If you’re aiming for a game of “AAA” quality, Hellblade is proof that you don’t need hundreds of people and a blockbuster budget in order to attain it. Senua’s Sacrifice is a brand new adventure from a small team of talented devs over at Ninja Theory and if that name rings a bell (and it definitely should), it’s because their repertoire is lined with gaming gems: Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and the 2013 Devil May Cry reboot, to name a few.
Hellblade is Ninja Theory’s first self-published video game and therefore it’s been quite a creative and financial risk to take. Luckily, the Cambridge-based team are well known for their strong script writing, brilliant motion capture and fun combat, and Hellblade offers a near perfect mix of Ninja Theory’s strengths. As a result, their risk has paid off, in my opinion.
So, let’s get to the point: is Hellblade any good? Very, but it depends on what type of gameplay experience you’re looking for.
As a third-person adventure game with a strong focus on character development, combat and puzzle solving are on hand to provide a majority of the gameplay. It’s incredibly linear, however at certain parts you are given the choice to choose the order in which you complete some objectives. All together it presents little in terms of replay value, but its £25 price tag reflects the 5-7 hour story campaign. It’s described as an independent AAA title with the same level of production value as your average summer blockbuster, but in a package that’s a fraction of the cost.
The game is heavily inspired by Norse mythology and therefore takes many of its story cues from there as well. You play as Senua, a woman who must deal with psychosis whilst she travels through a hellish under world of psychotic manifestations. The entirety of your journey is shown via the perspective of her psychotic disorder and, whereas most characters with such an illness are often portrayed as quite one dimensional, Ninja Theory’s care and attention to its subject matter allows players to explore every aspect of Senua’s mind, as well as her actions in-game.
I’m proud that Ninja Theory decided to go out on their own and take the necessary risk to make something from their heart, without any outside interference from a high brow publisher. Hellblade offers a unique insight into the scary struggle that people with psychosis have to deal with and its lead character presents a powerhouse performance. It might be a relatively short journey, but it’s one which you won’t find anywhere else. It’s also a damn good price, too.
Hellblade is Ninja Theory’s first self-published video game and throughout development the team has been incredibly transparent with both fans and critics. In doing so they have released regular video diaries that have plotted every step of the game’s creation and I have to hand a big amount of credit to Ninja Theory for leading the charge in being so open. With so many devs being kept in the trenches of a big publisher’s marketing scheme, it’s rare to see a game through from inception to final product with little-to-no red tape.
I’d also like to mention the game’s message that, should Senua die too many times all your progress will be lost. This has been well documented online as being a cruel lie, as the ‘rot’ that Senua’s body gradually gathers each time she dies do indeed stop at a certain point. The perms-death mode is a falsehood, but it’s also a smart trick in making players, such as myself, care more about combat encounters. I didn’t find out until I saw a news story and should I have known about being able to die without consequence, I think my journey would have felt lacklustre.