moments of joy upon remembering her love, Dillion. Similarly, her moments of fright when stumbling around in the dark or wading through the murky swamp are simply uncanny. There’s a message here about Senua being a normal girl who does want to be happy, even as she believes herself to be the cause of everyone’s suffering. It’s a message that’s thankfully presented in good taste without any patronizing.

Other Interesting Elements

The basic gameplay elements of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice are pretty straightforward. The game doesn’t outright tell you what to do, throwing you into the violent waves of Helheim and expecting you to sink or swim. Senua navigates the world, encounters gates and memorizes runes before envisioning them in the environment and progressing forward. These are essentially perspective puzzles and could require orienting yourself at a certain spot or head to higher ground and looking around. Don’t worry – Senua’s POV starts lighting up with dozens of flashes of the rule in question that only get stronger as you get closer to the solution. Using your “focus” on environments will thus reveal the runes hidden within.

And while it may seem easy enough, in the beginning, the game finds other ways to throw its perspective puzzles at you. One such level sees you passing through gates to unveil previously unseen portions of the environment, materializing and dematerializing objects accordingly. Puzzles are interesting, fit the overall nature of the game and have plenty of clever wrinkles the deeper you go. However, they also aren’t too complicated and there’s a fair bit of sticking to one single path when exploring environments. While making for harrowing moments like rushing through a burning village to reach a fire gate, there’s not much room for experimentation.

Enemies are fairly typical, relying on swords and maces with the odd few using maces and shields. It does become challenging when facing off against multiple enemy types like the dual wielding berserker or the giant monstrosity with an axe. Senua’s ability to dodge is very forgiving, getting her out of most sticky situations, but I couldn’t help wishing for a manual targeting system. Once your vision is fixed on an enemy, it won’t shift unless you strike another foe.

Aside from Senua’s focus also being able to expose shadowy enemies immune to damage and slowing down time to execute a myriad of slashes on a foe, that’s all there really is to the action. Make no mistake though – it’s fast, responsive, brutal and tons of fun. The sheer visceral nature of the combat is also highlighted when Senua is knocked down and struggling to get up each time. Fights feel cinematic but they’re also tight and well executed despite being constrained to small areas (for the most part). The boss battles are also exceptionally well done, making use of the focus mechanics, dodging and pattern memorization without overwhelming you with all the details.

Also, to address it right away without giving any spoilers: Don’t think too much about the so-called “permadeath” mechanic, which manifests itself in rot growing on Senua’s right arm. It’ll play a part in due time so don’t worry about dying a lot.

The Verdict

It’s a great story and game because these two things go hand in hand. There’s truly nothing like Hellblade and even if mechanically it can feel too simple while the exploration is mostly on-rails, it’s a compelling experience that’s worth your time. Just make sure to play only an hour at a time lest the voices haunt you in your sleep.

Scott
 

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