- Publisher: Ninja Theory
- Developer: Ninja Theory
- Platform: PS4
- Multiplayer: No
- Trophy Hunter: Platinum [EASY]
Reviewed on a PS4 Pro
Hellblade is a game that I have been looking forward to for some time as I suspect many you have been as well. While a major part of my job here is to stay up to date on the latest video game info, I purposely avoided knowing too much about this game before going in. I wanted to experience this with fresh eyes and let’s face it, that is almost impossible to do these days. Even when the $29.99 price point was announced and I really wanted to know why a game this highly anticipated and this gorgeous was so cheap…I still stayed away and I am glad that I did.
Hellblade combines Celtic and Norse mythology to tell the tale of Senua, a young warrior that has set out on a monumental quest. Senua’s lover has been brutally slain and his soul carried off to Hell. Not content to know that her beloved will suffer for all of eternity, Senua travels to Hell itself to free his soul from the underworld. While this would be a great feat on its own, Senua also suffers from psychotic mental illness which over the course of her journey will leave her and the player questioning what is real. Giving players control of a character that has a mental illness was something I wondered if Ninja Theory would be able to pull off. They managed to create a character in Senua that can show the world what it can be like for many individuals that suffer from psychosis and I have to say that after my time with the game and the included documentary, I now have an even greater appreciation for how much of a challenge it can be.
I have always had a fondness for the stylized approach that Ninja Theory takes with each of their titles. Hellblade is one of the most unique from the studio and a standout achievement on the PS4. From the beginning of Senua’s journey until its conclusion, the game is full of unique locations that range from the grotesque to the surreal and every one of them is downright beautiful (as beautiful as a bloody sea of writhing corpses can be). You can find yourself walking along a beach littered with the remains of Viking ships one minute and surrounded by flames with the dying screaming all around you the next. The pacing in Hellblade is great and you are never without something hellish or visually astounding to see or do for that matter.
The symptoms that Senua suffers from range from hearing voices to seeing things that may or may not be there. While during gameplay many of her symptoms can add another layer of visual complexity, it is the voices she hears that really stood out to me. Like all the sound in the game, the voices that speak to Senua seem to come from all around you and even more so if you play wearing a headset. The voices speak constantly and can make Senua question if a course of action she is taking is the correct one. They also yell out important information during gameplay such as when to dodge during a boss fight or when to use your focus ability in combat. This is also useful considering that you will not find a traditional tutorial in the game either. The controls can be viewed by accessing the pause menu but other than that, you learn to play pretty much on your own as you go. This adds more tension to what is already a pretty tense gameplay experience and you will find yourself trying harder than what you may be used to stay alive given Hellblade’s most challenging feature: permadeath. Hellblade is not only a journey through Hell for Senua but also for you. When you die, a mark on Senua’s arm grows in length. If that mark reaches her head, the game ends and your autosave data (there is no manual save option) is wiped clean. The game has no traditional Hud and you will have to rely on what is happening on screen to gauge your current health and so forth. So, get good and do it fast.
The game is a linear storytelling adventure that requires some puzzle solving and combat to progress. Both can prove to be a bit of a challenge on the first playthrough but nothing too serious or overly frustrating. Combat is like that in Bloodborne with sword strikes as attacks and dodging and blocking for defense. Blocking at the last second allows you to parry your enemies’ attacks which leaves them open to counterattack. Senua also has focus meter that when used can slow down time a bit to allow for extra strikes as well as reveal partially invisible enemies.
In the end Hellblade is a great adventure that tackles the subject of mental illness with great care and the amount of time and research the development team used to tell this story shows in every part of the game. There are tales of Norse mythology hidden throughout the world, the voice acting and performance capture are top notch and the musical score is always great and appropriate to the situation at hand. In a time where most games are open world and clock in at around 100+ hours, Hellblade goes back to a simpler time. My first playthrough was around the 8-hour mark and I do not feel the game should have been any longer. The lower that average selling price should make the games length a non-issue for those of you on the fence about picking up this game and you really should because not playing it would be blasphemy.
Final Score 9.75/10