Review: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4)

Review: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Format: PSN (14.92 GB)
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Ninja Theory
Developer: Ninja Theory
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
As a fan of Ninja Theory’s style, I had high expectations for Hellblade. Most trailers I watched showed only cinematic content, and while it looked phenomenal, I didn’t know what to expect on the gameplay side. I simply took solace in the confidence I have for the team to deliver on gameplay. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does indeed deliver on a unique experience.

The break from the mold isn’t limited to just the style of gameplay. The story, set in a fantasy environment, deals with mental health and in the case of Senua, psychosis in particular.

Despite the Norse mythology backdrop, Senua’s condition is handled with realistic application according to the developer’s own developmental process where they consulted folks who have life experience. I’ll touch more upon this within the audio section, but it’s pretty crucial to play this game with headphones. Audio always matters in video games. But it matters greatly here.

The gameplay may not win over fans of the likes of Devil May Cry. The combat sequences are phenomenal and the further you get into the game, the more intense they become. But this is not really an action game. It holds more in common with an third-person puzzle adventure game. A lot of the puzzles are perspective based. You must view something from a certain angle in order to match an emblem that locks the door.

This means you need to explore the environment in order to “bend reality” into opening hidden passageways and ultimately getting you where you need to be. If it sounds confusing, it will be even more so when you discover that there really isn’t a hand-holding guide telling you what to do. This made discovery more rewarding for me, but I could absolutely see someone spending hours in an environment figuring out what the hell to do.

And here is the other caveat. Hellblade has permadeath. It doesn’t come immediately like some brutal roguelike games but if you fight haphazardly, you might find yourself starting over.

It all ties to the story in that Senua’s infection grows as she fails and if it overtakes her entire body, then the infection wins and her mind is destroyed. I can understand this frustrating players, but I guess I come from a time when starting over was just part of the experience.

Still, it’s probably a good idea to mention this to everyone, because some people don’t like it. I for one cannot stand roguelike games. But for some reason, I couldn’t abandon Senua’s quest to find her love. It wasn’t the same as abandoning an annoying pixelated character because the developer considered dying multiple times and starting over a “fun” thing to do.

This is where that psychosis comes into play. Senua is a tragic character. She is not Aloy or Link or even Trevor, oh God, not Trevor. She is living in a world that few, if any, video game characters visit.

She continuously hears voices. They conflict. They argue. And sometimes within that chaos you might hear a clue. But for the most part, they narrate what is happening in a very, very unique way. Again, I can’t stress enough how much better this game sounds with headphones and I’ll stress is again below, I’m sure.

Combat is encounter-based so you can often predict when you are going to have to change pace –
it usually happens when you approach a large environment. Despite this being more of an adventure game, Ninja Theory knows fighting.

You are afforded many options for combos and defenses but this does not control like God of War or Heavenly Sword. It’s more akin to a fighting game like Soul Blade where the camera orbits the enemy with you.

Timed blocks disorient the enemy allowing you to turn the tide, and dodging between multiple enemies helps you gain better vantage points. It’s not a very complicated system and there is no real leveling or upgrading, but that’s why the combat system isn’t the center of this game’s attention, despite the finely tuned mechanics.

Visuals:
This ranks up there with some of the best on the console. Most of the environments here are bleak and depressing, but they are beautifully so. I love how “everywoman” Senua appears but this poor girl has been through hell, and it shows.

Aloy, by comparison, lives in a post apocalyptic world filled with giant robot dinos, but she herself keeps pretty clean. I’m not ripping on Horizon Zero Dawn by the way, it’s just refreshing to see a character that looks like shit.

Even her facial proportions aren’t as perfect as other characters. And I wanted her to succeed. I felt terrible for her. Lighting is wonderfully realized, and volumetric fog is used well to enhance the atmosphere. You’re not receiving subpar graphics for that budget price. Not at all.

Audio:
Did I mention the headphone thing? It is downright terrifying. Using a surround tech that makes it seem like you are being spoken to from all sides, this game will literally make you question whether or not someone is speaking to you in your own home. And yet these voices are part of Senua, and they have to become part of you. Trust me, they saved my ass a few times.

You know how I mentioned that combat in this game is more akin to a 3D fighting game? Well this means that you won’t always be able to tell if someone is sneaking up behind you. I have been both startled and grateful when a louder voice chimed in to warn me of an enemy behind me. I dodged just in time to avoid taking serious damage.

Voice acting is masterfully realized and this doesn’t just apply to Senua or the other cast, but the many voices you hear throughout the game that come from Senua’s mind. They are often whispers, but occasionally one dominates the others. The degree of intensity is something that was obviously done with care and attention to detail.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
It’s difficult to recommend Hellblade to fans of Ninja Theory games as this is a deviation from the norm. It’s an amazing one so I won’t fault it for permadeath or slower-paced gameplay.

But with a high score for an amazing experience, I will warn gamers to watch some videos, probably early in the game to avoid spoilers, and make sure this is the game for you. It’s something unique and beautifully realized but it may not resonate with someone who expects an action game with a dark story. It’s more of a dark story with some fighting scattered throughout.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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