Welcome to Hell. Ninja Theory’s action-adventure game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a title that will stick with you long after completion. Hellblade’s genre is hard to define, the gameplay has its fair share of heart pounding action, the player will spend much of their time solving puzzles and also running from the unseen monsters that ‘may’ lurk in the dark or around any corner. The reason I say ‘may’ is that the games major draw card is how it puts the player deep into the lead characters Senua’s head and her struggles with mental health.
The story of Hellblade is inspired by Norse mythology and if you are familiar with its legends, you will pick up on a number of names from the voice over story nodes you find along the way. Some of these stories are haunting and others teach life lessons. They drive the player along throughout Senua’s journey. But who is Senua and what drives her?
Senua is a Pict warrior who must make her way to and through Helheim (Hell) to rescue her deceased lover from the goddess of death, Hela. She is also haunted by a voice in her head known as the Darkness. The Darkness is not the only voice in her head. She also has to deal with multiple female voices known as the Furies. As you begin Senua’s journey, a text lets you know that Ninja Theory worked closely with mental health specialists to represent psychosis. And they’ve nailed the haunting struggle that many people live with. The relationship with her ‘father and lover’ mixed with her ‘curse’ could hit close to home for some people. It is not just for entertainment purposes but an educational one. Ninja Theory’s and Hellblade’s website include information on this disease and links to help and support programs all around the world. They take this disease very seriously.
What also drew me in are the visuals, a stunning world that on the Xbox One X blew me away. At times it is breathtaking and drives you to want to see more. The score also fits perfectly, from those quiet moments travelling the land, to the heart pumping, edge of your seat action sequences. It all just fits. The voice acting and motion capture by the lead actress Melina Juergens and also the other actors, could be the best I have ever seen. Senua’s portrayal is the next level of character representation and after a month of finishing the game and playing through a number of other games, this portrayal of Senua is still stuck in my head. The overall presentation is perfect.
One thing to note is that the gameplay might not be for everyone. I on the other hand found that it faultlessly blends action, which is somewhat hack and slash, with a lot of countering and patient timing, as button mashing will end in your death. Puzzle solving also takes up a large part of the gameplay but does not out stay its welcome and the survival horror, which has you running and sneaking from beasts and spirits at one minute, sneaking through the dark with minimal to no light the next.
There are also two things that may not make this the perfect experience for some players. The first, if you do not own surround sound headphones, the experience is very diminished. I normally hate using headphones unless I’m playing online with mates, but for the full experience of the mental health ‘curse’ that Senua experiences and to be played as intended with these voices in your head, headphones are highly recommended. The next one is controversial. Early on, you look into battle with the Darkness, which cannot be won; Senua develops a growth on her arm known as the ‘Rot’. Next the game states that each time you die, the Rot will grow. And if the Rot takes you over, the journey is over and your save game is deleted. Now, without giving anything away, this game is meant to screw with your head and this notion makes each battle intense and I cannot stress, DO NOT let this feature stop anyone from playing this title.
Finally, as a gaming dad, this game is not for children, of any age. It’s not blood thirsty or has profanity, it’s the mental health issues, the world and battles that Senua’s encounters that will not only terrify young ones, it will keep pre teenagers up at night and even disturb those who are hitting adolescence. Use your parental judgement before passing this on.
The game lasts anywhere between 6 and 9 hours depending on your skill level and if you search out all the story nodes. Overall the AAA presentation, the immersive story, the varying gameplay and the outstanding experience that is like no other game before it has, makes this title the best game I have played so far in 2018. It will take near perfect game to knock this off its perch. Do yourself a favour, pick this up, put the kids to bed, put on some headphones and immerse yourself.
Please note: Mental health is struggle many of us deal some way or another in our life times. Be it a family member, friends, colleagues or even within ourselves. We at XBDG encourage us all, to support each other with the battle against this serious disease and to be on the lookout for anyone who may be showing a slight plea for help, change in behaviour and any symptoms. Please don’t stop asking, are you ok? https://headspace.org.au
+ Jaw dropping visuals.
+ Engaging story.
+ Melina Juergen’s performance as Senua.
+ The Darkness, Furries and impact of mental health.
– Using headphone is a must for the games full impact.
-Some of the puzzle sections can draw out.
-Weak final act.
Pottsy for One More Game