Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review
By Richard Lynch
I’ve often thought that the term “video game” isn’t necessarily the best descriptor for the interactive medium that video games are. It can be misleading, implying fun and joy. There is nothing joyful about Hellblade, in fact, it might be one of the most unpleasant games I have ever played. But that doesn’t make it any less of a journey worth taking.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a narrative action game from the makers of Heavenly Sword and DMC. You play as Senua, a Celtic warrior who suffers from psychosis. After suffering a tremendous tragedy, she heads North to the Nordic idea of Hell to bargain with the Goddess Hella. The gameplay splits between various environmental puzzles and increasingly difficult combat sections. Certain puzzles can quickly feel repetitive, but they make way for much more inventive, mind bending puzzles that are cool but never truly difficult.
The combat is decidedly simple; there are light attacks, heavy attacks, kicks, and a block. Early on fighting may feel overly simple, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is a subtle level of strategy to the battles as new types of monstrous enemies join the fight. Enemy designs are appropriately hellish particularly with the boss designs this often disturbingly beautiful game. And this is a gorgeous game, every aspect of it feels painstakingly detailed to the point where it’s hard to believe Hellblade only cost $30.
If that description had been where the review had ended, Hellblade would have been a thoroughly average game, good, but hardly worthy of note. But, there’s one important aspect that elevates this game from average to essential. Psychosis and mental health is rarely a topic addressed with any seriousness. Through a combination of voices that follow Senua around, hallucinations, and visions, Hellblade drops players into the strange, often confusing, and occasionally disturbing mind of an individual afflicted with Psychosis. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the experience but creates a feeling of immersion that I have never encountered in a video game before. Most importantly, it’s handled respectfully and never made into a joke or a caricature. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling anything, but I will say that the game recommends playing with headphones and you absolutely should. The entire story unfolds through the veil of these hallucinations.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an unusual game, it’s not as flashy as some of its big-budget counterparts and its subject matter may make some player uncomfortable. The combination of Norse mythology and a believable depiction of psychosis proves to make for a compelling, moving tale and an unforgettable experience. At $30 this is one of the most unique games you can play this year, and it’s absolutely worth a look.
The Geeked Gods Score: 9/10
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Initial release date: August 8, 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
Genre(s): Action, hack and slash
Mode: Single Player