Wot I Think – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade Senua 1

The voices won’t stop. They’re whispering in my ear, gnawing at my skull from all angles. “Turn back”, one says. “They’re watching you”. “She falls for their tricks every time,” says another, cackling while Senua screams. More than once during Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice [official site] I had to fight the urge to rip the headphones from my ears. As a portrayal of how harrowing it is to live with psychosis it undoubtedly succeeds, and it uses Senua’s illness as a route into an excellent eight-hour story about love and loss. But, sometimes, especially in its combat segments, it’s also difficult to play for the wrong reasons.

Senua, a warrior from the Orkney Islands, has left her burned village for hell (or Hel, in the Norse mythology) in the hopes of saving the soul of her murdered dead lover, Dillion. So far, so dark fantasy. Except Senua suffers from psychosis, and the world you visit is a manifestation of her mind.

It’s a beautiful setting, both technically brilliant and visually varied. It shifts around you, Senua’s mind taking you from a flowery meadow one minute to a river of corpses the next before dropping you at the feet of a towering god of fire for a boss fight. It’s cinematic, partly thanks to its total lack of HUD.

Hellblade 2

Her psychosis comes across in the audio, too. The games uses binaural 3D audio, which means each of the voices in her head sounds like it’s coming from a different direction. Having four or five people shout and whisper at you at the same time, often saying conflicting things, is very uncomfortable – which is the whole point.

And it does more than simply show how psychosis might feel: a lot of the details of the story come from those voices, which add context in moments of action (“she’s not strong enough”) and narration in the down time. They take on personalities, and some of them manifest as visions as well. It’s through Senua’s conversations with these voices that we start to piece together the story.

On the surface, the story of her quest is simple enough, but it develops subtly. The game is full of symbolism, and as you learn more about her past you’re constantly trying to work out what the objects in the world might represent. Is that demon her father? Are those burnt bodies people she knew that died? You’re simultaneously experiencing the story in the moment while piecing together Senua’s backstory, all the while linking it to what it means for her battle with mental illness.

Don’t expect huge plot twists, but the slow drip of exposition adds up to a really involving tale that focuses on a few themes and explores them deeper than most other games dare.

It’s driven by fantastic acting, both from the voice actors and by Senua herself – her terrifying screams and monologues are genuinely affecting, and you can’t help but root for her. The only slightly odd choice is that some of the actors arrive on screen in live-action shots (ie, real life versions of themselves, just blurred a bit) which feels out of place. But overall, it all clicks together.

Senua 3

So, a focus on interesting themes, fantastic visuals, and a story that you actually care about. What’s the catch? Well, most of the game you’re not watching cut scenes or listening to monologues. You’re journeying through the world, solving relatively simple puzzles or cutting down enemies, and both of these are weaker than the narrative.

For most of the puzzles you’re put into a single large zone with a locked door ablaze with runes. To get through to the next area you have to find the corresponding runes in the environment. Generally, this means that you search around for a vantage point, and from that angle objects in the environment will look like the runes you’re looking for. The branches of a tree will align to form a cross, for example.

The game throws in a new mechanic here and there to keep the puzzles varied. Sometimes you’re met with portals that distort reality. Walking through the portal might repair a destroyed bridge, allowing you to cross, and on the other side of that bridge will be the right spot for you to find a rune. In one puzzle you have to light fires to cast shadows to form the shape of a rune, moving backward and forward between waterfalls that extinguish your torch and fire pits to relight them in the right order to get the job done.

Hellblade 3

And then sometimes there’s a complete curveball: there’s one memorable section where you’re thrust into darkness, Senua groping forward for a path you can’t see, and it evolves into a tense stealth segment. I wish the game had thrown in a couple more of these surprises and lost a few of the basic rune puzzles, but overall it switches it up just enough to hold your attention.

When you’re not stealth-ing or solving puzzles you’re most likely in combat – the worst bit of Hellblade. It’s pretty to look at but ultimately shallow and repetitive. It revolves around a ‘focus’ mechanic: time your dodges and evades correctly and you’ll build up your focus meter, indicated on a mirror swinging from your belt. Fill it up and you can trigger slow motion, taking the fight to your larger foes and cutting them to bits with a mixture of light and heavy strikes.

When it all comes together it’s a fluid dance, as you bounce between bare-shirted men in headdresses, dodging massive axe blows. But too much time is spent waiting around for that focus to come – sometimes you can’t actually deal any damage without it, so you’re relying on the enemies to attack you first (a bit like the counter mechanic in the Assassin’s Creed games). The enemies lack variety, too: there’s one or two boss fights that are more interesting, but generally you’re up against the same pack of enemies with the same telegraphed combat moves. They’re easy to deal with, but it just takes a frustrating amount of time.

Hellblade combat

The camera doesn’t help. It snaps to the enemy it thinks you want to fight, which can lead to Senua spinning wildly when she’s surrounded. And then in tight spaces the camera will back up against a wall and change angle so all you can see are a crush of limbs as you mash the evade button.

