We’ve waited for a long time for this masterpiece to come out and now, after all the hype, it’s here! We talked about it a lot. We waited for it impatiently while watching behind the scenes videos about the hard work of the development team. As an independent studio, Ninja Theory, did a great job to keep the hype alive when it came to their biggest title. Nobody knew what to expect on the early stages. But Ninja Theory carefully introduced us Hellblade without spoiling anything.
After I watched the recordings of the sound effects, the visuals with incredible voice acting, the production period of the game made me excited about it starting from the very beginning. For a short time, I even forgot the release date and focused on the videos as if I was satisfied with them and as if it was enough for me to enjoy the game. But after, on August 8th, when I saw the news, I remembered that I had to do one thing…
And now, after finishing the game and after enjoying every little part for it, I stand here with an empty feeling. The feeling that I get when I finish a good book, a good TV series or a good game. Yes. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a ‘good game’. And, it makes me feel more and more excited that I got the chance to introduce the game to you and talk about it. And eventually, help you decide if you will like it or not.
We will discuss Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on three main levels: first, we will look at the main story and how well it was written. Secondly, we will talk about the technical aspects of the game like sound effects, visual quality and the overall performance. Lastly, and mainly, we will look at the gameplay and try to get a general idea about the game according to everything we will specify on the first two levels. So, without further ado let’s begin, shall we?
The Story of Senua
Hello, who are you? It doesn’t matter. Welcome. You are safe with me. I’ll be right here, nice and close so I can speak without alerting others. Let me tell you about Senua. Her story has already come to an end but now, it begins anew.
I don’t really know where to begin to be honest. Let’s start from the very beginning without spoiling anything. What we knew about the game before it was released that the main character was suffering from psychosis. So we don’t get surprised when we start the game and start hearing a woman telling the story of Senua. While trying to reach to the other side of the lake, we get a little introduction about what happened to her. I believe this information won’t spoil anything. You get it from the very beginning and it is the basics of the main story.
You are searching for your lover, Dillion. To be able to succeed, you have to go to a specific place which is called Helheim. For those who are familiar with the Norse mythology and legends, this game will be an interesting way to remember them. As you progress in the game, you will face many challenges after you get closer to finding your lover. But of course, this story is only the surface of a massive ocean. The story of Senua and Dillion is only a little part of what really is shown on the screen.
The main story which makes this game unique and incredible is about the mental condition of the main character. Her reactions, the voices in her head, the visions she sees are the results of her condition. And, the actual disturbing story is mainly the beautifully written mixture of psychosis and the love story.
A Mixture of Reality and Imagination
The biggest challenge for gamers would be keeping the balance between the feeling of playing a game and relating it to the main story itself. If you focus on the challenges, puzzles and leave the story driven cinematics behind, you may not follow the story of the game. But, seeing the relation between every single feature of the game will make you realize how well made this game is.
The gameplay focuses on this aspect of the story. Simple puzzles and a satisfying combat system makes it more comprehensible. You don’t find yourself lost in these minor features of the game. Sometimes you spend too much time trying to find the correct runes. But, you find them eventually and keep going.
Puzzles are too simple and not challenging at all. But, story wise, it suits with the psychosis theme, as the main puzzle aspect is focused on you finding shapes which are indicated on doors. At that moment, even if you think it is a boring mechanic, when you realize that it actually represents the mental condition of Senua, you become amazed. Seeing shapes on walls, on shadows or making them up from stakes and wooden planks become something major for the game.
The combat system is fairly challenging if you ask me. There are not many combos or moves but after some time, it gets crazy fun. Each boss, even each enemy in the game has their own unique defensive and offensive moves. You will have to adapt yourself to these if you want to be the one who is still breathing after the combat is finished. And that makes the game really challenging. It is not a great combat mechanic, that’s for sure. But, it is challenging and satisfying enough so that you can keep yourselves focused on the main story. Combat is not the main feature of this game after all…
Voices In Your Head
Do you feel it too? It’s like crossing into another world that looks the same but feels different…an imposter world…where the forest itself is watching.
The connection between the mental situation of Senua and carefully designed sound & visuals let you experience the psychosis yourself. And, as the story goes on, you will start feeling more and more disturbed. At that moment, you will understand why Ninja Theory decided to work with people with the same condition and psychiatrists. Let me tell you this before I start praising the sound effects of the game: buy a headset! And buy a good one! This game is meant to be played with a headset. Why? Because, even the simplest detail in the sound effects makes a huge difference.
