“For every battle won, a greater battle takes its place“
I’m not quite sure where to begin with this review, but I guess I’ll start by apologizing for not having played it sooner. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one of those games I’ve kept my eye on since it’s release, but for one reason or another just hadn’t got round to sitting down to play it. Earlier last week I decided it was finally time to blow the virtual dust off and jump in thanks to spotting a couple of my followers on Twitter enjoying the game for the first time, and others leaving such positive comments in response. Prior to this, I hadn’t actually read any reviews or looked very much into the game itself, but I have heard no end of praise and love for Ninja Theory and its team of around 20 developers who worked on it.
A Pict warrior from Orkney, the titular character Senua is on a personal mission to save the soul of her murdered lover, Dillion. In order to do so, Senua must make the impossible journey to Helheim to retrieve Dillion’s soul from Hela, the Goddess of Death. Senua believes herself to be suffering from a curse known as the ‘Darkness’ as she hears multiple voices in her head (called ‘Furies’) and often struggles to determine what is and isn’t real. The journey to Helheim is filled with puzzles, more close shaves than you can count, and sword clashes with brutish Northmen apparition – but it’s Senua’s story that takes centre stage throughout the whole thing and it’s that that makes this game so difficult to put down.
From the word go, I could just feel that I was about to witness something hauntingly beautiful. It’s dark aesthetic mixed with the dulcet narration during the opening scene set the tone for what lies ahead. We learn more of Senua’s story through this narration throughout the game, as well as through a series of hallucinations she has. These hallucinations include live-action performances by different actors, but the live action aspect of it works incredibly well and is woven into the game and its aesthetic perfectly.
Melina Juergens’ performance as Senua is 5 star worthy in itself and I’m so glad she received the recognition she so deserves at the Game Awards and BAFTA Game Awards last year. Juergens is the heart and soul of this game and it’s her incredibly powerful and emotional performance that sucks you into Senua’s story and leads you to become so emotionally attached to her and the hellish journey she is on. Whilst playing the game, you very much feel like you’re actually in Senua’s head with the Furies, so every time she is knocked down or feels like she can’t carry on you find yourself wanting to shout louder than the other voices to tell her to keep going.
Accompanying me in writing this review is the game’s utterly sublime score (which has been on repeat on my Spotify since I completed the game). No well-told story is complete without a score that helps elevate it to a whole new level – and that’s exactly what David Garcia and Andy La Plegua have achieved here. Through Senua’s dialogue-less moments it’s the game’s Viking-like score that keeps the immersive experience alive with its atmospheric instrumentals and soul-stirring female vocals.
The combat in Hellblade takes a bit of a back seat in the overall narrative for the most part, but when it does come along it feels rather relentless, which really adds an extra layer of emotional toll to the game as some fights feel like they’re never going to end and the Northmen apparitions just keep appearing and surrounding you. The combat controls are pretty basic and are quick to get used to. The Furies are of great assistance in combat, alerting you to dodge when an enemy is about to attack you from behind, and helping point out weaknesses in the tougher enemies.
Throughout the game there are a number of puzzles Senua must solve in order to reach Helheim, these include finding certain symbols to unlock doors and changing her perspective by going through gateways that change the world around her. Whilst none of them are too challenging, you might find yourself running around in circles on a couple of them as I did. Listen to the Furies as they attempt to offer you some guidance.
Ninja Theory’s dev diaries for Hellblade should definitely make it onto your watchlist. The videos showcase the love and effort that went into making the game, including their use of real-time performance capture technology, the research that not only went into the mythology of the world Senua is in, but also Ninja Theory’s work with various mental health experts to accurately, and respectfully, portray her psychosis. The team even worked closely with those who actually suffer from psychosis to help them make the voices Senua hears feel as real as possible. Ninja Theory’s dedication to making this experience as authentic as possible really shines in the end product, and again, they delve further into this in their dev diaries.
It’s not often I find myself so invested in a game’s plot that I struggle to pull myself away from it, but that’s exactly how I was with Hellbade. Immersing myself in the game entirely with my headphones on, I took every opportunity I could to progress Senua’s harrowing story further and I urge you to do the same. It packs such an emotional punch, something that I personally rarely experience with video games, and every element of this game is constructed to work hand in hand with one another. A thing of pure beauty.
This is an exceptional video game that deserves your time… Grab your headphones and dive into this story – I promise you won’t regret it.