The poor combat affects the pacing of the game, too. Sometimes the combat (especially the boss fights) are accompanied by story segments, which makes them bearable. But sometimes they’re not. Hellblade relies too heavily on its swordplay towards the end with protracted combat segments that simply slow the game down right as it’s rushing to its conclusion. These longer segments aren’t interesting, either: all it does is pour lots of enemies at you, forcing you into the same dodge patterns and combos over and over again.

And – a final fly in the ointment – I had massive technical problems with Hellblade. About halfway through my framerate tanked: it went from a stable 45-50 on Very High settings to 20 or even lower, and stayed like that for most of the rest of the game, kicking back up to 50 or so in places. That’s almost unplayable and at times – especially during combat or particularly dark scenes – I had no idea what was going on.

There’s multiple threads on Reddit and Steam discussing the issue, which seems to affect some players with AMD cards (like me). There’s no immediate fix. Turning down all graphics settings makes no difference (I was still around 20 FPS with everything on Low). For that reason, I can’t recommend AMD users play Hellblade until Ninja Theory patch the problem.

When that patch does come out though – and for everyone else who doesn’t have AMD cards – then Hellblade is well worth buying. Some segments are a slog, and mechanically it’s nothing special, but it’s worth battling on to experience the multi-layered story that explores themes that other games daren’t.

Hellblade is brave for tackling psychosis so directly, and braver still for pouring so much of its efforts into its narrative. It’s unlike anything else I’ve played this year, and for that reason it deserves a slice of your time.

95 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Angstsmurf says:

    I experienced that slowdown too, but it wasn’t bad enough to ruin the enjoyment for me. Other occasional glitches were worse but not game breaking. I am still not sure if the battle with the dog-thing boss was intended to end in total glitchy blindness, with me winning by dodging, hitting and focussing at random for a couple of minutes, but it felt like a thematically fitting psychotic rage.

  2. LinasKK says:

    It feels like you’re missing the whole point here, dedicating half of the review to combat and ignoring unique strenghts of the game. It’s not Dark Souls and it’s not supposed to be. Hellblade is one of the freshest experiences I’ve had in the last 5 years or so, which is so rare in technically perfect, but otherwise shallow and uninspiring gaming industry of today (except for some indies).

    • Nelyeth says:

      And it feels like you’re missing lots of his points here, ignoring the parts where he describes those strengths and say the narrative and immersion is top-notch. Also, 4 of the 20 paragraphs are about combat (which is far from half of the review). For a game in which there is a significant amount of fights, I’d say that’s fair.

      Remember, just because you found it profoundly interesting and refreshing doesn’t mean RPS shouldn’t highlight its weaknesses. I think the review does a great job at saying it’s not a game that should be enjoyed for the gameplay itself, but rather for the ambiance and novel storytelling.

    • DarkFenix says:

      So they should ignore the actual gameplay of the game because you found the game interesting?

      One good aspect of a game does not excuse mediocrity in another. Furthermore it’s a lot less than half the review.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      What you call as simply “combat” we usually tend to call “gameplay”, and if it is a part of said game it should be judged (independently if it’s good or not).

      With all due respect, but your comment made me miss the old days when games weren’t a “service”, neither an “experience”; games used to be just… games.

      For me Hellblade is like those modern art paintings that absolutely isn’t for everyone, and I’m just a renaissance fan shaking my head at all those disproportionate scribbles… I mean, unbalance between gameplay and narrative.

      • Daymare says:

        “Egad, I miss the times when books were but narratives with no relation to political, social, cultural, psychological or interpersonal issues! Those were the days!”
        – William Shakespeare, author of Richard III

        So tell me: When was this fictional point in history when all games were pure game mechanics, and they were better for it?

        • Ghostwise says:

          Pong ?

          • Daymare says:

            @Ghostwise True. So it’s not fictional, except if one includes the idea that games were –as a whole — better during that time.

            I don’t think so, but then again that’s subjective, right?

        • gabrielonuris says:

          You know, I was eager to continue this discussion on a knowledgeable manner, not replying to a pretentious condescending message.

          As I’m already replying to you, I’ll use this space nonetheless:

          I didn’t even mention “pure game mechanics”; I said, very clearly, “balance between gameplay and narrative”, and if you really wanna see examples, think of games like Baldur’s Gate, Blood, Gothic, Legacy of Kain, Tomb Raider, Fallout, Risen, Far Cry, Wolfenstein, Slave Zero, Half-Life, Knighs of The Old Republic, Lichdom, Dark Souls, Hexen, etc…

          Now, if those games have a bare-bones plot, full of cliché or bad plot twists, remember: that’s your opinion, and I respect yours the same way I expect you to respect mine. and also, we’re talking about video games, their plots doesn’t need to be judged as it was a Shakespearean romance, but its gameplay mechanics surely deserves to be explained and taken seriously, even if they’re almost nonexistant and/or mundane.

