Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice looks harrowing

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Developer Ninja Theory has a lofty goal for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice [official site]: to make a hack-and-slash game that’s all about mental health. They’re the folk that made DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (they like a colon, eh?), so you can expect an inordinate amount of stabbing. But the real focus is main character Senua’s struggle with psychosis, depression, and hallucinations.

That focus is clear from the latest trailer. Senua’s facial expressions are genuinely harrowing and the deep voiceover narrating Senua’s torment is chilling (although I had to jack my speakers right up to figure out what it was saying). The trailer also draws clear parallels between the overarching story of Senua searching for the soul of a dead lover and her inner plight – as in, she’s fighting both inner and external demons.

Have a look:

There’s very little gameplay in the trailer, so if you want to see what the combat will actually be like then there’s a fair few clips in the developer diary video below. It’s from the Dark Souls school of thought, by the looks of it – you’re righting big enemies with powerful attacks. You have to duck, dive, and slash them when the window of opportunity opens. You can slow time, too.

Ninja Theory’s pedigree with melee combat is well known, so I’ve got no worries there. Whether this is a success, therefore, will likely depend on the maturity and depth in which it covers Senua’s mental health problems. From what I’ve seen it’s heading in the right direction, and it’s long been known that Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Cambridge, working on the project to ensure it avoids stereotypes.

It’s slated for an August 8th release on Steam, GOG, and Humble Store, and it will cost £24.99/29,99€/$29.99.

49 Comments

  1. smeaa mario says:

    This looks quite neat. I only hope it’s not going to be a “walk idly along a designated path, take care of the few enemies we have placed along the way, rinse and repeat” simulator. In my humble opinion, it should ideally offer crowd fights and the kind of roaming freedom that you get in games like DmC itself.

  2. Synesthesia says:

    This looks really good. First time i’ve heard of it! Let’s hope they take more lessons from Dark Souls, other than the combat.

    I wonder what from software is up to.

    • Buuurr says:

      I sure hope not. Souls games are a dime a dozen now. I’d as soon see another COD clone. The more I see of this game, the more I see that it may be one of those big promises with a huge let down.

      • Synesthesia says:

        Extremely few have got it right, though. I struggle to name even one at the moment. If one makes the cut, it would be great.

      • FreshHands says:

        Since Dark Souls I got pretty bored with almost all other games for various reasons.

        This I think may be an excellent step in the right direction – not simply a lesser copy of it like some recent attempts, but rather something that offers a similar atmosphere and respects a mature mind.

        A little worried about the combat though. While it looks amazing, that gameplay video linked in the comments gives the impression of enemies being way too resilient against swords.

    • Janichsan says:

      I hope they don’t. Any copying of Dark Souls would be an instant deal breaker for me, as I can’t stand that play style. It just feels like an deliberate attempt to waste the players time.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    (they like a colon, eh?)

    Who doesn:t?

  4. heretic says:

    This looks really good! Not sure about the combat but I’m up for a well produced gritty story though.

  5. poliovaccine says:

    I’ve actually been interested in this for awhile now, ever since I saw an early video about the making of it where they showed a brief little bit of their portrayal of her psychosis, and holy hell, it *actually* looked like it came from someone who knew what the hell that stuff is like (as opposed to Layers of Fear, which seemed to imagine, as so many people do, that schizophrenia is all about living in a student’s horror short). Maybe it goes off the deep end later on (hah), but if they can get *anything* even adequately representative of the experience of psychosis in there it’ll be a very handy thing for bridging that gap in understanding.
    Even some shrinks have some woefully presumptuous ideas on the topic, and for some reason having all the firsthand experience in the room still never seems to count for much.

    Anyway, if the melee is good that’ll frankly be a bonus in a game I would have happily taken as a visual novel or walking sim.

  6. Daymare says:

    I just randomly got really hyped by this.

    I adored Enslaved for story, characters and visuals. This looks like a mixup of a melee nuTomb-Raider with Silent Hill or something. If the combat is more Dark Souls-y than Enslaved’s (was functional, but not genuinely fun), that just makes it greater.

