“No game has ever hit me quite as hard as Senua’s Sacrifice.”
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a dark tale of epic proportion. Following the journey of the Pict warrior, Senua, we are led on an intense path, as we make our way through the lands of monsters and gods. Upon her belt is the head of the one she loved, Dillion. He is the reason that she is in such a place. To save his soul, Senua must succeed in the challenges of the rulers of Helhiem, and reach the goddess of death herself, Hela.
I will never forget the intro. Never. It was perfect. In a single scene it manages to encompass everything that this game is. Dark and disturbing, yet strangely beautiful and intriguing. We begin this journey making our way down a river. Calming, you may think, but then the voices start. Senua is disturbed by her inner demons, who constantly speak to you throughout the game, as they warn and mock in equal parts. This experience is greatly intensified with the use of headphones or surround sound, although I imagine that this could be too much for many. You have been warned!
Graphically, Hellblade is very impressive. The pallet of dark colours are often offset with a vibrant and otherworldly glow, usually coming from the sword of Senua or her mirror when it activates in combat. The settings are usually of ruin, scattered with morbid scenes, but then, occasionally, these are juxtaposed with a scene that is absolutely beautiful. The scene that immediately comes to mind are the flashbacks of what I assume represents Yggdrisal. The art of the characters that represent the gods, and what will serve as the boss fights, are incredibly well done and suitably terrifying, as are their minions. Couple all this with an atmospheric soundtrack, on-point sound effects and the voices, believe me when I say that Senua’s Sacrifice is one hell of a ride.
Gameplay wise, Hellblade is simple, yet deep. This game is a balance of combat and puzzle, although you will find more puzzle than combat. For all of you button-mashing-action game fans out there, this game may not be for you. I feel that the combat in this game is more for substance than anything else. However, it is perfectly executed for its means. You can feel the intensity of the arena like combat sequences. You can dodge and parry, and there are even combos to discover, and mastering all of these elements are completely necessary, as boss fights can prove quite the challenge. This formula slightly reminded me of a toned-down Dark souls. The puzzles are where this game absolutely shines. Integral to its story telling, each puzzle is an ingenious interaction of discovery. From world warping portals, to finding forms of rune among nature or cleverly placed objects, while not overly challenging, they are brilliantly designed. One final thing to note on the gameplay front is how different Hellblade is to many of the mainstream titles out there. By many standards, this game is linear, however, this is not a criticism. By removing the need to explore a vast amount, you can really focus on the story that is being told here, and everything that Senua is experiencing… including those demons of her mind.
Intense is a word that sums this game up, and it is something that it does very well. You can feel the panic as Senua’s reality around her begins to burn, and you must find a way to escape. You can feel that adrenaline rush as Fenrir is stalking you from the shadows, and you must find the light before he strikes. As well as these tasks, we are hit with the voices of doubt and a finite amount of lives. That’s right… if you die too many times in Hellblade, the rot spreads through Senua, and it’s game over for you. You lose all of your progress. This mechanic adds so much more intensity to the game. For me, it made me pay more attention to every step. I assessed every battle that little more closely. And, when I did die, I planned out how I would play differently so that it wouldn’t happen again. This game makes you pay attention, and it does so in that very clever way.
And, you know a game is going to be this intense and effective when the first person the developer’s credit is a mental health advisor. Clearly, much research was done into the conditions of a person suffering from psychosis. We assume that this is an ailment that Senua is suffering from during the course of Hellblade. The voices. The Hallucinations. Is she truly wandering the realm of the gods? Certain flashbacks would make it apparent that we are not, and it is the creation of a disturbed mind. It’s clear that there has been much trauma in Senua’s upbringing and general past, and so the death of her beloved Dillion was the event to completely unbalance her mind. The ending also adds a lot of credence to this, although I will not spoil why…
I will end this by saying, simply; No game has ever hit me quite as hard as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It is a masterpiece. Every gamer needs to play this game, and experience this unsettlingly beautiful creation. You may not love it, but you will appreciate how clever it truly is. Will you endure the challenges of the gods? Will you endure the voices, whilst battling the minions of Helheim? I did, and I cannot wait to revisit the mind of Senua in Hellblade 2, which should be with us in the near future. Go check out the trailer if you haven’t already!
Swiftly entering my list of favourite ever games, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gets a 5/5 from me.