Part II of my time with Senua. The culmination of my first of (hopefully) entry into a series of multi-part review/recaps on different games. Hellblade happened to be short enough that I only needed two entries, although I had planned one in the middle and had nearly finished it, before spending two more hours with Senua and completing the game.
Before you read on, you should know I absolutely loved this game. A lot of this article will be me raving about Hellblade, or telling you in not so numerable ways how much I loved aspects of it. I highly recommend it and loved what it did to shine a light on mental illness; not enough entertainment does this in a smart and engaging way, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does.
So much was spectacularly done with Hellblade. The gameplay, story, combat, and lore were incredibly engaging. I really enjoyed how Ninja Theory used the camera as both it’s own character, and a way to quickly transition between moments in time. How wonderfully composed the musical score was, and how it (and the Lorestones) drove the story. Throughout the game the combat wasn’t too difficult, but it always kept me engaged. Most importantly though I want to talk a little bit on how the team behind Hellblade were able to craft such an immersive story about psychosis.
Let's start with the combat. The combat was emotional and immersive. Timing attacks, while dodging, preparing ripostes, using your “vision”, and keeping track of many different enemies created an amazing experience. Right when I thought I had mastered an engagement, or knew exactly how to defeat an enemy, the game threw a new combination of opponents. The combat itself, with its ever changing of direction of attack, emphasis on dodges and ripostes, was reminiscent of the original Assassin’s Creed. I believe I only actually died during combat a handful of times but in many encounters the only reason I survived were the voices in my head. All this combined for what I think was one of the most engaging combat systems (if lacking in difficulty) I’ve experienced in a long time, personally my favorite since Shadow Of Mordor.
Ninja Theory turned the camera in Hellblade into both a character (a plethora of characters) itself, as well as a way to indicate gameplay mechanics and timing. Often the camera became a character which Senua engaged with, sometimes herself, sometimes the voices, sometimes Dillion, her father, or Druth. Sometimes it was a little jarring as the camera went from interactive as Senua, to a character. Whether is was Senua’s “Smeagol/Gollum” moment, or giving voice to the supporting (if dead) characters surrounding Senua’s past, the use of the camera as it’s own entity, as well as the vessel with which to follow Senua’s Journey kept me on my toes during everything from cutscenes, to combat, to just walking around Hel. I really loved how, while the world and Senua were CGI (Senua was filmed with motion capture, as were all the characters), Druth and Dillion were filmed actors and left as a little more “real” than the rest of the world. It brought a depth to the conversations and interactions, which would have been a little lacking if both had been rendered like the rest of the game.
The story of Hellblade was intense… It was one of trying to find oneself, making yourself a better person, and sometimes failing at it. The story explored psychosis, Celtic history, and Norse mythology, both with a fervor for accuracy and depth. The amount of research and preparation that went into the game was explained in the video available from the main menu. This video is precluded by a warning that it contained spoilers for the game, and it did contain some imagery as well as referenced some plot points from later in the game. I highly recommend giving it a watch when/if you beat the game, or if you’ve no interest in playing the game, still search it out and watch it.
Experts on psychosis and individuals who work with those afflicted were brought in to lend their stories and keep the game as accurate and understanding as possible. From the video on the main menus we learn that the girl who played Senua (Melina Juergens) was in fact already employed by Ninja Theory, and in fact suffered from mental illness as well. This lent such an incredible depth to the performance of Senua.
I could rave on and on about this game. Really, the best thing I could say about it is that every gamer should give it a shot; like Firewatch, or Journey, or Gone Home, this is a game which can help to broaden the concept of what games can be, and do.
Photos used from Ninja Theory's Dev Diary series on youtube.