Inner daemons. Like Max Payne it’s something many of us have been dealing with. Weather they’re fueled by regret, sorrow, loss or just plain melancholy. There’s a dark side in all of us. Sometimes you might fear these daemons are driving you mad, at times when you’d just like to give in and give up. But like Max Payne, many of us keep on fighting. Try and to overcome your daemons. For the sake of our loved ones or for the greater good. It will set you free. Eventually.
I’ve been looking forward to Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for quite some time now. The game was announced back in 2015. Intentionally early in its development. Ninja Theory wanted to take their fans along the journey of creation. As a result, the game evolved visually over time building on its rich atmosphere. The atmosphere has its origins in Viking lore. We follow our titular hero Senua, a celtic warrior, who embarks on a quest to Helheim. She’s looking to redeem her deceased loved one. In order to succeed she must complete many puzzles and difficult bossfights. Not to forget, her own inner daemons.
“Along with the game’s eerie and atmospheric soundtrack, it all becomes an audial experience like I’ve never encountered before.”
Before the game takes off it advices you to play with headphones. Apparently the game has some sort of 3D audio engine built in that help project the voices that plague Senua in the right soundscape. While these voices might look annoying at first, you’ll soon discover they actually are there as a replacement for the HUD (which the game has none). They’ll tell you if you’re low on health, when to evade or if danger is lurking near. They are in constant chatter giving you the feeling that you’re never alone. Along with the game’s eerie and atmospheric soundtrack, it all becomes an audial experience like I’ve never encountered before. The game is heavily influenced by the abnormal state of the mind called “Psychosis”. It involves a loss of contact with reality, to become delusional and paranoid. What you see on screen might never be how it looks. Get ready for some twists and turns, all adding up to the game’s stellar atmosphere and story.
Mess with the mind.
Obviously the developer is trying to mess with your mind. And they succeed doing this in many ways. Apart from the audio and atmosphere, the game also features perma-death. Although, that is what it leads you to believe. Early in the game you will wind up in an unwinnable fight and die soon after. The game then warns you that too many deaths will result in a permanent wipe of your save game. Forcing you to restart the game. From this moment on, fear is what is keeping you afloat. You’ll become more suspicious, more careful and even angrier when you failed yet another time evading that obvious pattern of your enemy. For Senua there’s a lot at stake during this quest. And so is your save file. This mechanic sparked a lot of discussion on the interwebz weather or not it should be implemented. However, I personally felt this really added to the experience, although I never got my save file deleted. I died quite a few times too. If Ninja Theory was bluffing, it was a mastermind move.
The pacing of the game is slow, allowing for the player to soak up the game’s wonderful graphics. At first the game reminded me a bit of a Horizon: Zero Dawn, but Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice looks much more realistic and dark. It’s facial animations are among one of the best I’ve seen. There are even sections when there’s real life footage edited in the game through a heavily distorted filter. This was so well done that at first I wondered how the hell they got the facial animations of this character so lifelike.
Not for everyone.
One of the game’s weakest points is combat. The game just lunges you in your first battle without explaining anything. There’s no skill tree, no upgrades or a weapon selection screen. You can block, parry or evade attacks but that’s about it. I often found out that once I knew the pattern of an enemy, the fighting sections were to become tedious. Often occupying you a bit too long. My first bossfight was an frustrating experience. Some attack chains just couldn’t be broken and with very little health, I often had to restart the fight until I finally nailed it down. It had Epic’s Infinity Blade written all over it. Another weak point are puzzles. Hellblade’s puzzles are entertaining but often rely on the same concept. For example, one area had me going through portals to change aspects in the world in order to progress. It then had me do it four times more. With the puzzles and fighting taking up the majority of the gameplay, I can understand this game might not be for everyone.
However,For those interested in hauting, atmospheric experiences with a good story, based on fighting inner daemons, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is just for you. If you’re thinking of playing on PC, please note that the game is only 30 Euros. Almost half the price of any other AAA videogame. It might be a bit shorter because of that, but nothing less statisfying. At PayneReactor we value story, music and atmospheric elements. This game just nails these on the head. Or in your head?