          • Daymare says:

            No, you wrote, to ACTUALLY quote yourself, of an ‘unbalance between gameplay and narrative.’ As if there was some kind of balance that needed to be adhered to between a game and its story. When evidently that makes no sense, just as little as books have ever had to adhere to a balance between, say, a historical depiction of Victorian life and a plot. Video games haven’t been purely gameplay-driven since the early 80ies, at least, so almost since their inception, and certainly since their modern incarnation. And I’m pretty certain they weren’t better for it.

            Then you also wrote: ‘What you call as simply “combat” we usually tend to call “gameplay”’ when evidently even “Hellblade” also has puzzles, just from a pure mechanical perspective. These puzzles involve pattern-matching and (limited) environmental exploration, among other things. And that’s such a terribly limited way to think about a game! As if traversing the world, figuring out the story, empathizing with the characters aren’t actually engaging things to do.

            But what made me respond sarcastically was: ‘games used to be just… games.’ So what are games if they are JUST games, if not divorced of anything but mechanics? What I interpreted you meant (considering what you wrote beforehand) was that you wanted games that were more game-y, and less narrative-driven. To which I then gave the response you already know.
            But I’m going in a circle here.

          • Daymare says:

            P.S.: Sorry if I was very condescending, however. Maybe got a little sting and rushed to defend all the narrative-driven games I love.

            To answer the rest of your response: I’d agree that gameplay should be judged in a game, to a point. But I’d also say that judgement should be measured in relation to its importance to the game as a whole, to all the other things it does, and how important they are.

            Or how do you even judge “Proteus”, “Bernband”, “Abzu” based on gameplay?

          • nogglebeak says:

            Did someone mention Knights of the Old Republic as a game with a good story? The game has an absolutely blank ending that resolves nothing, and that is not subjective.

      • ohminus says:

        I’m afraid you’re not much of renaissance anything if you believe combat is synonymous with gameplay, and it’s not the least people like you who are responsible for more and more games that used to have intricate mechanics being reduced to pure hack&slash or FPS.

        No, combat is not the same as gameplay. Gameplay includes the switching to different realities to solve puzzles, open gates, lower bridges etc.. Gameplay includes triggering runestones, stone faces or other interactive elements to understand more of what’s going on. Gameplay is so much more than combat

        • JarinArenos says:

          Gameplay is what you’re doing any time you’re interacting with the game. So what percentage of playtime does combat take up in this one? Is it more than 0%? Then it deserves to be commented on.

          • ohminus says:

            Doesn’t change a bit that it’s not synonymous for gameplay.

          • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

            But… it is in this case, because… it’s in the game. When you play this game, you play through combat sections. And if something is in a game, it should be… good? And if it isn’t, then a review should… mention this?

            I’m someone always ready to defend art games and walking simulators and developers who try difficult things but… come on. There’s combat in the game. The developers made that choice. So if it’s boring, that’s worth knowing. Like if a novel were brilliant but after every chapter I had to play a game of Simon to go on to the next one, I would want to know that. I might still buy it and read it but it would be nice to know ahead of time.

          • ohminus says:

            Huh? I already pointed out that there’s so much more to gameplay in this game than just combat. Is combat in there? Yes. But it’s a small part of the game.

        • gabrielonuris says:

          No, combat isn’t always synonymous of gameplay; I was referring to Hellblade in this case, in which the gameplay aspects, you know, that makes it a video game rather than a movie, involves combat.

          And excuse me, people like me? Seriously? Hellblade is a dumbed down experience, and I’m not defending this game whatsoever! It has absolutely no intricate gameplay mechanics at all, maybe intricate narrative mechanics, but that’s it.

          And even if a game has only hack and slash mechanics to provide interaction, since when did it turn out to be bad? What if a gamer does indeed like to shoot their way out of every situation? Aren’t video games about that in the first place? Interaction?

    • LinasKK says:

      Guys, I gotta say that this discussion made me love RPS even more (even though my opinion was bashed to pieces, hah). I almost forgot that this quality banter about games can still happen on the Internet.

      Btw, Hellblade seems to be doing great with sales, yay!

  3. lancelot says:

    Surprising how many people on the forums are saying “I just can’t tell whether I like this game or not”, and that’s exactly how I feel too.

    Polygon-hunting in a free look environment can be ten times worse than any pixel-hunting. I wouldn’t want to play an adventure/puzzle game with Hellblade’s puzzles.

    I don’t think it lives up to the hype about its depiction of a mental disorder. Senua hears voices. And she has doubts about herself. That’s it.

    I don’t like it when a game makes the movement sluggish, turning even more sluggish, FOV very narrow because the gameplay requires it (during the final sequence Senua can move and turn much quicker — it’s night and day).

