Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC. Released August 8, 2017.
The world of gaming strives to push the boundaries of what it can develop, inspire and create. Hellblade is another step toward this. It tells the story of a female Viking Senua (Cen-oo-ah), as she journeys to the underworld (hell) in order to retrieve the soul of a dead lover. What really makes this game and the game play unique, is that Senua has a mental illness.
During the games development phase the team at Ninja Theory consulted Neuroscientist and Psychosis expert Paul Fletcher from Cambridge University. They also interviewed people with varying mental health conditions to try and portray the illusions and delusions some people experience as accurately as possible. The result is a powerful depiction of the strength, resilience and determination, Senua battles within her to conquer her nightmares in the hellish underworld.
So how does this translate to the screen? One word, beautifully. When you start the game Senua is paddling in a canoe toward her destination, the underworld. You can hear a number of voices echoing in her head, they surround and engulf her. “You can’t do this”; “Go back”; “She doesn’t understand her actions”; “Why is she doing this”; “Her ancestors died here”; “She will burn.” The voices are relentless and it’s stylishly crafted. The voices overlap one another and switch between first and third person. You’re unable to decipher if it’s Senua’s thoughts or the invisible figures that haunt her mind that she hears. A key element of the game is the influence of deception. Can you really believe what you see and hear? How do you make the right decision when your senses and perceptions can’t be trusted?
The graphics in Hellblade are stunning. The game play flows well within its own world and with a linear 3D platform. It makes the most of its small environments without feeling like the experience limits the gamer. The cut scenes are emotive and the cinematic score will send chills down your spine when overlapped with the narrative and combat sequences.
There are other in-game elements that construct a feel of panic and urgency. Hellblade lies Somewhere between a horror and adventure game, with splashes of brutal combat. It dares you to become immersed within it. So, grab your headphones, close the curtains and settle in. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice will be a stunning addition to your gaming library and an adventure you’ll never forget.
Warning: This game contains vivid and accurate depictions of mental illness. Discretion is advised if you have a history of mental health.