Jeez, this one took me a while to get through. Usually I’ll buy a game and beat it in two to three sittings. I got Hellblade on release and played on and off for two months! Anyway, when I picked it up I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew that it was a lower-budget triple-A release with a focus on mental illness but didn’t expect it to blow my mind. After finally completing the story, consider my mind blown because it’ll mess you up!
Hellblade is set in Celtic and Norse mythology with our protagonist Senua traveling to hell to fight gods. She does this in an attempt to free the soul of her lover, Dillion, who was sacrificed to said gods. The main objective is fairly straight forward but the game really shines with it’s mental theme. Senua suffers from psychosis causing her (and you) to hear voices, see illusions, and question reality. This theme is usually a hit-or-miss when attempting to convey it to audiences but Ninja Theory did an excellent job and didn’t hold back. This was one of the reasons it took me so long to complete this game, I took some mental breaks just to process the madness as it’s an exhausting, emotional, and personal experience. If you wan’t to witness what it’s like to experience psychosis, this game will scratch that itch and immediately make you thankful for your own sanity!
The visuals and audio design of Hellblade is the main draw for this game. They used a binaural recording method to simulate whispers around your ears and voices in your head. These voices are with you the entire game and use anxiety to tug your emotions around. To say the least, it’s basically required that you wear a headset! I’m so thankful it released on PC because it holds it’s ground with GPU destroying games like DOOM (2016), Tomb Raider, and The Witcher 3. Reflections of the sun off puddles on the beach put a look of awe on my face. It’s hard not to take a screenshot or 20 during a playthrough of this gorgeous game. Along with the visuals, the acting and facial animations blow cutscenes out of the water. I was terrified most of the time with voices shouting in my head and unrecognizable creatures lurking in the darkness. Further in the game you truly see the disturbing images of HELL and all the death and agony that surrounds it. It’s horrifyingly beautiful!
I mention gameplay last because it’s not really the focus of Hellblade and you notice that while playing. There are a variety of enemies to fight with a fairly solid lock-on system of light/heavy attacks, blocking, and dodging, but it’s really shoved to the side with the mental performance in the spotlight. Fighting is fun for the first couple hours to break up the puzzles and add variety, but as I got closer to the climax of the story I noticed the game just throwing enemies at me as padding. It gets to the point where fighting room after room of demons is a chore and it unfortunately drags on like this towards the final chapters. Thankfully the puzzles and environments keeps the game alive having you adjust and change perspective to cross bridges or open doors. My favorite part of the game was puzzle rush in the middle of the story, each one forcing you to use other senses like sound and vibration to progress. I have gotten lost and confused during some of the more exploitative puzzles but it didn’t take me more than ten minutes to get back on track.
As a side note: I know there was a whole “controversy” over the save-file-deleting death mechanic, but I died around 5 times on the auto difficulty setting with absolutely no problems. With that said, keep in mind that if you die too many times in this game it will force you to restart from the beginning. If you want to play it safe I recommend setting it on easy mode.
After beating this game in 7 hours spanned across two months, I can easily recommend Hellblade to anyone who wants a dark, psychological experience. It’s pretty rare nowadays to see a triple-A game risk everything to try something new and present a new theme, so I must commend Ninja Theory for taking this risk and publishing this work of art. I hope more developers are inspired by this to create more ways of not only challenging a players skill, but also their mind.
Click HERE to visit the Hellblade Steam page!
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