    And still I have this nagging desire to slog through it all again. Must be some kind of a mental disorder.

    • Muzzler says:

      “I don’t think it lives up to the hype about its depiction of a mental disorder. Senua hears voices. And she has doubts about herself. That’s it.”
      Out of curiosity, what did you expect? (Disclaimer: I haven’t played or seen the game, just curious.)

      • lancelot says:

        The elements directly affecting the gameplay are only those — the voices and, occasionally, Senua’s fear. I don’t want to criticize the game for what it doesn’t have, just don’t expect anything more elaborate (say, complex hallucinations, blackouts, delusions — all of which I think could be incorporated in the actual gameplay in interesting ways).

        Ditto about the story — a child who is different, a troubled past, an unstable emotional state, breakdowns, reevaluation of past events. All done very convincingly, but don’t expect anything unique.

        The voices are an integral part of the game, no question about that. In fact, at one point during combat I said “Shut up!” to the Furies. So I guess the game can consider its mission accomplished — I was talking to the voices.

        • Darkmessage says:

          I see you didn’t watch the feature video inside the game after finishing it. There are so many things which are refering to her mental disorder. The things broken out of reality where you have to focus to fix them. The shiny bright lights and blurred outlines. Even the runes are a reference to the fact that these mentally troubled people sometimes see patterns in the world where a normal person wouldn’t see them.

          Seriously, watch the Hellblade-feature found in the main menu after you have finished the game (because it contains spoilers) and you’ll see how Ninja Theory have listened to people who suffer or have suffered mental illness and they show how they implemented every thing these people mention into the game. It’s really amazing and it definitely shows you that there is more to the story than you would have thought. Basically everything that’s happening in the game is in reference to a symptom of this mental illness, nothing is just randomly thrown into the game!

          • lancelot says:

            If they actually said that looking for patterns has special significance, I’m disappointed. It’s a pretty artificial gameplay device, and claiming that it’s supposed to signify something makes it worse.

            The game is interesting, creative, and very well done in many ways, it’s just that I was slightly annoyed by the claims about how special the psychological part is, while all of it is so generic that it can be easily explained without waving around a neuroscientists’ seal of approval. Shiny bright lights and blurred outlines? Seriously?

            And also all rather arbitrary. Since the game is supposedly taking place in a world where supernatural forces exist, even the Furies talking to Senua can turn out to be real too in the game’s universe. Or maybe all of it is in her head, including the enemies she fights.

          • Darkmessage says:

            @lancelot

            “Or maybe all of it is in her head, including the enemies she fights.”

            Yes, that’s the whole point that her illness has her believe her fears are real. The darkness, the symbols, the monsters are all just in her mind! This game is about Senua battling with her mind but believing that it is real, which is exactly what people with this mental illness suffer from.

            Seriously, go watch the feature.

    • Premium User Badge

      Burges says:

      “I don’t think it lives up to the hype about its depiction of a mental disorder. Senua hears voices. And she has doubts about herself. That’s it.”
      What more did you expect is a good reaction. Or, more precisely, what do you actually know about Psychosis? Another symptom, besides the voices, is that you see patterns and connections in random everyday objects and occurences. I think that is very well represented with the glyph-puzzles, which ask you to do exactly that. The section in the dark that Samuel mentions represents being trapped in your own head, unable to actively perceive the outside world.
      There are other, spoilery examples. If you finished the game I really recommend you watch the short making-of that you can access from the main menu. It explains further ways psychosis was represented and is, in my opinion, rather interesting in general.
      ( I do not mean to be condescending, btw)

      • and its man says:

        “[…] what do you actually know about Psychosis?”

        They made Barbarian and released Shadow of the Beast, right?

      • lancelot says:

        what do you actually know about Psychosis

        That’s like saying “What do you know about illness?” A psychosis is not a specific disorder with specific symptoms. Other than that, see my answer above.

        • Premium User Badge

          Burges says:

          There are symptoms, but you seem aware. The game has delusions, the whole reason for Senua’s quest for example. The untrue permadeath is maybe a delusion?
          There’s also the blackout section, but that’s admittedly not really general gameplay.
          If you actively look you can find other elements of mental illness, but the they do not really count.
          I think another problem is that many of the things that (propably) should mean something are nothing new in games. Supressed memories, unclear or nonsensical motivations, the various visual effects (fragmented reality and such) have been used in so many games that they no longer make us think. (Ninja Theorie should have known that I suppose). The voices, I agree, are the most innovative part.
          My real point is propably that I agree with you but just really enjoyed the game.
          I finished it in a single sitting lasting till 5am, which propably enhanced the experience.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Angstsmurf says:

    To me the real qualities of this game have nothing to with actual mental disorders (although it is somewhat amusing that it tries to present an alternative to the stereotype of people with psychosis as dangerous killers by making the main character … a dangerous killer), but its depiction of pain and anguish and desperation, its scream into the abyss. This game succeeds at what every goth, emo and black metal music video ever tries to do but fails.

