I am absolutely blown away by Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I really can’t even put my finger on a single thing that I don’t like about it. EVERYTHING has been a wonderful experience so far! It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s an absolutely dark, broody, and mesmerizing journey through the mind and world of Pict and Norse culture and mythology.
With that gushing out of the way I suppose that I should really get into it. It sometimes only takes me an hour or so into a game to determine if I’m going to like it or not. That’s not really the best way to approach games, but there are times that I would really have to force myself to continue through a particular title simply because I am just not interested in it.
Let me tell you right now that Hellblade slammed its hooks into me from the very first cinematic. I may have even been slack-jawed during it while I admired the absolute beauty of it. The darkness of it all really snagged my imagination, and it’s kept me going straight on through. In fact, I had to force myself to quit playing it so that I could go and get some sleep! It honestly takes one hell of a game to do that.
Look! Just look at it! I suppose that I would have to start with the visuals. They are quite appealing even when they get distorted by whatever it is that is going on in her mind. It was definitely the visuals that appealed to me at first, but as I spent more time progressing through the world I found that it was way more than just that.
Hey, I have to say this right here. I know, I know. It’s right in the middle of the review, but it’s something that has to be said. I try hard to not put spoilers in reviews. I really don’t want to ruin any part of any game for anyone, but in this case I believe that some spoilers may be warranted. Hell, I don’t even like talking about any parts of the story, but there you have it.
Senua, from the start, is obviously hearing voices. There is something quite broken about her, and perhaps that is what makes her character so damn familiar. No, I don’t hear voices, but I sure do talk to myself a lot. Maybe that’s the same thing? Who knows. However, listening to the voices in her head while you’re playing almost builds a certain feeling of kinship. You feel sympathy for her especially as the story progresses.
But, I digress. The visuals are very appealing. The textures of the world around you are beautiful enough that it makes it difficult to stay on task and continue the story. Senua’s movements are amazing. Watch her walk. She walks with a confidence that is clearly portrayed in how she moves. It’s all so fluid and life-like!
Watch her move up or down a ladder. She will actually grab on to every other rung like you would in real life. I’ve seen many games where there is very little attention to details like that. Your character in those practically slides up and down.
Senua hops if you hold down the run button while moving to the side. She even hops backwards if you move in that direction. The animation is so well done, in my opinion, that it does indeed look very real. Watch that video above if you haven’t, and share your feelings about it if you wish. The motion capture is very, very good.
The visuals do, at times, get a little difficult to watch, but I believe that’s just me and the fact that I was beginning to get tired. I was possibly also suffering from eye fatigue, but that’s another story altogether. There are distracting flickers at times that don’t necessarily detract from the visuals. They are, in fact, part of how the game needs to look during those sequences. It can be hard to watch if you’re tired and have been at it for a decent amount of time, however.
One thing that I did notice as I neared the end of the game was some artifacting during one of fights. I’m not going to attribute that to the game, itself, but rather to my XBox One X Scorpio edition being a pain in the ass. I will say, however, that the least visually appealing part of the visual aspect of Hellblade was the water. I haven’t played a ton of different games, but that’s one spot that I can say that they could have done better. My favorite water in any game that I have ever played? Dark Ages of Camelot. I know, right?
The soundscape works very well with those visuals. Everything from the ambient sounds to the voices in Senua’s head just make the whole experience massively wonderful. Senua will even react to some of those ambient sounds as she’s walking around. In some instances you will be able to tell that she is scared just by listening to how her breathing has changed. It truly is an amazing piece of art when you combine both the visuals and the sounds.
Oh, and the musical score is wonderful. I may just have to see if I can’t dig up the soundtrack for this. The song playing during the final battle, which actually seemed to contrast a bit with what was going on, was amazing by itself, but the music throughout the game was magnificent.
Combat! Oh, boy, now this is both fun and challenging. Let me start by saying that I was rather worried about my gameplay when I found out that once the rot has reached your head it’s game over. You lose all progress at that point and have to start over from the beginning. There is permadeath* in Hellblade, and that’s not a bad thing. It can certainly be a frustrating consequence, but that’s okay. It certainly made me approach some of those battles with a completely different mindset. One on one fights weren’t bad (except for “boss” fights anyway). It takes some thinking and skill to get through the two and three versus you fights, however. Patience and on the fly planning are two very good things to utilize when you end up in those situations.
Some foes you may be able to stand toe to toe with. There are some that you simply can not do that with. You will have to be nimble and avoid their attacks. You will have to plan out how you’re going to fight against multiples enemies. You will have to decide if you’re going to risk everything and rush right in or if you will play it safe and wait for them to attack you. One piece of advice, however, is that when you see a hulking form with a battle axe rushing towards you get out of the way. Oh, and the other hulking form that’s wielding two hand axes? Yeah, he’s fast and strong.
One item that you have that will help you in some of these fights is a mirror. It charges up, and when it’s ready, it will help you during fights when you seriously need it. I wouldn’t use it all the time as there will be moments during fights that you are going to want to have it available to save your own ass. What does it do? Remember The Matrix and bullet time? It’s kind of like that. It slows down the world around you so that you can almost do whatever you want in order to win. There are a couple of enemies that can still stop you during these moments, so remember to be nimble! Be quick! Sidestep around that candlestick!
The biggest flaw that I ran into is when you are fighting in a relatively small space. It’s easy to become stuck on some piece of terrain that you can’t see as you are backed into a corner. While this is not something that breaks anything, it can indeed cause some frustration as you are attempting to escape from the attacks of your foes.
The story that is told here is just as interesting as the environment. It’s all tied together and moves along nicely. The narrative is very well done, and while I’ve been streaming and talking during my playthrough, I still have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. However, there are a few things that I feel like I’ve missed. Again, I wouldn’t suggest playing this while streaming and carrying on conversations if you want to catch every single part of the story. It’s honestly worth it to do it that way, and I may end up replaying it just for that reason. Never you mind the five “deaths” that happened during two very intense sequences (one non-combat and one combat).
The main idea behind the story is one’s personal battle with psychosis and the difficulties presented. I’ll leave you to research more on that on your own, but everything contained within Hellblade is truly powerful once you really sit and think about it. I believe that we can all see a bit of ourselves in Senua as we move through her story as we move through our own.
Look, I’m not going to suggest any sort of game that I just don’t enjoy. I will tell you flat out if I don’t like a game even if I have found parts of interesting. Pickiness, when it comes to my enjoyment, is something that I practice and preach. If you don’t like something, then don’t do it. Be picky, and you’ll be happier.
I could probably find something to nitpick about Hellblade if I really wanted to. The thing is that I want to find something to nitpick about. The problem is that I haven’t really found anything that’s worth my time doing that. The game is actually that well done (in my opinion).
10/10 Furies on this one. Everything about Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, from her first walk down a stream to her path through near complete darkness and culminating with a furious battle at the end makes this one of the absolute best games that I have played in a long time. The visuals, the soundscape, the score, the mechanics, and indeed, even the story, make for one amazing experience that will be incredibly difficult for any game studio to recreate. If you’re on
*Apparently, permadeath is not actually a thing. It seems more like a buff, but knowing that doesn’t take anything away from the game. It does make it a little easier to take risks in combat, however.