Gaming is something that I take very seriously. It’s something that has been a part of my life ever since I was a child and first played Pacman on my parent’s 2600 (thanks Mom). As I’ve gotten older, my life has changed drastically. I’m a father and a husband. I work a full time job and I write fan fic on the four mutated Tartaruga Brothers on the side. As I have changed, the landscape of gaming has changed. We’re more connected than ever. Characters in games practically leap of the screen and the worlds they inhabit parallel ours more and more. Story in a video game, once (arguably) considered an afterthought, has become a selling point that a lot of us take into consideration when deciding what game to buy.
Buying games has also become something of a gamble today, much as it was when people in their early thirties where kids in the eighties and nineties. Nowadays, we don’t have to rely on the box art to sell a game for us, but the demos on the PSN store or the YouTube channels run by some of our favorite developers. Such is the case for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Hellblade is a game that I have been harboring a quiet obsession with over for these past few weeks. Being developed and published by Ninja Theory, the developers of the only Devil May Cry game worth playing, Hellblade tells the story of a Celtic warrior named Senua as she makes her way through an underworld of her own making after losing those that she loves. There’s that selling point that we were talking about earlier.
But why has this game captured my attention so? Well, allow me to explain…
Senua is a Celtic Pict warrior who survives an attack from invading Vikings. Her village, along with someone she loves, are not as lucky. Seeing the devastation that has become her home, her psyche cracks and she is left to the unknown voices that are in her mind. Now it seems as though she is on a quest for revenge, which seems simple enough, if a bit cliché. But you soon realize that she is working her way through her own version of Hell. Okay, seems a little too Dante to me, but what makes this interesting, is most of what is happening, most of what Senua is seeing, is through her now fractured world view. She’s damaged, broken, and seemingly mad as hell. The thing that strikes me the most about Senua is her lack of sex appeal. Take a look at her and tell me what you see. War paint plastered on her face. Scars and fur lined clothing designed for protection, not for looks; there are no chainmail bikinis here, and it’s about fucking time. Also, Senua is played by actress Melina Juergens; and having never seen or heard of her before, I have to say that she’s at least a better actress than I.
Now, this does look like a basic hack-n-slash game, which is fine, but some people may confuse basic with boring. In this game that may not be the case as a lot of time and development went into the combat system. While this is a third person action game, Hellblade seems to ditch the “cinematic” quality that most games today portray. The camera is fixed to an over-the-shoulder perspective, ala Resident Evil 4. That’s not to say that there are no camera controls, but during combat, you use the thumb sticks to switch between enemies during combat. The combat looks to be inspired by the Dark Souls series, focusing on medium and strong attacks, dodging and parrying. Senua’s fighting ability seems to have been developed with strong sense of realism. Her attacks are portrayed as if coming from someone that has been trained for battle their entire lives. She is designed as a warrior and not a ballerina with a sword as are so many other video game characters. While this gameplay may run the risk of becoming repetitive, the truth is, we just don’t know enough of the gameplay to find out how much emphasis will be placed on the combat. There doesn’t seem to be platforming anywhere within the game, and, while there were rumblings of exploration of the games world, very little has been seen of it during development. This brings me to my next point…
This game has been in active development for the better part of the last three years. Ninja Theory has made great strides in developing, what they’re calling, an “independent AAA-game. Running on Unreal Engine 4 and being developed by a team of only sixteen people, this game seems to be a true labor of love from the developers. Now many people over the years have talked about the games space becoming tired, what with the reboot/remaster culture taking over as the eighth generation of consoles became available. People clamor for new IP, new stories, new everything nowadays; which is what has me the most excited about Hellblade in the first place. This being a new IP means that the possibilities for what this game could be limitless. With as much information that is out there for this game, there is surprisingly little known about this game. (Politely) Correct me if I’m wrong, but most everyone that is talking about this game, are talking about the advances in technology in rendering a virtual human and new combat system designed for fighting multiple enemies at once. There has been very little released on the specifics of the story itself which isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it should be a point of confidence with the developers that they’re just letting the gameplay and the teams’ development speak for themselves.
I think, at the end of the day, what we all want is a good game. I don’t think that the subject matter really makes a difference, as long as the game is good. It doesn’t matter if you are punching Reapers in the face or finding your princess from within another castle, a good game speaks for itself. Games today seem to revel in over-complication. Take Batman: Arkham Asylum for instance; what was great about that game, the “one-button-to-punch” method of thinking during development. Doom, old school mechanics with today’s graphical power. Tomb Raider (2013) makes Lara Croft an actual person and not a sexpot. When I look at Hellblade, I see the same manner of thinking. Senua was crafted with the purpose of making a character that you would care for, as well as find believable. Combat was recreated a couple of times over during development with the goal being to find the correct balance between believability and fun. The world is designed to help you see a world that is both familiar and frightening as Senua’s grip on reality loosens. This game had me at “hello” when I first laid eyes on the trailer by accident a couple of weeks ago. But the developers’ commitment to their title is what has cemented my fandom for this little known title. I have high hopes that Hellblade will see the light of day and becomes a massive success while not being compared to other genre style games like Tomb Raider (2013) and the Uncharted series. The goal of this article is to spread the word and hope to garner interest in it. If you’re interested, take a look at Ninja Theory’s YouTube channel here and decide for yourself.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will be available on both PSN and Steam sometime in 2016. Thanks for reading.