    • ohminus says:

      ” but its depiction of pain and anguish and desperation, its scream into the abyss. ”

      And that, of course, has nothing to do with mental disorders?

    • Janichsan says:

      This game succeeds at what every goth, emo and black metal music video ever tries to do but fails.

      Black Metal has absolutely nothing to do with “pain and anguish and desperation”. Just saying…

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        Not exclusively, but some of it certainly does. When the singer cuts himself live onstage, you can’t tell me that’s not about pain at all.

        • Janichsan says:

          It isn’t. Even ignoring that these performers know how and where to cut themselves that it doesn’t hurt much, when a Black Metal singer does that, it’s about shock value and invoking imageries of satanic blood sacrifices.

          When you want pain and anguish, you need Doom Metal, Dark Metal, some Gothic Metal bands, and Depressive Black Metal, which – despite its name – is a separate genre.

    • and its man says:

      Yet, I somehow expected a hairier Dillion.

  5. defunct says:

    I’m not sure if it’s my browser, or not, but this article appears in full on the front navigation page. First time I’ve seen that happen.

  6. Strotinarx says:

    Sad that you didn’t bother learning the basic mechanics of the game before writing your review. The sword combat mechanics in Hellblade are some of the innovative that I’ve seen since Dark Souls. First of all, combat doesn’t “revolve around a ‘focus’ mechanic”. Parrying is equally if not more effective than dodging in most situations, and allows you to dispatch of lesser enemies more quickly then you would otherwise. You’re also rewarded for melee attacking enemies that are blocking, and there are several combo attacks that you can execute. “The camera doesn’t help. It snaps to the enemy it thinks you want to fight, which can lead to Senua spinning wildly when she’s surrounded” – you neglect to mention that the player has complete control over the camera (right anolog stick if using a controller). The camera only snaps without your input when a fight begins, or when you correctly time a parry from an untargeted enemy, which is completely logical. Switching the camera between different enemies is a skill, but once mastered it makes the combat very rewarding. “In tight spaces the camera will back up against a wall and change angle so all you can see are a crush of limbs as you mash the evade button.” Can you name one third person game that resolves this issue without creating another one? Learn to position Senua correctly and avoid backing up against a wall in the first place, which in itself logically deserves to be punished anyway because it restricts your movement. My only issue with the game is that the auto difficulty clearly allowed you to finish the game when you otherwise would have had to learn how to play it properly instead of just spamming dodge.

    • LessThanNothing says:

      Ah the good old learn to play response. Well done sir, I’m sure the reviewer will find your comment most insightful.

      Almost every review I’ve seen has complained about the combat mechanics

    • lordcooper says:

      I finished it on the hardest difficulty without even knowing you could parry (and that’s a failing of the game, it’s never mentioned as being an option).

      It’s an enjoyable experience, but don’t try pulling the ‘git gud’ bullshit here to try and make yourself feel superior, the game offers little to no mechanical challenge.

  7. frymaster says:

    The only issue with binaural audio I have is I am about 80% deaf in my right ear. In Real Life(TM) this is actually OK – I hear with my left ear and what little I can hear in the right is enough to tell direction perfectly fine because my brain has adjusted to the difference.

    The problem is with PC games, it biases sounds from the right hand side much more than Real Life(TM) does, with the result than in e.g. Overwatch I sometimes get killed by an ultimate I wasn’t even aware was happening

    • LTK says:

      Strange, I have the same but I haven’t noticed right-side sounds being especially important in games. But then, I have a sound card that does a pretty good job of enhancing the spatial presence of the source, partly by mixing the left and right sources to some degree, which helps a lot to make up for my lack of right-side hearing. If I play something on a computer without a dedicated sound card I’m suddenly acutely aware of my deafness.

    • lancelot says:

      Does it help if you change the left/right balance in the playback device properties?

    • vahnn says:

      In Windows, you can adjust the volume balance for your left and right speakers, including your headphones! In Windows 10, just right-click the Volume icon in the taskbar/system tray, select Volume Mixer, left-click the speaker icon under Device (should be the far-left one, it’s the overall main volume setting) which will bring up the Speakers (or other device) Properties. From here, click the Levels tab, and then click Balance. You’ll be able to adjust left/right channels independently until you find something more comfortable. Hope that helps!

      It’s been too long since I’ve used older versions of Windows and have since forgotten how to do this on those platforms, although once you get to the Speakers Properties, it’s pretty similar.

  8. Beechbone says:

    I thought the combat was basic but serviceable. Camera work should definitely be better, just to make it fully functional, but other than that the combat was just ok. Not great, but really not the focus of the game. Although, I did enjoy some of the combat pieces like one of the later boss fights, which was the most intense moment in the game gameplay-wise, and fight later on which is illustrated by rather dramatic epic music, as not to spoil anything.

