Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice isn’t for everyone. It’s a relatively short game that will propel you into a detailed, story-driven experience through the eyes of Senua, a warrior woman dealing with significant mental struggles who must go on a quest, defeat otherworldly beasts, and rescue the soul of her dead lover. In this Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice review, we’re going to take a closer look at the game and see if this short journey justifies the arguably hefty $30 price tag.
|Type of game:||Action adventure|
|Total Play Time:||7-8 hours|
|System Requirements:||CPU: Intel i5 3570K/AMD FX-8350 Processor
GPU: GTX 770 with 2GB VRAM/Radeon R9 280X 3GB Graphics Cards
RAM: 8 GB
OS: Windows 7/8/10
HDD Space: 30 GB
The World of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade is a powerful game for its short duration. Though not necessarily difficult in terms of gaming mechanics, the game boasts a very difficult, stressful, and overall overwhelming story and atmosphere. This is one of the reasons why I believe the game to be great and effective, but this same reason could be off-putting for others.
Because of the potential divide, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the aspects of the game that matter most: the Atmosphere & Location, the Main Character(s), and the Storyline.
Atmosphere & Location
The atmosphere of Hellblade is incredibly detailed. The graphics in this game are some of the best I’ve seen in the past year, they’re incredibly nuanced, with reflections off of water, fire, and character dimensions being surprisingly realistic. Looking into the online video diaries on the making of the game, this makes sense—a lot of love was put into the game and it shows visually. There aren’t many atmosphere-disrupting glitches or framerate drops at all, so the game runs pretty smoothly and efficiently as a result.
What this game does really well in terms of atmosphere is the audio. I highly recommend playing it with headphones due to the attention-to-detail that went into the voices the character hears in her head. You see, an aspect of the main storyline is that Senua deals with psychosis but mistakenly believes it’s because she is cursed, so a large portion of the game’s narrative and dialogue is revealed through voices she hears in her head called “Furies”. Because of this, the game is best experienced with headphones so you can hear the voices in her head as they appear, unedited. It may also be tempting to ignore these voices, but because they eventually become a critical part of the story and knowing more about the character, it’s advisable to listen to them in order to get a grasp of who the character is.
That being said, the main character of Senua is a compelling, disturbing character. Not disturbing for who she is, but rather what is happening to her. One of the most intense parts of the game is the vivid depiction of psychosis, augmented by the fact that the developers worked closely with psychologists and people afflicted by the condition to make sure they were representing it properly. I mean, the fact that the game’s website has a link to mental health support for those who empathize with the protagonist’s struggle shows you how close the game comes to depicting the bouts of people dealing with intense mental illness.
The experience of being able to completely embody a character is something not often enough discussed or experimented with in video games, so I believe the initiative to do this in Hellblade pays off immensely. Even the characters that Senua interacts with along the way are haunting in their own way, and if you count the Furies in her head as separate characters, then the whole cast is well-rounded.
The most distinguishing factor separating this from other games, though, is the way in which the narrative can stress you out. For me, someone who rarely plays games with headphones on and someone who rarely feels emotionally invested in a character, I found myself pretty disturbed by the intensity of the intrusive thoughts and the intricate sound design and sound design that went into making the game’s atmosphere so fine-tuned.
An aspect in which the game could have been improved on, though, might be the perspective—if the goal was to get the players into the head of the protagonist, why not make the game a first person action game? It could have been just as effective and to see the jump between third person in cutscenes and first person in gameplay may have added another surreal element to the character.
In the same way the characters function in Hellblade, the story is intense and largely driven by the protagonist’s relationship to herself. Like it was described in the character section of this review, this is often played effectively and for more than valid dramatic effect.
The plotline of the character trying to get back her dead lover’s soul from the goddess Hela seems odd at first, but ultimately proves a great foil for the mental illness struggles she faces throughout the journey. Without spoiling too much, you learn much more about Senua’s familial history during the story and the trauma she has endured up to this point, greatly coloring the role which she occupies and what that means for her personal struggles.
One of the positive aspects of this game is the ending, which I feel ends the struggles with enough resolution to have relevance to the problems it begins to describe, but with enough of a surprise that it’s a satisfying turn from where you initially thought it would end up. All in all, it lets you into Senua’s mind to fully understand just what it is she is fighting, the thinning line between the physical and mental worlds, and the bosses on the way there make much more sense at the end.
Hellblade is a particularly intense game, but whether or not it’s worth the price depends on if you can reconcile the length or not. I believe the story and gameplay to be more than compelling enough to justify the $30 pricetag, but if you confront right away that you’ll probably get one gameplay out of it (~7 hours) with maybe an extra hour to go back and collect all of the runes (there’s no DLC for this title either), then it is a game you would enjoy. If paying that much for such a short experience is something that would upset you more than entertain, then perhaps this isn’t the game for you.
That being said, I give this game an 8/10. It’s an incredibly intricate experience that (while short in duration) immerses the player in an entirely different universe, getting them to empathize firsthand with a dynamic, complicated protagonist in a way I haven’t quite seen in a videogame before.
What’s your opinion? Do you agree with our Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice review? How did you feel about Senua’s perspective?