Hellblade – Review
Platform – PS4
Developer – Ninja Theory
Publisher – Ninja Theory
MSRP – $39.99
Editor’s Note – This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 with review copy being provided by Gaming Instincts.
Hellblade is one maddening game, from the moment you begin you’re met with the feeling of mystery and vacancy. As your row your boat towards the shore of this mysterious land you are met with some disembodied voices. All telling you different things, to turn back and to continue on. It should be said that Ninja Theory has tried to depict a real representation of someone with Schizophrenia, and they do it pretty well according to popular opinion. From the moment we stepped off the boat, we were completely immersed. The god rays shining through the trees and the cinematic camera shots drew us in to what felt like a movie.
Your name is Senua, a Celtic woman who has come to these lands to find something, from the moment the game begins it’s kept very secret. After a good amount of walking around, you’ll be greeted with your first taste of combat. Combat is simple yet challenging in Hellblade. It also requires some aggression to make it through battle sequences. Senua being the skilled blade wielder she is can use a mixture of attacks to deliver combos and deal lethal blows when timed right. Using the four main action buttons, as well as a dedicated block button, you are granted heavy and light attacks. You can also run and kick to knock back opponents, which is crucial for some enemy types. The game features zero HUD, which gives it a more cinematic and immersive feel as you play along. It also makes the game a lot more challenging, with no health meter you only rely on the flashing of your screen to tell when you may go down.
With each successful strike Senua also builds up a power that allows her to slow time while moving at normal speed, and attack enemies while their defenses are down. You can view how much power you’ve accumulated by looking at the mirror on Senua’s back where it is attached to her hip, this power is useful for large crowds of enemies. You can also roll out of the way of enemies to dodge attacks and strike from behind. Fighting enemies will require patience but also aggression if you want to survive a 4 on 1 attack by duel hatchet wielding foes. Combat is awesome and is a challenge every time. When you get knocked down you must mash your action button to get up, if you are hit once more while down you may suffer the progression of the Dark Rot.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice features something that old retro games occasionally sported. Limited saves, or in Hellblade’s case, limited lives. The Dark Rot is a story and game mechanic that revolves around death. It is first shown to you early on in the game to maximize its importance. Once you die for the first time, a message is shown to you as a dark sprawl creeps its way up your arm. The message reads “The dark rot will grow each time you fail. If the rot reaches Senua’s head, her quest is over. And all progress will be lost” which means, too many deaths and you’re done. There are safeguards in place that prevent some deaths you receive from counting towards your Dark Rot progression. The only thing is that they are never really explained and sometimes you are caught off guard by something relating to the main plot. You end up finding out you did in fact die, and the rot has grown.
The land around you can range very dramatically. One moment you’ll be walking along a bridge over the roaring sea, and the next minute you’ll be in a dark cave with only torch light protecting you from the monster that creeps in the darkness. The look of the game befits its focus on a personal story of Senua. The detail put into is noticeable, the individual grains of dirt and peeling face paint on Senua are a good attention to detail. The graphics are complimented by the great angle shots of the camera during cutscenes. Especially the close-up shots of Senua herself where the eyes of Melina Juergens, the actress for Senua, are prominent.
Throughout Hellblade, you’ll be met with intricate puzzles that will require a lot of patience and attention to detail. You’ll have to look around the landscape nearby the closed puzzle doors to find the “perspective puzzles”. You must focus and line up objects and sometimes reflections to create symbols that match the ones on the door. These are very well hidden and some require a lot of work to find. Whether it be trekking and lighting fire pits or traveling through some sort of strange other world. There are also “lore stones” hidden throughout the game that reveal more about the backstory of Hellblade. There are a lot of stones and they too are very well hidden.
Hellblade features a great story that is delivered at a good pace throughout the game. As you move on you’ll learn more about Senua’s past and why it is she is here in this land. It turns into a real heartfelt story and it was well written, although we wish we could have known more about the life of Senua before the game. The acting of Melina Juergens really drives it home, as she displays the real hate, pain and suffering the afflicts Senua. As you near the end of this story, you become so enticed that you won’t want to stop. The conviction and battle prowess that Senua displays is contagious and through her words, you’ll feel compelled to see it through until the end.
Hellblade’s challenging nature is sure to attract the hardcore gamers. The perma-death system keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you cautious of your next move. It’s a mixture of a lot of genres such as action and horror. It allows for great combat and clever strategy. In the beginning, it is advised to play with headphones for the full 3D audio experience. It is more immersive when playing with headphones as the voices that plague Senua also has the same effect on you. It also helps with combat as you can hear an enemy creep up behind you. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an experience that can appeal to multiple types of gamers. Fight, discover and uncover a dark past as you follow Senua along her journey through her past in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.