Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
(Action-Adventure)TL; DR - Skip to the Verdict at the end of the review
A few of the available options are sliders for brightness, Master Volume, Music, SFX, Voices and Menus; Subtitles (OFF by default), Graphic quality, mappable controls, combat difficulty, and more.
Let me address the whispers of permadeath in the game - I died many times over, and my game was safe, so I can assure you that if you're terrible at combat, you will still be able to play and enjoy this game without worrying about losing all of your progress.
Ninja Theory, the developers of Hellblade, made two games that I enjoyed immensely: ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West
, a true gem with its gorgeous visuals and interesting story; and DmC: Devil May Cry
with its stylish and beautiful combat. When I heard that they were coming out with a new game, I was excited, anticipating something that would be an epic mixture of the best qualities of these two games. What I got was not even close to what I had envisioned, bringing me something wholly unexpected.
So what IS the game like?
Reality. Dark, gritty and full of inner turmoil. Most games have a very cut-and-dried story line, with a clear antagonist to destroy. It's not so straightforward in Hellblade... Senua's greatest enemy is her own shattered mind. The devs did a brilliant job of handing an issue that is so sensitive that most people simply refuse to acknowledge it, much less make it the central focus of a AAA game. I will come back to this a bit later, for now focusing on...
The gameplay is story-based, with a lesser emphasis on combat. All fights in the game come at scripted intervals - there are no random encounters or wandering enemies to accidentally bump into. Senua can see patterns in the abstract around her, and by "Focusing", she can unlock or create new pathways to traverse.
Periodically you will need to seek out rune-shaped patterns in the surrounding area. When you are close, you'll see glowing red shapes floating around you, indicating which rune you are nearby. Other times, there are areas that look weird... blurry. This is yet another kind of puzzle which can be solved by looking at it (focusing) from the right angle. This is where having a controller gives you an edge, as it will vibrate when you are close to finding a piece of the missing shape or rune (assuming that you have the feature turned on.)Collectibles and Achievements
There is only one collectible in the game, which consists of finding "Lorestones
", and "focusing" upon them to hear a tale. Basic exploration will reveal the lorestones, and I highly recommend seeking them out, as they not only expand the story, they also add a new layer of interest (I personally found some of the stories fascinating!)
As this is a reality-based game, there is no "fast-travel" between areas, so explore well before moving on to a new location! There is a button you can hold down to jog, which helps, and the game is semi-linear, so you don't have to worry about getting lost. I say "semi" linear because you do have choices, at times, of which direction you're going to take, but in the end you'll have to complete everything in the area before you can move on.
Finding all 44 of the lorestones is the only achievement
that you'll have to work for, as the rest unlock through game progression.Battle
Senua is a fearsome opponent and great warrior - despite her slim stature - and the reason is actually explained as the story unfolds, so BRAVO for that, devs! *claps* I do love logic in my games ;D
You have five moves to choose from during combat: Fast strike, heavy strike, melee, block
. The "run" button that usually makes Senua jog will allow you to charge
your enemies. I am not great at fighting in games, and I found that dodging was my best friend, greatly reducing my defeats.
When your mirror glows during battle, you can "focus
" to slow down your enemies and give you the upper hand.
The battles themselves are beautifully-choreographed, and I found myself frequently stopping the action to take screens. There is a nice variety of enemies to fight, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and all intimidating to behold.The Sights
I thought that ENSLAVED and DmC had amazingly-realistic nuances and mannerisms for their characters, but Hellblade blows them both out of the water, adding a depth that makes you feel like you're in control of an actual movie. It's not only here and there that the graphics look cinematic-quality -- it's EVERYWHERE!
The blue paint on Senua's face makes her look odd - even cross-eyed at times - but as you play and the blue wears away, she looks pretty, even stunning at times.
Adding to the feeling that you're in a movie is the built-in Photo Mode
. You can enter photo mode at any time - even during most cutscenes! Doing so will pause the action, and you can zoom in, out, move the camera approx. 20 yards in any direction, add photo effects, and much much more! TIP:
If you enter photo mode during a cutscene, Senua will almost always be blurry. Simply adjust the focus to 100% and find your perfect shot!The Sounds
It's not just the graphics that shine in this game, but the sounds as well. Every utterance, every sound effect and every tick and hum you hear in the game is brilliantly-placed. The acting is top-notch, and I especially loved the female narrator. Senua's friend, Druth, really chewed up the carpet, but it worked with the stories that he was telling.The Story
I won't go into specifics, as I don't want to spoil the game for anyone, but I will touch upon a few things. Senua's psychosis is central to the narrative, plunging us deep into her perceptions and fears. Ninja Theory heavily researched the topic, bringing in not only neuroscientists, but people who experience psychosis to shed light on the subject from both sides of the coin. The result is captivating, giving us a glimpse of what some people live with as a part of their daily lives.
I am not into gore, and though there is definitely some blood involved, it's handled in a way that never made me uncomfortable. There is a definite psychological aspect aimed at us, the players. There are moments that are frightening, creepy, downright unsettling... all of it pulling us even further into Senua's world.The Verdict
Hellblade is a game like no other, exploring mental illness in a setting that is rich in stunning detail and fascinating in its delivery. Everything about the experience is stunning, from the sounds to the acting to the superb graphics, and everything in between. I can't recommend this title enough - Absolutely two thumbs up from me!