Let me rephrase like this: we already talked about the voices in Senua’s head, right? Well, these voices are not there for aesthetics. They are there to make you feel disturbed and let you experience a mental condition as much as possible. During combat, for example, these voices guide you. They will say “Behind you!” when there is an enemy attacking you from behind. And this is, my friends, absolutely brilliant! I almost had an heart attack when I first heard them yelling. They also tell you when you almost kill an enemy. There are no health bars or anything to let you know that you’re doing good besides these voices in your head.
Apart from helping you, the sound effects are one of the main reasons of your uneasiness. From time to time, you hear them mocking you and disturbing your every movement. You want to scream “Shut up!” but they don’t stop. And the way they did it is absolutely awesome. With disturbing sound effects, voices and gorgeous voice acting, you find yourself in a world where you feel weak and all alone.
When it comes to the ambient music and combat music, I’d say the same. It is so good that you lose yourself in the action or in the horrors you see, thanks to both the voices and the music.
A Visual Masterpiece
Apart from the sound effects, Hellblade also offers a feast for your eyes and your feelings. The actress who gave life to Senua, Melina Juergens did a fantastic job. She deserves every single positive feedback on this. The motion capture technology lets you enjoy her movements and mimics. It is so realistic that you feel like being in there, trying to help her.
The textures are another beautiful part of the visuals. The design of areas, enemies, bosses, the sky box, everything looks alive. The only problem is that Senua was implemented so well into the game that the world around her looks dead from time to time. But individually, both Senua and the world offer a perfect visual experience.
Animations, lighting, shadows…everything looks alive. It is easy to see that they put a lot of effort into these features. The only things that I found unnecessarily weird were the other characters. They are literally video recordings which are implemented to the game. It makes a huge difference between Senua and others that it becomes ugly. Maybe they didn’t have the resources or they wanted to hurry about it, I don’t know. But this is the biggest problem about the game. Which is still not a game breaking feature or too disturbing at all. Just a minor problem which could have been made better if you ask me.
But overall, the visuals are fantastic. With the voices around you, you absolutely live the atmosphere and feel what Senua feels exactly. Here are some examples which will help you understand the quality of the graphics:
Pros and Cons
So, what should we expect from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in general? With perfect sounds and visuals, it offers a beautifully disturbing experience. It is not an action game or it is not an adventure game. And, this game is not for everybody. This is a story rich game with minor action and adventure features which are also satisfying.
This is not a prefect game, don’t get me wrong. It has its own issues like the secondary characters being video recordings which are implemented to the game poorly, if you ask me. This problem, while it is not a huge one, can sometimes kill the atmosphere and make you say “What? Why?”. And of course, this might be an intentional feature and I might be completely wrong. But in any case, It made me feel driven away from the main story. But after a couple of minutes, the game succeeds on getting my attention again on the disturbing parts. Every single area has its own unique design with both puzzles and combats. Sometimes you feel sad, sometimes you feel happy for Senua. But most of the time you feel uneasy. Some parts of the game are so scary that I had to take a break.
Other than these features, Hellblade is mainly about making you experience the psychosis Senua is experiencing. And, they did a fantastic job about it. Every single mechanic, area, objective in this game represent it. And, when you realize that you are feeling something disturbing and uneasy, you suddenly understand how it feels to have this condition. Just don’t forget what I said about this game not being for everybody. It can be disturbing. Try to get more information about it before trying it. But, avoid spoilers!
A Couple of Last Words
Long story short, this game is a masterpiece. If you like these kinds of uneasy horror games with disturbing features, you will love this game. But like I said, this is not an action game. So don’t expect killing enemies in berserk mode. Basically, if you want a story rich, interesting game, go ahead and buy it. Even if this game is too short (about 7-8 hours to finish), its effect will last for a long time. And you will feel sad about finishing another masterpiece…
- Fantastic visuals
- Fantastic sound effects, voice acting and ambient/combat music
- Satisfying combat mechanics
- A fantastic and disturbing representation of psychosis
- Beautiful story and mythological side stories
- Offers a unique experience thanks to its features
- A couple of bad choices about secondary characters and their visuals
- Puzzles are too simple and can be annoying sometimes
- Short gameplay