It’s hard to believe that Ninja Theory, the folks who gave us hits such as Heavenly Sword and the recently rebooted Devil May Cry game would make their latest title, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, be about fighting through mental illness. Released on the PC and PlayStation 4 last year, it finally comes over to Microsoft’s Xbox One family. As strange as this game sounds (and it is on all sorts of levels), it actually works out pretty well as it’s easily one of the most beautiful looking and disturbing titles I’ve played that comes highly recommended for those who can handle it.
Taking place in the late 8th century, you take on the role of a very troubled young woman named Senua who goes on a quest to save the soul of her dead lover, Dillon from the goddess Hela in Helheim. She also has to deal with dangers real and unreal thanks to having some personal demons that tend to talk and whisper in her head constantly. They also tend to take on forms for her to fight against, but lucky for us she’s pretty decent with a sword as it isn’t long before you’re thrown into combat where you can block/parry attacks, throw in some strikes of your own, and of course dodge roll out of danger.
Fighting and making your way through this adventure can be troublesome at times as you’re constantly exposed to Senua’s psychosis and paranoia that plagues you in the form of whispering voices, screen shaking and blurring, disturbing images, and more that easily gives the Silent Hill games a run for their money. Believing this illness is a “curse” that slowly covers her body in a black substance when she loses a battle to these monsters in her head, it falls on you to prevent that from happening least she succumbs to the darkness. Those who press on through these perils will enjoy every moment as Senua does her best to overcome them with your help while you’re also treated to her backstory via flashbacks and random memories she dwells on as you play.
The first thing that drew me into to this title is how stunning it looks. Playing this on an Xbox One X in 4K with HDR, the graphics (especially Senua and the other people) are almost beyond photorealistic and animate just as fluid. I thought it was awesome when I learned how Ninja Theory’s video editor Melina Juergens reluctantly became Senua when she filled in to motion-capture her during the production of the title, and how the team was so impressed with her that they convinced her to keep doing it despite her being incredibly shy.
The audio side of things are just as impressive, as the game captures mental illness to near perfection with the numerous voices swirling around inside Senua’s head that are very audible as you play (it even tells you before you play that the best way to experience this adventure is with headphones). I suppose it also helps that Ninja Theory actually talked with people that have various mental illnesses in order to better project on players how it feels to have these issues plague you.These voices of Senua’s will sometimes be her own thoughts, doubts, fears, and more as you make your way through passages and puzzles that will soon make you question your own sanity.
If you’re looking for a good, story driven, action game to play that has a huge twist in the form of mental illness plaguing the protagonist that in turn will affect you, then Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the journey into madness you’re looking for. Top notch visuals and audio that are hands down some of the best I’ve ever experienced, and a great lead character that makes you really want to rally behind her and help overcome the issues she faces and fulfill her quest are just some of the things that will pull you into this hellish adventure.