Senua’s Sacrifice: For Hellblade; Developer Ninja Theory Goes All-in on One of the Most Ambitious Games of the Year

The Gist: With 17 years worth of experience poured into an 8 hour title, Hellblade takes aim at heady themes, offering a rally cry for the industry and socially conscious gamers everywhere.

With their previous 3 games; Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry developer Ninja Theory has made itself known for 3 things: Combat, Story, and Visual Presentation. All of which are my 3 favourite things as a gamer. Taking all they learned and betting it on what they call a AAA-indie which seems more like “AA” to me for its mix of breadth and depth of gameplay, Ninja Theory has garnered a reputation for critically producing good not great games. Hellblade is their best game yet and deserves a nomination alongside ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’, and ‘Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ for Game of the Year. At times its graphics are stellar and there are key points where the excellent acting lines up with the simple and masterful gameplay, but there are a few technical hitches.

The game perhaps fittingly in its depiction of mental illness pushes itself to the edge performance wise. Only available on PC & PS4, the digital-only title is taxing on the latter’s lesser hardware. At times there are graphical hiccups and gameplay errors that have been fixed since its August 8th launch. Although these glitches did bring out something for me in the game. At the climax of the tale I turned off the power to my PlayStation because the visual presentation was glitchy and I wanted to experience the ending for the first time as the game makers would’ve wanted. In this way, to do something I’ve never done before unaware where I would start off, the game had earned my respect.

The end product result also mirrors the developer’s usual troubled protagonists. Though I was willing to pause due to the intensity of the game, often I found elements of the gameplay too repetitive. The camera locks in annoyingly at times but also serves as manufacturing of tension. However getting hit from behind when you should be able to see it seems a bit unfair.  The acting and voice goes a little over the top but at least stays in character. Tons of work were put into these performances and its reflected in the intensity of the game. The setting of the game in Celtic mythos does allow leeway in terms of grounding itself. The combat is simple yet offers depth, and the artwork occasionally inspires awe with the music bringing these elements together most notably one hellish landscape late in the game offers a unique quality unmatched by anything else I’ve played this year.

With a bargain price, the trip is definitely worth it, and I hope Ninja Theory inspires other AAA experiments in the future. For what I can say, it was time well spent.

Continuum: +2

-3          -2          -1           0          +1          +2          +3


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