    Will preord– I mean wishlist this and read the reviews that reflect my growing excitement, ignoring all the negative ones. Err–

  7. voorsk says:

    Hope ninja theory have better luck with this. Their games are always ignored or unfairly criticized.

    • durrbluh says:

      Seeing as no one is getting paid to trash-talk Heavenly Sword or Enslaved, maybe people just didn’t enjoy the titles as much as you did? Nothing unfair about that.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        No, people trashtalk things for free, whether they’ve seen/played the thing in question or not. Making their opinions known and the illusion of thereby influencing others is enough.

  8. Zenicetus says:

    So, a hack and slash game that’s “all about mental health,” eh?

    This is a touchy subject if they’re presenting it as anything close to real psychosis, like schizophrenia or the more extreme end of bipolar disorder. There is a danger in presenting this as a cool thing, rather than something that destroys peoples lives, and the lives of friends and family members around them. I’m guessing this game doesn’t include that aspect.

    I hope it’s more like “visions” in the usual fantasy context. Psychic visions provide enough distance from reality to be enjoyable as a premise, without getting too close to what real people suffer with mental illness, and trying to make a fun game around that idea.

    • Furiant says:

      I’m not sure it would be inherently bad to have a game that attempts to both portray/illuminate mental health issues and also be fun. I don’t see anything disrepectful about fun, so long as it’s not mockery, and that doesn’t seem to be their goal.

      That said, I’m dubious as to whether they can meaningfully portray such issues in a video game at all. The biggest risk I see is just coming off as cheesy.

      • Zenicetus says:

        “I’m not sure it would be inherently bad to have a game that attempts to both portray/illuminate mental health issues and also be fun.”

        The problem I have with that personally, and I know this won’t apply to everyone, is that I’m one of those who was close to someone afflicted with the real thing. And there was nothing even remotely fun about it.

        Unless the devs keep this premise very narrowly defined, I predict major backlash from people who actually have some personal experience with it.

        • poliovaccine says:

          I have schizophrenia and controlling it is the primary act of my entire life. I am lucky to be fairly high functioning because my shit is fairly well controlled, but that’s pretty fucken relative, it still basically controls my life. I actually thank LSD for much of my mental health, and the way most folks would immediately react to that idea as being totally antithetical to mental health, it shows just how little the subjective experience is understood. The same thing about LSD that’s so useful for self-therapy/metaprogramming is the same exact thing that makes it dangerous in the wrong scenario: it can absolutely change your thinking in a lasting way, and it can put you in an inordinate amount of contact with your subconscious. That stuff is like any tool – it can also be a murder weapon, but what a waste of a good screwdriver.

          Anyway, I saw a preview of this game with some visuals that were spot-on, and it gave me some hope for a fairly general wish of mine – that is, I would *love* if some kind of mainstream media could portray something *accurate* that gave other people a better understanding of the sheer fact that psychosis involves a lot more than seeing dancing gifs on the walls and fuhreeeaking out all the time. I mean, I still have basically a parallel track of thinking where I still follow the affairs of the extraterrestrial religion who can only interact with us in the form of apparent coincidence or else when our social credibility is destroyed by drugs or psychosis, and who try to save earth from the evil god that has established a parasitic psychic relationship with mankind and thus has resulted in earth being cut off from the rest of the galactic community by way of quarantine, for their own protection… and then in my other, saner mindtrack I built, I do things like work and pay rent and have relationships. But not everyone is so lucky, and it’s reeeeal easy to just be a victim of your own impulses. And it is absolutely essential to control stress. See schizophrenia comes in different “types,” the one everyone pictures, the floridly delusional and aggressive paranoiac, is the paranoid schizophrenic, naturally, then there’s the catatonic, who goes into semi-seizure states where they turn the fuck off inside and can be posed like a mannequin where they sit, and then there’s me, the disorganized type, tho obv it comes w some hallucinosis, too. But when I am genuinely stressed, I do something vaguely catatonic – I lose time, and often pass out, last time I thought I wouldnt make rent for the month I freaked so badly I woke up on the floor, after losing about *ten hours* of my day. It is extremely difficult to keep a life together with little interruptions like that. But like I say, I havent really experienced delusions since I took a bunch of acid for an extended period of time. No migraines anymore either, actually. Still some florid pareidolia, lots of little faces swimming in texturous surfaces, I’d be tempted to think *that* was the acid talking if I hadnt had it going on already haha.

