Developer(s): Ninja Theory
Publisher(s): Ninja Theory
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4
Release: WW: 8 August 2017
Genre(s): action-adventure, hack and slash
With games such as Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Evil Within, the horror game genre has made a foothold in gaming. Ninja Theory’s entry into that realm seems to be on par. When I first saw Hellblade, my first thought, “Oh, this looks creepily interesting.” I like games that head to the darker side it is a break away from the happiness of other titles. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a hack and slash action title developed and published by Ninja Theory. The story centers on Senua, a woman who has been driven mad by the mysterious Hellblade and embarks on a journey through a hellish world made of her psychotic manifestation of her reality and mind. During the game’s five-minute introduction, Senua is a rafting on a log down a river. She is guided by the voices that have now invaded her mind. Some warn her to go back. Some edge her onward. The rest berate her. The voices do pull me and have me wondering what happened. Unlike their PS3 entry title “Heavenly Sword” where we saw Nariko speaking to an entity, there is no immediate reveal to Senua’s story—her damaged psyche or why she is haunted by visions of her dead companion. As she descends further into her madness, Senua comes across “sign posts” that guide her on her journey for answers.
The gameplay focuses mostly on exploration and puzzle solving. Senua encounters doors blocked by magic runes where she is given a clue on how to gain entry. She must search around for a specific representation of the rune in her vision. When she is close to one, ghostly images of the rune fill the screen, indicating where to find it. These “signs” can be found by lining up one or more objects, such as trees or the ruins of a burned-out village, by adjusting the camera to match the symbol. At times when this is completed, Senua is confronted by hellish manifestations of her distorted reality. Senua fights off these creatures using her sword with a combination of quick light attacks and slow heavy attacks. She can also block and, with timed button press, parry her enemies’ weapon. Combat is pretty straightforward—block, parry and counter. Long combo chains give the attacking demon a chance to defend and counter Senua while she is striking. The controls are easy to handle and Senua will automatically target the next opponent once she has defeated one. Senua is constantly plagued by the “dark rot” which threatens to consume her if she receives too much damage. Once this happens, any progression that has happened to that point will be lost. So, it is important to keep her as healthy as possible. Like in Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” series, breaking away from fighting will help with recovery as there are no health items to speak off. Because Hellblade focuses on puzzle solving, there very few platform elements; however, this doesn’t hurt the experience of the game.
The music of Hellblade is influenced by the Celtic and Nordic roots that drive the game. While Senua is exploring the dark hidden parts of her psyche, the music is subtle with tribal drums and melodic dark overtones that enhance this journey into madness amidst the whispering voices that add to this element. The music becomes even more ominous and the whispers become louder when enemies appear. Hellblade is a beautifully designed game. The environments are incredibly detailed and rich, nearly on par with the lush environment Guerilla Games created for “Horizon Zero Dawn.” The places that Senua travels to may lay in ruins but they are graphically gorgeous in their own dark, twisted way.
Hellblade: Senua’a Sacrifice can be best described as a psychological thriller with action and puzzle solving elements. Ninja Theory has been known for their strong characters stories, ninja-class combat and unique vision. They have brought the best of these elements into Hellblade. The game focuses on the character development of Senua and her personal quest to unlock the dark secrets that lie within her mind. What is interesting about Hellblade is the intricate look into psychosis and how they made its presence known. Given the fact that an actual psychiatrist was consulted to help with this shows that Ninja Theory wanted to bring the horror game genre to a new level. However, this departs from what gamers know the company for, and that is action. Does this hurt Hellblade? Not necessarily. Being called an “independent AAA” game, by which they mean that it was developed and published independently but with all the quality and production values of any AAA game on the market, they wanted to keep things simplistic and subtle, which works for a game such as Hellblade. The game’s foreboding story telling can be compared to other titles like “Silent Hill” which also follows this path. Honestly, it is not a bad buy for $30. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a beautifully dark experience for anyone looking for a subtle yet intense game.
5 minutes of Hellblade gameplay!