    But the graphics, sound mix, motion capture and acting, wow, extremely impressive.

    Sadly, I also had major performance issues as described. Running RX 470, most of the game was 50-60fps on highest settings, but a late portion of it was at around 22fps constant. That was so weird that I started to think that lower framerate is intentional, an unconventional way to reflect Senua’s mental state the closer she gets to her destination… and then it returned to normal framerate. For some reason the GPU usage was sitting below 50% for several of the game’s locations. Didn’t stop me from playing through the game almost in one go, so I guess that’s a pretty good recommendation.

  9. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    So Tl;Dr, it’s a Ninja Theory game.

    Any guesses on what their next game will be? Purgatory Knife? Styx Dagger? Nirvana Scimitar?

  10. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Also, no mention on how the advertised permadeath is apparently a load of horse feathers?

  11. Asokn says:

    This game was a strange one for me because I’m massively behind the times and have only just started using Steam refunds. I played this for about an hour and thought “I now need to choose; I can keep playing or get my £25 back”. I felt like I’d seen the core gameplay and wasn’t too invested in the story so got my refund. I was very surprised that it seems like the puzzle elements don’t really change over the course of the game, I found searching for runes pretty dull so thought I’d prefer the £25.

  12. vahnn says:

    I seem to be one of the few people who loves pretty much every aspect of this game. One of the things I don’t like is the Auto difficulty. If it scales to how well you perform at all times, then you’re never being challenged or pushed to improve. You can get by doing the bare minimum. If you figure out the more advanced techniques and put them to use, the game scales up, and you feel no net difference in challenge, so it’s kind of just boring the whole time. Crank that baby to Hard!

    The biggest gripe I hear is that the combat is too simple and boring. Which is fine, maybe people want more involved combat. But I think a large part of that comes from, besides the Auto difficulty making things too easy, that almost all of the more advanced techniques are not quite explained (if they are, I missed it). Light/Heavy attack, block, dodge, and kick/push. Pretty simple. But you can also parry and counterattack, two types of charging leap attack, double dodge attacks, and some sweet executions. The Focus thing is nice, but never required (except a few instances), and I feel it’s another thing that makes the combat too easy.

    You can simply circle the enemies until you get them lined up and just mow them down, sure, but let yourself get surrounded! Learn to use those targeting keys and get a couple hits on each enemy before switching to the next. Kick one, hit the second guy with a Heavy, switch to the third and hit him once to interrupt his attack, DODGE as the voices warn you to, combo this guy into an execution, continue on the last two enemies… It’s quite thrilling. But again, I can see how the combat can be boring to some. I’m a Dark Souls veteran with thousands of hours under my belt, as well as games like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Darksiders 2… but I really love this “simplistic, boring” combat.

    I also tend to enjoy the puzzles as well. They’re usually quite simple, but I love the effects and the atmosphere created in the areas, especially the Raven guy’s area (Velraven? Kilraven? I can never remember it!)

    Dunno… I give it high marks and say it’s something every gamer should experience. But obviously a lot of people are not impressed by it at all.

  13. elevown says:

    Well, you bought an AMD. I dunno why anyone would do that.

    Beyond looking at if an amd is fast for its money, This alone would stop me buying one over Nvidea – that 95 of the time when a game has major issues borking it up with 1 card or the other, it is the AMD.

  14. and its man says:

    Unlike Samuel, I feel that the use of live-action shots is one of the best visual stunts in Hellblade.
    The live-action portraits of Senua’s mother superimposed on a CGI rock are truly refreshing. It’s a trick you don’t see a lot in video games.

  15. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    I see something like this and I wonder why they’d bother to make it a video game at all. Go write a novel or a screenplay and save yourself the development costs associated with slapping together an uninspired, completely superfluous “game” that only exists as a vehicle for your Very Important Story about mental health or whatever.

    • Longestsprout says:

      I can’t express how much I disagree with this attitude. Not only are there room for all kinds of games, but there are ways a game can tell a tale and offer an experience that cannot be replicated by the other mediums.

      In fact, Hellblade happens to be an excellent example of this.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Well, simply “writing a screenplay or novel” would be akin to simply writing the game’s script. Not actually realizing a fully produced game.

      A film wouldn’t likely be any cheaper, nor necessarily a superior medium. It could easily end up a pretentious, expensive, badly made film.

      A novel, while likely cheaper to actually publish, is a fundamentally different medium (prose only) that would both require a fundamentally different approach and fundamentally different talents to realize.

      In short, however well done (or not) the game is, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be done as a game. It’s as valid a medium as any of the others. It could make a great game, or film, or novel (or comic).

    • Daymare says:

      There is a word in my first language, for feeling shame on behalf of somebody else’s behavior. Sadly, this word does not exist in English.

      Either way, this is what you made me feel with phrases like “Very Important Story about mental disorder or whatever”.

