Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PlayStation 4) Review

By Az Elias 16.08.2017 7

Review for Hellblade: Senua

Mental illness and video games aren't two subjects normally associated with each other. Heck, the lack of discussion and accurate portrayal of psychosis and the effects it can have on the sufferer in media in general is a cause for concern that desperately needs correcting. That's why Ninja Theory's latest project is something everyone should stand up and take notice of. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice delves deep into the mind of a character tormented by her disorder, where what is real and what is not becomes difficult to determine.

Senua's dark journey through the Viking underworld is already covered well in Cubed3's PC review, but this PS4 write-up is an opportunity to focus more attention on a game that fully deserves it. Hellblade is something of an admirable challenge - not only for its bold attempts to highlight mental illness, but for the fact Ninja Theory went completely independent for the development of the game, yet vowed to put in the level of quality that goes into most high-budget titles.

The results are mostly there for all to hear and see, with one of the most artistic and atmospheric games of the generation, aided not just by the grim visual aesthetic that paints an original form of Norse hell, and not just by the fantastically crafted Celtic warrior herself, Senua, depicted so well by her performance capturer through both voice and motion, and not just by the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, but by the voices in Senua's head that go a long way to shaping the character that she is.

They inform, confuse, annoy, joke, state the obvious, reveal her emotions, hurt her, help her, tell her stories, and immediately and continually demonstrate the hardships a person with Senua's level of psychosis deals with. Placing the character into a Viking time period means being able to use the Norse fantasy setting to the benefit of the developers in presenting the troubles in Senua's mind in unique ways, as well as making a point about how the illness has existed in humans for as long as we have been around, and the ways in which sufferers were treated back then. Effectively, it is a way of reiterating how common and serious mental illness is.

Screenshot for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice on PlayStation 4

Now, there are some mishaps and glitches in certain parts, such as the sound of walking through water that isn't there, previously-opened doors being shut that can be walked through anyway, and cutscenes falling out of sync with the dialogue - which hurt one of the final scenes in particular on this playthrough - as well as reports of major glitches from other players, including some game breaking, but never occurred here personally. Some of it takes out of the immersion slightly, but most are overlooked. Hopefully the bigger ones get ironed out in the near future.

Battles are not a huge focus for the adventure, but when they do occur, they are highly engaging and fun to take part in. There is a realistic weight to the manner in which Senua swings her steel blade, with a feeling of heaviness and delayable inputs that work to counter the attacks of the ferocious Northmen. An auto combat difficulty adapts to how well you are playing, but the truth is that fights are pretty easy affairs, even when tuned up to the hard setting. It still feels and looks brilliant, as Senua and her foe slowly walk towards each other in a one-on-one battle to the death, and that brief slow-mo moment when you successfully parry at the last second to set up an opportunity to retaliate is very cool, but the enemies still pose little threat.

Screenshot for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice on PlayStation 4

Enemy attacks are generally predictable and lacking in variety, and due to only being able to focus on one foe at a time, things can get pretty claustrophobic in small areas where multiple Northmen have surrounded Senua. Perhaps that is one of the aims here, though; the frustration felt in having little room to manoeuvre in some sections could just as easily be a reflection of the inner battles the young woman is forced to fight against in her head. There are some genuinely scary moments throughout the course of the journey, too, further emphasising the struggles Senua deals with.

Most of the quest is spent working through a fairly linear world, where Senua's progress is often blocked by doors that require matching shapes in the environment to runes that will unlock them. These puzzle sections range from clever to slightly annoying, but the game is rather lenient when it comes to offering a helping hand on where the runes can be found. Unfortunately, they can halt the pace of the game, but since these are often a break from the combat and are places that won't really be returned to again, they do also provide a chance to take in the lands around you - and it is encouraged to do so, as some areas set an incredible mood. Approaching the gates to Helheim across a broken bridge over the sea, with rain lashing down during the night, and sword in hand, is not just an epic moment to play, but an incredible one to observe.

Screenshot for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice on PlayStation 4

It isn't really until after the game is beat that the player is able to reflect on everything they have just gone through and make sense of it all, though. This is perhaps one of the problems in Hellblade. What must be gone through and what the player must do, such as the tedious rune searching, don't necessarily translate into the most exciting playable sections, and it is perhaps the case that anyone who hasn't gone through the sorts of psychotic experiences portrayed in the adventure might not appreciate the value that can be attributed to certain moments and understand why they are in the game to begin with.

With that in mind, certain people will find worth in what Hellblade sets out to achieve more than others - although Senua, and the game as a whole, is still very relatable to even those who suffer from other conditions, as well as those who don't. It is a game that speaks to everyone on a personal level in some shape or form, and justifies being played - especially at its budget price, making the risk of trying it much safer. Just be sure not to expect a grandiose God of War-like epic, because this is a very different type of quest through Norse hell - a fight against more than just mere gods. It is a personal battle against the most difficult demon of all: the self.

Screenshot for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a powerful and significant piece of interactive media that, yes, is far from perfect, but successfully puts mental illness at the forefront of the concept, causing its players to come away from the experience contemplating exactly what they have borne witness to, and allows them to better understand the very serious realities that others go through on a daily basis. Ninja Theory earns a great deal of respect for what the team has managed to achieve, but also for respecting those affected by psychosis.

Developer

Ninja Theory

Publisher

Ninja Theory

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Found myself agreeing with what Ofisil wrote after I'd played through this. I really liked it. I thoroughly enjoy the combat, but it's just a shame the mechanics aren't put to better use with other enemies and attacks to deal with.

Already doing a second playthrough on hard mode to get all the lorestones, although it definitely isn't that difficult. Lasted just the right length too - not too short or long - although replaying it now, it's a bit of a bummer you cannot skip cutscenes.

Definitely was potential to take it a bit further, but I'm happy with it overall. It achieves what Ninja Theory set out to do, and isn't supposed to be some epic action adventure with tons of combat.

Highly recommended watching the 'making of' featurette after finishing the game too - the work that went into creating this is respectable.

im not feeling it with this one. i mean it isnt as offensive as their DmC reboot... but that game had more stuff in it.

this one felt like a 5/10 to me. amazing visuals and animations with serviceable yet simplistic mechanics... but the dull and tedious walking sim sections did nothing for me.

what this game needed is different weapons and a larger variety of enemies.

bringing the right tool for the right job... 

Agree on variety of enemies. Was potential for something more there, definitely.

It's one of "those" games. Those seeking fullfilment through gameplay will be dissapointed. As an experience, though, it was awesome, and I feel than Ninja Theory wanted that exactly

A lot of quotes in the Internet are attributed to the wrong person
                                -Georgios Karaiskakis

i cant play this game without feeling intensely sleepy. keeps on putting me to sleep

Eh, I think it's great for what they wanted to achieve. Proof that you can make a high quality game AND release it at a budget price without a dirty publisher's sweaty palms fucking it up. Weighing in the factors, I think it's done its job well. I understand it's not for everyone, but I still enjoyed it for a couple of playthroughs. Plus the combat felt and looked awesome to me.

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