A Game You Should Play - Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a game I've been looking forward to for quite a while and I've been following the Developer Diaries that Ninja Theory has been releasing over the last few years incredibly closely. At first I was watching so closely because of Ninja Theory's past, I consider myself a huge fan of the small development team. (Enslaved doesn't get enough credit!). Eventually, I was watching the diaries because I was genuinely excited for what Hellblade was, and I looked forward to getting my hands on it. A couple weeks ago Hellblade finally released on the PSN and Microsoft Windows, and while it took me much longer then originally intended, I can finally say I've completed it and it did not disappoint. Ninja Theory has dubbed their latest title "an independent AAA", but that honestly doesn't give enough credit to what Ninja Theory was able to accomplish, even if this accomplishment is not something everyone will enjoy. That being said, it's still a game I would heavily recommend to everybody reading this because Hellblade is certainly unlike anything I've experienced before, and is worth giving a shot.

Before I get more into why somebody should actually play Hellblade, I think it's critical to note how insanely dark the game is. In fact, Hellblade may be one of the darkest games I've ever played, in every sense of the word. Right from the get go, it's made clear to you that the main character, Senua, is suffering from psychosis. As you undergo Senua's epic journey this psychosis rears its ugly head in multiple places. To make these presentations as realistic as possible, Ninja Theory brought a professor onto their team - Professor Paul Fletcher, an expert on psychosis at Cambridge University. Due in part to Senua's psychosis, darkness permeates the game world at every facet and quite frankly made me incredibly uncomfortable multiple times. Ninja Theory crafts this atmosphere in a few ways, with one of the strongest tools being sound. Ninja Theory utilized binaural audio, which essentially means two microphones were used to create a 3D sound space in Hellblade. When you boot the game up it recommends playing with headphones, and in doing so you really open yourself up to something that manages to be unsettling and calming all at once. As you play through Hellblade there are a multitude of voices that clue you in to the world around Senua in various ways, sometimes via screaming, whispering, shouting or even with silence. Between this, the relatively frequent hallucinations and the dark world of Celtic and Norse mythology, Hellblade really drives home some really strong feelings of isolation and darkness.

  There's no HUD in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.

Gameplay wise, Hellblade is described as a "cinematic psychological horror action adventure" game. That's quite the mouthful and still just barely manages to categorize the experiences waiting for you. Unfortunately, its almost impossible to discuss the narrative without spoiling multiple plot points and interesting character developments. Essentially, Senua is on a quest to Helheim to regain the soul of a loved one. Most of the gameplay is interacting with the world, but there's some combat splashed in here and there. The combat system in Hellblade definitely lacks any serious depth, but it does the job well enough to portray the more physical tasks in Senua's way. Interacting with the world, listening to the world building lore stones, Senua's inner monologues and even cut-scenes help create an unrivaled atmosphere. These interactions are pretty difficult to explain in full, which is another reason why I'm stressing the importance of experiencing Hellblade for yourself.

Recently I think there has been a small shift in the video game medium, and games with intensely focused narratives/atmospheres are finding their footing once more. Games like Night in the Woods, Resident Evil 7, The Telltale Series, Life is Strange, etc, etc are shining examples of games focusing on the narrative/atmospheric approach, allowing game play to take a bit of a back seat in order to tell a story or invoke emotions. Obviously, these style of games aren't the end all be all, but you cannot deny their rise in popularity. Ultimately, I think Hellblade has the potential to be one of the most polarizing games of the year, and really headlines what these narrative focused games are capable of. Senua's journey is a dark descent into madness, and while the journey is interesting and extremely well presented, it can be genuinely disturbing. By the time the credits were rolling I was ready for a serious change of scenery, opting to play something on the complete opposite spectrum of Hellblade. I think a game that is capable of producing such terror and enlightenment hand in hand is worth a shot, so do yourself a favor and check out Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. It might only disturb you for a few days!    
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