**SPOILER TERRITORY, PLEASE DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU INTEND TO PLAY THROUGH HELLBLADE WITH NO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE**
P.S. – All images are captured from my own gameplay.
One of many plans that I have for 2019 is to finish more games. Not to complete them perfectionist style, but the most basic level of completion-the main story mode. My second attempt of 2019 was Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
I heard of Hellblade back when it released in late 2017 on PC and PS4 exclusively, as there was a ton of buzz surrounding it for two very specific, intriguing reasons: its exploration of psychosis, and the technological innovations used in its creation. I had reserved myself to never getting to play it and thought I would simply watch videos on YouTube–then it was announced to have an Xbox version coming in April 2018. I still didn’t buy the game, but a lovely eight months later, Hellblade came to Xbox Game Pass. It was destined that I should play it.
The entire experience of Hellblade relies upon the sound design and visuals that put you into the psychosis that Senua feels throughout the story. Senua herself was captured via a very advanced form of motion capture that is so expressive and powerful that you can’t look away. This game can get difficult, but I was so compelled that I finished it in only two play sessions.
Gameplay varies little, relying on backtracking visual puzzles, brutal combat, or simply controlling Senua’s walking during story sections. This could prove boring for some, but the emotional payoff on completion of the story is so satisfying that the slowly paced moments end up feeling like respite.
Completion of this game just days after I completed Celeste was almost overwhelming. Celeste revels in trial and error. Hellblade threatens permadeath if you die too many times (which has been confirmed as only a threat, but seriously ups the intensity of the trials the player goes through). My hands were literally in pain during the last few combat sections, the final segment making you go toe-to-toe with endless enemies until they finally “kill” you (I got REALLY good at the combat, so this took a while).
I was even emotionally exhausted. The difficulty ramps up just as you expect with the story beats, but every visceral scene is a punch in the gut to anyone with a shred of empathy in their soul. If you play this with headphones, forget about it. You’ll be crying at the end, no doubt. It’s not often that the combination of elements in story and technical design come together so well. The game literally asks you to press a button to FOCUS your vision on something, then when you do, that focus can reveal something new. Or when the game heightens your fear to the utmost, it takes away Senua’s eyesight, where the player must rely on the rumble feature of their controller to tread carefully through a world of monsters.
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t played the game, I beg you to. If you have Game Pass, you really have no reason to skip it. This game is a MASTERPIECE. I give Ninja Theory, the developers behind Hellblade, all the credit in the world for creating one of the greatest video game experiences I’ve ever had. Perhaps THE greatest. They even have an extensive developer diary documentary series on the Hellblade website that acts as a blueprint for creatives looking to make something similarly effective.
Completion time: 9 hours, 15 minutes
If you just want to play an entertaining, jaunty action game, this is not for you. If you want to understand the depths of the “video games as art” debate, this is most definitely for you.
Thanks for reading!