Hellblade is truly an experience, beginning to end. I found it when a YouTuber I follow mentioned it as one of his favorite games of 2017, and it certainly is among the best I’ve played.
The controls for this game are fairly simple. Aside from the movement sticks, there’s only the “interact” button (for jumping over logs and the like) and a “focus” button (which is a game mechanic). The combat is also simple; when an enemy approaches, Senua draws her sword, so there’s no getting surprised (aside from new enemies popping up off camera). The story and the characters are more important.
Puzzle solving is the main focus of the gameplay itself. It revolves around finding patterns in the environment. It can get tedious after a while, but finding them can be satisfying and the game tends to signal when you’re close to the solution so as long as you wander around well enough it shouldn’t hang you up too much. And wandering isn’t hellish since the paths are defined and you can’t wander too far off the path.
Early in the game, Senua discovers a…sickness? Corruption? Not sure the right word. Her hand turns black and every time you die, that corruption climbs higher. When it reaches her head, the game erases your save file and you have to start all over…or so the game tells you (there is some question to this – check out this Eurogamer article on it- https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-08-09-theres-more-to-hellblades-permadeath-than-meets-the-eye).
This game looks pretty amazing. The environments are beautiful, the enemies are haunting, and the effects really pop. I was playing on my PC, which at the time didn’t have stellar graphics but they still looked great. There is no UI, which I think makes it more immersive. I don’t really have much else to say about the visuals, other than I would be very interested in playing it in VR, which would be an experience to say the least (also for the audio, which I’ll get into).
This is where the game really stands out. First off, you MUST play this game WITH HEADPHONES. They actually tell you this when the game starts off. The reason for this is that the game uses 3D sounds, to give the impression that the sounds are coming from different directions. This is especially true with the voices. Senua suffers from psychosis, which in her case means she hears voices. And these voices are on you right from the start. Sometimes they warn you about danger (like a loud “WATCH OUT”). But they also mock her (and through her, you). They constantly talk to each other, commenting on what Senua is doing, on her past, where she is. It is shockingly immersive. And when you take your headphones off, in a weird way, the world seems quieter. The game warns you at the start that it does depict mental illness, so if you have experienced or do experience something like this, it may be troubling. But it is so worth the experience.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice takes place within the framework of Norse Mythology. The game begins with Senua paddling some driftwood into the underworld. Yes, the underworld. And the entire time, the voices are telling you about what she’s doing. She is traveling into Hel to retrieve the soul of her lover. Through the course of the game she faces challenges from the spirits there, some of the Norse gods, and her own mental troubles. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so I won’t. The journey that Senua goes on takes some twists and turns and the ending is certainly satisfying.
Seriously, play this game. It’s not a tremendously long game, nor is it very challenging. It’s not exorbitantly expensive and it’s was also added to Xbox Game Pass recently. This is certainly accessible and a game well worth playing.
Hope you liked my first game review. Let me know what you think below!