      I hope you enjoy your games with shootymen or cardwizards or whatever your gaming preference is. Please enjoy them, but maybe next time don’t tell other people what kind of games they should or should not make. Especially those who are trying to say at least SOMETHING.
      Because there might be people like me, who adore these games, and we’d be poorer without them.

      • Dogshevik says:

        Dude, he critizises a game that you, evidently, like. That´s it. He didn´t drown a puppy or something.
        Why not take it down a notch or two?

        • Daymare says:

          Dude, I’m responding to a post I didn’t like. That’s it.

          Telling a hypothetical game developer to make something else isn’t a valid criticism.

          Nor is calling something “superfluous”, for that matter. Or “Very Important”. It’s just a shitty thing to do.

        • Daymare says:

          Ironic that you’re telling me I shouldn’t care about what another poster writes, when you seem to care enough about … my reaction to what said poster writes, to the point where you felt the need to comment yourself.

          Hypocrisy, much?

          • Dogshevik says:

            Interwebs hysteria. Is the topic at hand really worth that much of your agitated, angry writing? I heavily doubt it. Get some perspective.

          • Daymare says:

            Is the topic at hand really worth your disrespectful ad-hominem attacks?

            You’re telling me should I stop caring, but you can’t stop caring about me caring.

            Get some introspection.

            EDIT: At this point I’ve got nothing more to add, so please continue your weird little agenda against me, I’m not commenting on this garbage anymore. Bye!

          • Dogshevik says:

            So now you feel personally insulted because you were asked to lash out with a bit less froathing at the mouth at people that don´t like the video game you like. Well, ok then.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Why does anyone try different forms to tell new stories when we already have Christmas Pantos

      • Cederic says:

        I’d rather they give us a great and interesting story and skip the shoddy gameplay that stops you seeing it.

        If Dear Esther had been a bad platform game in amongst the prettiness and story I’d have given up ten minutes in. Instead it gave me entertainment that I enjoyed and have since revisited.

        The issue is thus not that someone’s trying something new, it’s that they appear to have buggered up the implementation.

        • Daymare says:

          I totally agree that additional mechanics in DE would’ve ruined the game’s vibes.

          I think the problem with Hellblade is that the devs went out of their way not to use any kind of UI. Which — out of necessity I guess? — excluded tutorials. So, me, I went in thinking all you could do was hit and roll (because obviously you press space to see what it does). And combat was pretty sucky that way.

          You can go to key bindings to check what actions Senua can perform, but that’s not something you should have to do. But I’m also playing on Hard, no clue how it’s like on the lower difficulties.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Slow. Clap.

      Could not agree more. I heard good things about the story and handling of mental illness in this dark fantasy world. As a fan of authors like Mark Lawrence and (Surprise!) Glenn Cook, I was instantly intrigued.

      Right up until I saw the game play.

      Too-tight (and I mean dizziness inducing, even watching on YouTube) FOV (because its art or whatever bullshit). Basic, repetitive combat. Shape hunting puzzles.

      Ugh. No thanks.

      I’ve got a backlog of excellent shows across three streaming services and a premium channel, and more books on my Amazon wish list than I will ever read in a lifetime. All just waiting to tell me GREAT stories. I dont need the contrived, tired mechanics of yet another fantasy brawler layered on top of them, despite how ridiculously out of pace and out of synch it is with both story pacing and narrative arc.

      So sick of gaming’s unhealthy fixation with telling linear, pre-determined, scripted, movie-wannabe stories.

  16. Buuurr says:

    Called it last week. I’ll regulate this one to the $5 Steam sale bin… thanks, Bruhs!

  17. snv says:

    The controls are broken. The camera keeps auto centering and the mouse acceleration changes by itself. It felt like i had to fight the game to look where i wanted to, which makes this unplayable for me. The rest of the game can not be good enough to excuse that.

  18. Josh W says:

    I had a very strange experience trying to “play” this with a friend, as with most games, one of you would play it while the others chat about what things mean, appropriate tactics etc. The peculiar thing being that after a bit you realise you’re doing the same things as the voices; you warn the other player about a threat behind them, and the voices chorus in to say the same. You wonder about the significance of things in the background, or the past, and the voices ask similar questions.

    It felt like this actually intensified the experience, as the game was reaching into a domain it doesn’t normally exist in, the ambient conversation around it, with it’s own built in audience.

    With the way it’s built for binaural sound rather than open speakers, it’s probably not designed to do this.

    I thought the combat was a little samey, like they were stretching a lot of repetative mocap over a number of different fights. The way these spectres shifted in was good, but they never felt totally satisfying either as representations of recurring problems (too long to fight, too close to being an actual fighting game), and also didn’t feel quite like a proper set of combat adversaries either, with slightly too restricted movements and patterns, more likely to gain difficulty by spamming and awkward placement than by reactive complexity. Possibly made sense in terms of setting, as they never seemed to be inhabited by other minds, but still, it was an awkward combination.