          Anyway, my meandering point is really that, basically, I am too high functioning to get about half the help I really need in this life – I can work, I am articulate, I have intelligence… but this does nothing to preclude my emotional lability, which I have ways to control but which take time, or the bizarre physical sensations with sudden, disturbing thoughts implanted in yr head telling you that there is a foreign object inside you and you need to get it out, and that’s it, no further detail thanks so much… and the whole losing time thing… and the passing out, I mean apparently I “go” to sleep, like I walk over and lay down, but otherwise I just shut off, and like I say, last time I didnt even make it to the bed. I can present well, but fuck dude, my life is complicated haha. And a lot of people just dont seem to take my diagnosis seriously, my parents included, because I can present well – and they, more than anyone, dont wanna think I’m as “defective” as all that. But there are many jobs I just cant hold, and stuff like going to bars? Hah! Concerts are okay, cus nobody expects you to talk, but all the audio stimulus of different voices talking… it’s not that I cant hear, it’s that what I do hear is so far from right haha. So like, I legitimately cant do open mics without a friend along to basically be my interpreter… I feel like a foreign visitor haha, I mean I guess that’s not new but in that situation especially haha.

          But a lot of folks just think schizophrenia means plastering yr place w newspapers and listening to police frequencies, and basically, a lot of people, sometimes even well-meaning friends or girlfriends, dont take my diagnosis seriously when they first meet me, cus “well you seem fine!” and nothing I can say really prepares them for seeing me “in a state.” I mean I dont bother to mention it unless we’re spending enough time together that it’s gonna come up soon one way or the other… just, at a certain point, I gotta break the bad news about myself haha. So I mean, I would love if someone managed to portray the bizarre double life that is attempting to control yr schizophrenia. I dont know if this game is going to be “about” that necessarily, but if people could just realign their immediate mental image-association with the word to something a little more accurate, I would love that. I mean some people think it’s just “multiple personality disorder” (dissociative identity disorder). And moreover, it’s difficult to express the way some things are difficult for me… like, I learned the hard way I cant do carpentry, I struggled my way thru building a deck but like, when I look at *anything* for too long it starts “acting up,” like if I look at a GI Joe too long his face starts showing expressions or his hairline recedes… picture working with that, trying to make millimeter-precision cuts with the circular saw haha. Christ that was a nightmare.

          I’d like if people could see that someone who seems outwardly, apparently normal can still be absolutely “suffering” from schizophrenia, cus frankly that’s been a recurring issue in my own life. Never mind the fact that, if you explain yourself to an employer, man they dont really wanna hear that… I would like if that parallel life could be shown, that double life where in one track you’re a bumbling schmuck and in the other track you’re a binary warrior-entity of cosmic love here to help destroy the evil god which is sucking our souls for sustenance and some kind of depraved high and etc etc etc.

