Ninja Theory are one of the top-end developers when it comes to gameplay. They have released some classic hack and slash games beginning with Heavenly Sword on the PS3 followed by Enslaved: Journey to the West and DmC: Devil May Cry. While their work has also received its fair share of controversy, one thing that has remained consistent across their games is the excellent and well polished gameplay. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is Ninja Theory’s first attempt at creating an AA tier game with a budget priced release having production values that can easily rival a blockbuster game.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is perhaps one the most impressive ‘indie’ game that I have played so far. It has all the glimmer and polish of a large scale big budget game but it was apparently made by a very small development team who spent a lot of their time trying to make sure each aspect of the game was polished to perfect, and the result here clearly shows that they succeeded with it, paving the way for other indie developers to create similar AA styled games. Ninja Theory not only used this opportunity to release Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, they have also tackled a subject matter that dives further into human psychology and has yet to be attempted by any game as perfectly as it has been represented in Hellblade.
Hellblade is the personal journey of Senua as she attempts to resurrect her dead lover by travelling to the depths of hell. As far as the story is concerned, the premise is interesting on the surface but there is a lot more depth to just the basic story with a lore that is greatly expanded upon in the game. The game is based on the Norse Mythology, something that the upcoming new God of War is also attempting to tackle, and after playing Hellblade, I am even more excited to see how the God of War developers tackle this mythology.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice also use this journey as the main focus to show the effects of psychosis, which is something that Senua greatly suffers from throughout the game. This leads to a lot of moments where the player has to question if the thing on screen is real or an illusions conceived by Senua. The developers have carefully used binaural audio here to deliver this aspect perfectly by letting the player actually hear the multiple voices inside Senua’s head. The way the audio has been reworked for the game, it is highly recommended to use a headphone to get the best experience out of it.
While the game excels at story telling and lore, the developers have sadly neglected one equally important aspect, and it is the exploration and puzzle where the game fails the most. I am not a fan of puzzles that require you to project and line up images and Hellblade just seems to be full of these type of puzzles. While they might seem clever at first, their appearance becomes repetitive as we progress further in the game and honestly I would have preferred less puzzles with more combat because the combat system is amazing, something that I cannot say the same for the puzzles in the game.
The main issue that I had with the puzzles in Hellblade was how they required you to meaninglessly focus on random objects, attempting to line up bizarre shapes. In the start, I was enjoying it because they looked clever but as you progress further in the game, they start to become overplayed and get repetitive leading to an experience that ends up annoying rather than being fun. To top it off, there is no guide or any help from the game aside from very vague hints which makes it easier for the player to make a mistake and get stuck somewhere without help. The game isn’t really hard and neither are the puzzles, but they just need to be better designed instead of letting you waste time wandering around the level trying to figure out the shapes that are drawn on a door because apparently this is how doors are unlocked in Hellblade.
Completely different to the puzzles is the combat for the game. Honestly the combat is what redeemed the game for me along with the story. One thing that the developers tried to implement for Hellblade was to restrict the combat encounters so majority of your time will be spent in attempting puzzles or doing exploration while the combat takes backseat. When it does start though, there is a lot of fun to be had with the combat system because each strike feels like it carries weight and performing a combo or dodging and attacking multiple enemies never ends up being any less satisfying. You can also parry and counter the attacks of enemies which results in a cool slow-motion type attack and leaves the enemy defenseless for a while.
The combat system relies on proper timing and dodges especially for boss fights, and speaking of boss fights, they are easily one of the best part of the game. Each of the boss is carefully designed with a set of attacks that keep you on your toes. They are also the point in the game where the combat shines the most as you attempt to use a mixture of parry, specials and dodge rolls to attempt to kill bosses. They each have a backstory that is explained in the game if you pay attention and find detailed explanations usually narrated through magical sign posts hidden throughout each level.
Lastly if you were worried about the permanent death and save deletion mechanics, the game starts with an auto difficulty system so you can change it to easy if you want to avoid deleting your save. Honestly though, I never had any issue with this aspect of Hellblade and the game already gives you a choice to switch to a lower difficulty if you start to die too much in a level. Overall, it will probably take you somewhere between 8 to 10 hours for the first attempt through the game, which is not a bad deal considering its price.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is an action-adventure hack and slash video game developed and published by Ninja Theory for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 4. It is described as an "independent AAA" game by the developer.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is an extremely well written game with a great story lore and challenging combat system. The only thing that it lacks is a good puzzle design otherwise Hellblade offers an experience that should easily rival a big blockbuster game.