    Loved some of the texture work too, and the intentional lighting glitches although we found the game too intense to play for long stretches.

  19. ohminus says:

    Ok, let’s talk combat. Here’s a few things I noticed:
    Swords aren’t just used for hacking but only for thrusting, by both Senua and some of the enemies.
    The enemy type with a shield actively uses its shield not just to block, but as an all around weapon.
    Both things are very good depictions of fighting, and both are far from standard. Likewise the way that opponents rather than displaying a hit bar and performing identically no matter whether they just joined the fight or had been hit before at least in some cases actually held their wounds, went down on into a crouch etc. when hit.

  20. Babymech says:

    “It’s unlike anything else I’ve played this year, and for that reason it deserves a slice of your time.” Hmm. I agree completely with that, but ‘a slice of my time’ didn’t mean buying the game and playing it, but watching two let’s plays and reading some reviews. I understand that that’s far from optimal for Ninja Theory, but to me that was exactly the time slice this beautiful and novel experience needed.

    • Longestsprout says:

      I think the most important part was where you ended up having a good time.

    • Darkmessage says:

      Uhm, doesn’t watching 2 Let’s plays and reading multiple reviews take more time than actually playing the game?

      I mean it takes about 8 hours to finish the game. If you watch 2 Let’s plays à 4 hours you already could have played yourself.

  21. ChaosReigner says:

    it’s just ryse son of rome to that auditory hallucination youtube video… i’m not sure if we should be encouraging pretty/shallow games just because they’re “indie”. but i guess it’s alright.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I don’t see why we shouldn’t encourage pretty or shallow games if a pretty, shallow game is what we’re looking for in a given moment. There’s room for games in all quadrants of the aesthetics/depth grid.

  22. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Everyone says it’s psychosis but is that actually stated in-game or just some modern projection of the audience?
    From the setting one could consider her a shaman/seer/holy woman who communes with the spirits.
    Especially if we buy this going to hell and fighting monsters stuff too (which might be also be a mental condition, didn’t play yet).
    A norse warrior would explain lightning with Thor, electricity and atom theory would make no sense in this context.
    More so in videogames where heroes here voices from nowhere all the time (demonic telepathy, comlink), have visions of the dead everywhere if it makes sense or not.

  23. Premium User Badge

    goodpoints says:

    nobody else bothered by the fact that they couldn’t even be bothered to at least hire some highland or orkney voice actors for Senua’s voices instead of using these atrocious breathy Received Pronunciation ones?

    pls let her pict.

    and wow what an awful title, who thought that sticking with a word salad working title was better than just calling it “Senua”?

    • Premium User Badge

      Angstsmurf says:

      I’m not a native English speaker, but I was pretty surprised when I heard the main actress’ real-life heavy german accent, and impressed with how British she sounds in the game.

      • Premium User Badge

        goodpoints says:

        Senua’s ‘main voice’, the one the player sees physically speaking most often, does actually have a pretty noticeable German accent. But it’s the female voices which are all done by one British VA that I found distracting and in bad taste.

  24. Buuurr says:

    Thing is that this game looks to be set in the time when the Irish and Vikings lived and worked together. A time not long after the Irish populated Scotland – Scotland literally means Land of the Irish in Gaelic. Scotland later became known as Scotia and a different place… the Romans didn’t much care what happened that far North besides a big old wall. So, in reality she should sound more Nordic/Irish than anything else… that would not have been a hard thing to do if they cared. There are tons of Irish and Nordic actors nowadays who could have fit the bill. For me, the fact that she sounds British is a bad thing.

    • Premium User Badge

      goodpoints says:

      You’re right, an Irish VA would’ve probably been more accurate though my thought was that a modern highland accent might better cement a sense of place in the contemporary audience’s mind. Either way, strange that they didn’t go with either type of Celt, yet used the Irish Nicholas Boulton as Druth. (the standout performance of the game, I think)

      Another issue with the setting from a historical perspective is the nonspecific references to the “gods” and druidic practice made by both Senua and Druth. Ireland, Scotland, and Orkney were thoroughly Christianised long before the beginning of the Viking Age in the late 8th century. Although Orkney having violent contact with Pagan Norsemen is likely considering Orkneyinga saga (late 10th century) has an episode where the violently proselytizing Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason personally tells the Norse pagan ruler of Orkney to convert or die along with the population of the islands.

      I suppose maybe it would be more difficult and sensitive to write Senua as Christian. Though the ostracisation of Senua by her father and village would certainly be more plausible in a Christianised culture. The references to Celtic paganism aren’t explored in any depth either, and a more generalized idea of cultural disruption by invaders could have been easily substituted. Really though, I don’t think the themes of cultural disruption and invasion were well handled at all. I think what the game did do very well was the themes of mental health and a story of personal absolution. Both of which could have also been explored if the main character were a Norse woman, as well as making her in depth knowledge of Norse paganism more plausible.

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