          Essentially, a relatively accurate portrayal would be a positive thing in and of itself, because peoples’ mental image is of one, particular type of worst case scenario, the lone gunman in a standoff w police because the voices told him, etc, etc… there’s degrees to all this, just like anything. I’m not quite *that* guy, but I have trouble with some things, yknow? Accommodation would be nice but I would so settle for understanding. Just like… people either dont take it seriously, cus I “seem fine,” or else they just decide right there that I’m a ticking time bomb of some kind and they need to get away from me. Which is always nice. Either I’m a fucken boogeyman or I’m expected to do normal ass shit that *I cant do.* Like go to bars and cut wood straight. So you can see why pretty much *any* relatively accurate portrayal would be very exciting to me. I dont think this or any one videogame is going to make it out to seem “cool,” but I mean, fuck, if it did maybe people wouldnt be such dicks about it sometimes. I told someone once I thought I could confide in, someone I’d been hanging out with up til that point, and who was not a perfectly mainstream individual, would’ve thought he was… I thought I could confide in him, kay – he actually said, “Backing. Away. Slowly.” And did so. Charming maneuever.. how am I the fucking crazy one here? So yeah, I could do with a little less of that. No idea if this game does that or anything about it, but the idea they have consulting entities to help them get it right, and that they have an interest in doing so, is something to hope for. I dont have high hopes, mind – Layers of Fear promised something similar and it was just nothing but reinforcing the more ridiculous tropes about mental illness that would be laughable if they werent so destructive. For fucks sakes, my life is chaotic but it doesnt quite play like Layers of Fear haha. Eugh.

          So yeah. As a freak myself, I’m hopeful the game’s interest in the disease can wind up producing just a few less “backing away slowlies” in this life. I dont even care if a few knucklehead dweebs think it’s cool, better than thinking I’m some fucking monster. Seriously, I live in a small town, word travels, and so I hate everyone haha. The circle of life.

          • KingFunk says:

            Wow. That was quite an eye-opening read, moreso than pretty much anything else I’ve read that tried to depict such experience (not that I’ve been out of my way to read such things). Thanks for sharing that.

            From this and other posts you seem like someone who would be a worthwhile friend, warts and all. Even then, not sure what I’d say if one of my friends told me stuff like this. Hopefully “Shit, well I’m here if you need me dude. No judging.” But I suppose we all would rather think of ourselves as the magnanimous hero type…

          • Dorga says:

            thanks for talking about it, gave me a lot to think about.

          • Daymare says:

            Seconding the posts above. Thanks for the insight and thoughts.

          • MrBehemoth says:

            Ditto, thanks for the insights.

            You mention something I’ve known problems with while caring for others: the more articulate and well presented you are, the less people take your mental health seriously. People think if you can string a sentence together and wash occasionally, well then you must be fine.

            I’ve had my eye on this game for a while. It looks to me like the cutscenes and writing are trying to address psychosis respectfully, and that’s great.

            However, I’m worried that the gameplay bits in between. The protagonist is a Celt who’s lover was killed by Norsemen, so she travels north and has to vanquish the northerners’ gods… Could go one of two ways:

            (1) Whilst on a real journey to overcome her grief, she experiences a parallel psychotic journey in which she battles monsters to overcome a destructive evil force, which symbolises her grief, both in the writing and in her psyche.

            or (2) Whoops! All those monsters she killed… they were really just people! Because crazy people kill people because they think they’re monsters and she’s sooo crazy!

            If they are specifically trying to avoid stigma, it might turn out to be (1), which is fine. Personally, I think it would work better as a non-combative game, but I know that’s not what people like.

            Again, thanks poliovaccine. Keep on keeping on.

          • Ny24 says:

            Thanks for sharing! I hope it helps that a lot of people are at least trying to understand.

          • Josh W says:

            Really fascinating, the thing about having difficulty looking at objects before they start changing reminds me of a study on people with more standard perceptions who experienced a similar effect:

            When asked to sit opposite a mirror a slightly dimly lit room and look at their face, after about a minute their brain started to replace their face with other images.

            The coolest bit about this though is that if you repeat the effect with two people, looking at each other’s faces, they can end up having the same effect, but also even have synchronised patterns of hallucination, possibly through throwing unconscious cues to each other about what they were reacting to.

            Either way they felt a sense of destabilisation of their identity and grasp on events, even when it someone else’s face they were looking at not their own.

            I don’t know if this is the same phenomina as what you experience, (like some version that works even in daylight and in a wider set of circumstances than just faces), but it seems reminiscent from the description.

  9. parsley says:

    Ohh, this IS curious. The trailer looks intriguing, and I’m always interested in portrayals of mental health in gaming. I’ll hang in there, though, until I find out more about the mechanics.

