You can’t say that video games aren’t art when you play something like Hellblade. Never have I been so thoroughly uncomfortable and amazed throughout an entire game. To the point where it’s all I can think about afterwards. Here in my Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice review, based on the Xbox One X version of the game, you’ll know why this is simply a must play title.
Ninja Theory did an incredible job developing this game. A small indie team of around 20 people have created a masterpiece. In fact, Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is better than most triple-A games. This is no small feat, and triple-A developers could really learn from what they have done here.
Hellblade is a dive into dark fantasy. An action-adventure game that first made its way onto PC and PS4 last year, to an explosion of positivity. Now, finally making its way to Xbox, more players can experience this journey. And what a journey it is, find out more in my full review below.
Given Hellblade deals with some issues around mental health, instead of the usual question to answer in the comments, we share the same message as Ninja Theory for those who suffer from mental illness:
If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness, visit hellbladehelp.info to find links and phone numbers for your local support.
Hellblade’s control scheme is a simple one. It’s not about stringing together fancy combos like in DmC and racking up points (though Senuas swordplay is pretty badass). You are literally fighting for your life.
Every fight is tense and stressful, which is exactly the mood the game wants you to feel. The game tells you at the beginning that every time you die, a mark on Senuas arm will grow. If it grows to her head, it will be a permadeath, and you must start from the beginning of the game.
Fighting is easy enough to understand and get the hang of, but when you are often surrounded by enemies and they’re all laying into you like a punching bag is when you start yelling at the TV and panicking about how many deaths you’ve had so far.
The game is evenly balanced between fighting and puzzle solving. When you’re not fighting for your life against waves of demons, you’re solving puzzles and staring in awe at the beauty of this game.
The puzzles were my favourite parts of the game. They use the environment in a way that doesn’t feel obvious and game-y. Every puzzle I solved also gave me that “yes, I did it!” feeling, no matter if I found it easy to solve.
Presentation and Graphics
I had the privilege to play Hellblade on an Xbox One X and it was absolutely stunning. The game runs in HDR on the X and has options to run in native 4K (high resolution), enriched visuals or high framerate, which you can switch between at any time.
I played the game using the ‘enriched visuals’ option and the graphics were jaw-dropping. I never experienced any framerate drops or stuttering in this mode either, so no immersion was broken.
Hellblade’s graphics are so amazing that it looks like it’s from a triple-A developer. I’d like to remind you reader, that this game was worked on by a team of twenty people on average, which really shows up a lot of actual triple-A developers. There is a photo mode, which got a lot of use out of me to capture the beauty of the different environments, or awesome action shots.
The music of this game left me speechless. I still don’t really know how to talk about it. It might as well have been another character in the game, it portrayed everything Senua was feeling as well as the player, and the nature of the environment. Even after completing the game, I found myself youtubing the OST just to hear the songs again.
Continuing the topic of sound, let’s talk about the sound design in this game. Holy crap is the sound design incredible. The game recommends you play with headphones and I can’t stress enough that you absolutely should. Not only does it make for a more intimate experience hearing Senuas many inner-voices in your own head, some puzzles strongly recommend that you use headphones to finish them.
There was one instance of a ‘puzzle’ section in the game where I literally had to take a break afterwards. The use of sound had me terrified and it was so intense. I don’t think I have ever been so terror-stricken from a video game.
The voice actress for Senua, Melina Juergens, did an unbelievable job. You wouldn’t guess at all that this was her first time acting, let alone voicing a character. Especially as she was (and still is) Ninja Theory’s video editor! She won ‘Best Performance’ at the 2017 The Game Awards for her performance as Senua, and it’s no wonder. I hope to see her in more video games in the future.
The story of Hellblade revolves around a young woman named Senua, who is trying to get into Helheim to reunite her beloved’s head with his soul as well as struggling to cope with her own mental illness.
That’s the gist of it, I don’t want to reveal too much about it, other than it was an incredible experience that you really need to play for yourself. The less you know about the story going into it, the better.
The voices in Senua’s head talk amongst each other of what Senua is trying to accomplish, and you understand what is happening through them.
To say this game isn’t a memorable experience would be a lie, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I completed it. It’s told in such a way that you feel what Senua is feeling, the whole journey is one that you’re taking with her, and you start to feel a bond with this character.
It’s a very powerful story with many symbolisms that did leave me in tears.
Should you play Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice?
Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is one hell of a game (no pun intended). It is a harrowing but beautiful experience that everyone should play. Whether on PS4, PC or the new Xbox version, there is no excuse not to play this game.
Ninja Theory put their heart and soul into it and it shows.
Everything from the music to the combat has strong meaning and it resonates. I can’t stress enough the amazing work that such a small indie team did on this game.
Gamers who should…
Honestly? I think everyone who can, should play this, especially those who enjoy the action-adventure genre and games driven by story.
Gamers who probably shouldn’t…
There are none unless you really can’t enjoy action-adventure games. Even then, it’s so good it’s well worth the risk play this title.
Nier: Automata, SOMA, Heavy Rain.
|The Good||The Bad||The Bugs|
About This Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice Review
Game Reviewed: Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, digital edition provided by publisher
Review Format: Xbox One X
PEGI Rating: 18