Video games can provide users with experiences which even books or movies can’t. Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, which was developed with the help of world-leading neuroscientists and non-profit organizations like Wellcome Trust to properly capture the experience of psychosis, portrays the extreme disorders the human mind can undergo. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice begins with a warning, cautioning players about the “representations of psychosis” in the game. Although it cautions players who have had suffered from psychosis in the past to take care while playing, it can prove to be quite disturbing for normal people as well. The game might look a bit confusing for those who are unaware of what psychosis is, or for those who have the habit of playing with the volume turned down as this game is predominantly audio-driven.
Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is a cinematic psychological horror action-adventure video game developed and published by Ninja Theory for PC and PS4. It is described as an “independent AAA” game by the developer. The game was released on both platform on the 8th Of August 2017.
Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice
Story And Narrative
The story revolves around Senua, the titular protagonist, who suffers from extreme psychosis. She experiences hallucinations and hears voices echoing in her head due to her mental ailment. Apart from her mental sickness, she is also associated with a curse. A curse, filled with darkness. A curse, which severely affects and punishes all those around her. A curse, which associates her with the underworld. A curse, which leads to her ostracism. A curse, which leads to the death of her entire tribe and along with them, her lover, Dillion. Dillion’s death affects Senua overwhelmingly. She considers herself responsible for her lover’s death and consequently sets off for Helheim, the underworld, to find and free Dillion’s soul.
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice relies more on its intriguing story-line than its gameplay, and it is actually one of the major reasons for the game’s commendation. One shouldn’t expect major plot twists though. The game is based on the Celtic and Norse mythology and the game uses lore-stones for storytelling. These lore-stones represent Senua’s friend Druth and confess Senua about the North men’s tales and their gods, the gods which we fight in the further in the game.The players have to find each and every lore-stone to get the best ending but the problem is that if one misses a lore-stone and progresses too far into the game, then they cannot trackback and find it. Apart from this, a major part of the story is learned from the psychotic voices which are heard throughout the game.
Graphics and Performance
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is unarguably one of the most graphically alluring game launched this year.To speak of a few, the spooky forests in the beginning, the sun enriched shores of Helheim and the light effects throughout the game are all visually enticing. The game also takes cut scenes to a whole new level by incorporating real footage of some secondary characters into them. These footage are excellently blended with the animated footage making it look astoundingly realistic.
The game performs decently on low-end rigs too. I tested the game on a system boasting a GTX 1050, E5500 and 4gb of RAM and the game maintained a decent 40+ fps on med-high settings, along with some minor fps drops. One of the major drawbacks of Hellblade’s graphics settings is that it doesn’t give the players an option to manually edit all the post-processing settings. Some players dislike motion blur and the only way to turn it off or any of the post processing settings in particular is to turn off the post processing as a whole.
Gameplay Mechanics & Sound
It might look a bit weird that gameplay and sound has been coalesced under a single heading, but HBSE’s gameplay is incomplete without the sound. To be more precise, the game is impossible to beat without sound. Before the game starts a screen pops up advising the players to use headphones to utilize the game’s bin-aural sound, a recording technique that uses two microphones to create three dimensional sound. The voices that affect Senua can be heard throughout the game and thus, one is never alone while playing this game. The voices speak directly to Senua, they elevate her, demotivate her and even protect her.
The game begins with Senua setting her foot on Helheim’s shores; In an environment personifying death; In an environment where Senua should struggle to help her lover. There is no tutorial at the beginning, and users are thrown directly into the horrifying environment without even taught how to walk. I had to open up the controls menu to figure out how to interact with objects. There are a plenty of simple puzzles in the first couple of hours in the game which might look interesting at first but turn repetitive soon. There are a variety of puzzles too, but they are a bit further into the game. As one moves forward after solving some facile puzzles, the first enemy comes up, an axe-equipped monster covered with twigs.
That’s the point where the problem arises. The game doesn’t teach how to fight so mashing the mouse buttons is probably the best bet. The incarcerated camera is frustrating, as the game doesn’t give oneself freedom to fight any enemy while surrounded. The psychotic sounds which were looking innovative till now, turn out to be distracting since it is constantly heard amidst a combat. The sounds cannot be ignored though as they caution Senua whenever an enemy attacks from behind (they cannot be seen, thanks to the constrained camera). The combat itself is lackluster and consists only of 3-4 moves along with a few combo attacks. The first combat also introduces and warns players about the much acclaimed “perma-death” feature, wherein a player’s complete progress in the game is deleted if he dies too often.
The combat in the game gets repetitive and the mechanics lack depth. The bosses are also similar to some extent as one has to follow the same “dodge-hit-dodge” tactics to beat them. The clumsy camera, the distracting voice, no HUD, and the tutorial void gameplay might look frustrating at first but they all have a motive. All these further emphasize Senua’s struggle. It accentuates her sufferings and aspires to make the user feel the same. My first few minutes in the game, got me depressed, frustrated and terrified, but I had an urge. An urge to accompany Senua on her journey. An urge to struggle. An urge to survive.
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is probably one of the most story rich games ever made and it intelligently compensates for it lackluster gameplay by its intriguing story. It focuses more on imparting an experience of psychosis. It’s a game that should be enjoyed not for its gameplay, but rather for its storytelling and ambiance. For people looking for a visually beckoning game with a rich story-line, it’s a must buy, for gameplay rich game lovers, there are many better options. For a 8 hour terrifying and horrifying but audacious journey, this game is worth a buy.