  10. Dogshevik says:

    This looks like a marvelous cutscene simulator.

    Well, I guess occasionally bits of `game` might get into your way to the next scene, but seemingly it´s nothing that can´t be solved by the application of some more particle effects.

  11. MasterPrudent says:

    IGN recently put up a 10 minute gameplay video that might be a bit more representative of where the games at now: link to au.ign.com

    • gollum_krumen says:

      Oi, this looks rather cheap.

    • LacSlyer says:

      I viewed this last week and was not impressed at all to be honest. If the game had a few more months to release I wouldn’t mind, but the animations seem out of sync at times and the hit box detection seems awkward at best (the attacks at times seem to barely make contact with an enemy due to range yet staggers them, for instance). This has potential but I’m just not convinced this will be a very fun game to play.

  12. MasterPrudent says:

    IGN recently put up a 10 minute gameplay video that might be a bit more representative of where the game’s at now: link to au.ign.com

  13. Aetylus says:

    If they pull this off this could be a seriously good game… It *should* be very easy for games to be more immersive that movies, but most games just don’t bother. This certainly looks like they have bothered… if they can make a game both fun and harrowing that would be one helluvathing.

  14. Frank says:

    Surprised it’s only $30. Hope they don’t have to sell a ridiculous number of units to break even.

  15. Wauffles says:

    Considering that Ninja Theory’s take on Devil May Cry included a scene in which character performed an abortion on a distressed woman with a sniper rifle, I would really not hold out a lot of hope of this being a thoughtful, nuanced story about mental illness.

  16. Dorga says:

    My only fear is that people are setting their expecations wrong. There is talk of Dark Souls similarities, but this is supposed to be a short and linear narrative, punctured by enemy encounters, all in a precise order; the fact that it’s not going to be a sprawling game is also mirrored by the relatively low price.
    I hope there isn’t too much of a backlash once the game is out

    • Daymare says:

      Since the game devs estimated its length at about 6-8 hrs, I’d assumed it meant more stuff like: third person sword-slashes that actually connect with the enemy, attacks feel weighty/have physical impact, having to parry/dodge instead of tanking. And dark fantasy. Stuff like that. (Yesyes, shields are kind of tanky.)

      Game length source:
      link to playstationlifestyle.net

  17. moke says:

    Minor gripe but I hate the glowing effect used to tell you which enemy you’re locked to. It doesn’t spoil anything, it’s just a missed opportunity considering the minimalist to nonexistent interface. The low health effects don’t make your character glow red or whatever. I’d like to see what a nice adaptive depth of field effect could do in this instance.

  18. wombat191 says:

    while interesting it hits a little close to home and not just because im an angry viking woman so i dont know if i will get it

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    “Ninja Theory’s pedigree with melee combat is well known”

    Yes, well known as being shallow copies of better games. This looks cool but I am holding out on any excitement until we find out if Ninja Theory has learned how to combat system yet.

    • Buggery says:

      Oh bugger off with that. DmC was a lot of fun.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Why is it no longer acceptable to point out that Ninja Theory have a history of making games that do not play as well as the games they are trying to copy? Are we going to start telling Dark Souls fans that they are all being a bunch of sticks in the mud for being such a bunch of meanies to poor poor Lords of the Fallen?

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    wonderingmonster says:

    The facial animation is really amazing.

  21. BaronKreight says:

    Honestly I don’t expect it to be a fully fleshed out game. I see it more as a tech demo. It sure is pretty and might grip some artistic people with scarves, nose-glasses and plugs.

  22. Gordon Shock says:

    Gotta say, as one suffering from bouts of severe depression (the condition not the feeling), some of the imagery shown in the trailer are surrealy close to home.

    Glad to see Ninja Theory doing something on a whole new level of sophistication.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Martell says:

    Huh, I’ve heard of a blood eagle, but never actually seen it. That was all kinds of messed up.

    Seriously, someone, or more likely a succession of someones, did some serious R&D as to how much flaying and disemboweling someone can go through and still be…aesthetically interesting?