Dealing with mental illness is no joke. Most people just don’t understand it and think it’s something that can just be ignored. Not only that, but it is also hard for that person to even describe what it is they are feeling or dealing with. Now, you may be wondering why I’m starting my review of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice like this, and that is because the developer, Ninja Theory, has went to great lengths to portray psychosis in a realistic and respectful fashion.
In Hellblade, you play as a Pict known as Senua. A Pict is a tribal confederation of peoples who lived in eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. The game is focused on Senua’s (Melina Juergens) point of view, as she embarks on a very personal journey through a hellish underworld made up of Senua’s psychotic manifestations of her reality and mind.
The first thing i want to mention is the sound design. Before the game even starts, Hellblade suggests you use headphones because it will enhance your gaming experience. Normally I don’t use headphones, but after reading this message, I took their advice, and I can say that this is an experience unlike any other! With the use of binaural audio design (simulated three-dimensional sound), Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice immerses you into the game in such a unique way that I couldn’t imagine playing without my headphones. Sound is very important to this game, making every moment unsettling. Senua has many voices in her head that, with headphones, sound like they are surrounding you. The voices are consistently mocking you and laughing behind your back. Not only is this a way to give you a sense of dread, but the voices actually help you. Without the use of a HUD, the voices will let you know when you are about to die and warn you when danger is near.
Sound design isn’t the only thing Hellblade has to offer, however. The story itself is an intricately told tale of Senua’s journey and her struggle with psychosis. It is hard to differentiate what is real and what is all in her head, and not only is this an epic adventure, but it is also one of tragedy. You can’t help but feel sympathetic to what Senua is going through.
Even the gameplay is done in a unique way. Given that this is made by Ninja Theory, who made games such as DMC and Heavenly Sword, you would expect this to be an action-packed adventure. However, the game is played like a visual novel where you wander around the mythological underworld of Helheim, unraveling the mysteries as you progress.
Not only is it a visual novel, the likes of Gone Home, it is also an action game; the action is just spread out more. The fighting is done in an over-the-shoulder camera style which lets you focus on the nearest enemy, giving you a more cinematic experience. The combat is well done and is very calculated. You have to know when to strike, dodge, and block when the time is right if you want to survive these encounters.
Speaking of surviving, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has a permadeath mechanic to ratchet up the tension. Senua has this black mark that starts above the wrist, and every time you die, it slowly crawls up her arm and will eventually reach her neck. When and if it does, your game is over and you will have to start from the beginning. Don’t worry though, in my play-through of 8 or so hours, I died around twenty times and I was still able to finish the game without having to start over.
You may be wondering, well how does it look? Rest assured this game is gorgeous! It may be an indie title, but Ninja Theory is known for their AAA games. They call it an indie AAA game, and with their pedigree as game makers, they do not disappoint. The underworld of Hellheim is visually stunning with beautiful water effects and textures, to the point where it almost felt real!
There are only two minor complaints I have with this game. The first thing is that there isn’t a tutorial on how to play, which caused me to lose a couple of battles. I did not realize that I had to go to the options menu to figure out which buttons do what. The other complaint is that I experienced a couple of minor glitches. One had me climbing an invisible ladder that led me to my death, but the others weren’t nearly as bad. They were mainly just graphical hiccups, but none of these really angered me to the point where I would give up.
My overall experience with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was very enjoyable, and it just blows my mind that this game is only $29.99 on the PlayStation Store. If you are in need of a new, unique, and engaging experience, I highly recommend it. There is nothing else like this game and I feel that you will be pleasantly surprised.