Mental health is an issue that affects many people, not only in the UK but globally. It’s a serious issue for many, and sometimes seen as a taboo subject which is thankfully shedding that train of thought. Mental health covers a variety of conditions that affect many people and now the subject has been implemented in video game format that has reached the masses thanks to criminally under rated developer Ninja Theory. It’s also worth nothing that Indie developer Flying Mollusk’s Nevermind also touched on the subject, but hasn’t seen the same level of popularity as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has. This time, we discuss the level of impact of Hellblade as it’s finally reached the hands of Xbox One gamers, and the most important question; is it worth a purchase? Let’s find out.
The story of Hellblade revolves around Senua, a young and fierce Celtic woman who is a warrior on a quest for redemption of a loved one, Dillion. The game starts off with Senua rowing through muddy waters on a log and immediately you will notice several things that draw your attention. From the lack of a HUD cluttering the screen, to the absolutely stunning graphics and finally to the voices; voices that whisper to you, belittle you, offer advice and unravel the story to you from the get go.
These voices represent Psychosis and Paranoia of Senua, as she feels the guilt, loss and suffering which causes dramatic cut scenes throughout as she battles her personal demons constantly. Facial expressions as she reacts to each and every scene create a fully believable scenario while the voices invade the privacy of her head. Thankfully the developers have addressed the condition tastefully, having worked alongside people who live with Psychosis on a daily basis, rather than paint a picture that’s she’s just “mad” which wouldn’t do. I’d also highly recommend playing with headphones to fully immerse yourself in the world around you and Senua’s personal hell. It makes for a truly unique and satisfying experience that allows you to delve into the world of someone who must live with this from day to day life. Harrowing for sure, but it does give you insight like no other games available.
The world of Hellblade is truly stunning to behold, from shipwreck riddles beaches with waves crashing around you, to forested areas with ruins of buildings long since decayed, and many more, the detail is nothing short of beautiful in a dark and dreary way. It’s shocking to think that this is not a AAA studio, and showcases the talent involved like never before. The journey does start off with little else to do other than advance the story with lore stones dotted around for you to unravel a story, and unlike many other games, these collectibles serve a purpose, and are certainly worth exploring the landscape for. At first, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a walking simulator given there’s little to do other than advance and solve some wonderfully designed puzzles involving Runes to unlock doors that remain locked until you complete them.
Fortunately, there’s the introduction of enemies and boss fights that squirm their way into the game soon enough. From the illusion of Valravn and his tricks to deceive you, to the scorched destructive nature of Surtr, you’ll find that the challenge suddenly arrives out of nowhere, as foes materialise out of thin air to thwart Senua on her journey. The combat feels meaty with each hit, and feels satisfying enough, but with the sluggish controls, it does dampen the game a little. Not completely bad, but it does feel frustrating when you know you dodged or parried a strike only to watch Senua fall is frustrating. Once you get into the swing of things, it becomes a doddle. It’s also worth noting that perms-death is a thing, and if the rot climbs her arm and eventually reaches her head, then it’s game over. I’ve suffered a few silly deaths to give me little leeway early on. One respawn did see me get spammed with strikes before I could react and thus I died again.
The audio on offer isn’t some glorious soundtrack that accompanies the game, but rather let’s the voices interact with you. As mentioned above, they can question the world around you, belittle you or even help. That’s right, they are worth listening to as you progress and it’s here the game shines. Not that it doesn’t in any other aspect, but the way in which these voices are implemented cannot be faulted.
In terms of game time available, I’d say that for your money, you’re getting around 6-8 hours of gameplay, and it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. There’s little reason to play again however, but that one playthrough will sit with you for a very long time. I’d hazard a guess that even several years later you’re going to remember a lot of it.
For those who hunt achievements, you’ll be pleased to hear that all but one are story related. This will allow you to more or less just play the game without a distraction in any form, and collect them lore stones.
Hellblade is a dark, gritty personal hell for Senua, as she battles personal demons, and forges ahead through a twisted vision of her world. I won’t spoil anything, and leave the discovery of her journey down to you. Needless to say, I loved Hellblade all the way though. Ninja Theory have well and truly established themselves in the gamin industry and with myself. If this is what they’re capable of, then I can’t wait to see what else they’re going to do in the future. Tackling mental health in this way is nothing short of amazing. Then there’s the audio, the absolutely stunning graphics, the level design and everything in between. This is one of the best games of 2018, and I’m not afraid to call it now. It’s even one of the best games of this generation too. It’s stood out for me that much. Sure there’s people who will hate on it, that’s a natural thing. Not everyone enjoys the same game. But if you want a once in a lifetime experience, shell put the asking price, which is more than acceptable, and I’d have been willing to pay full price for this. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a worthy purchase and supports a talented developer. And to think this is an ID Xbox title.
Overall Score 9/10
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Ninja Theory
Release Date: 11th April 2018
File Size: 15.39GB
Xbox One copy provided for review purpose.
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 & Steam
Xbox One X Enhanced