BAFTA award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, an independently developed and published third person action adventure/ hack and slash game from the people most famous for Devil may Cry (DmC), is definitely worth the purchase and worth the time spent to play it. It combines a personal tale of a main character seeking to right the wrongs of her past and find peace with the world around her, with a crash course in Norse mythology that takes the character and player from empty northern shores into the underworld itself, tackling the subjects of psychosis and evil on a metaphysical level.
It may have won awards, but the shining aspects of this game are the presentation – the graphics, the narrative, and the brilliant sound design.
I can safely say Hellblade has the most amazing graphics of any game ever made, to date, and that continues to hold true in the first half of 2018 – even as raytracing technology begins to finally make headway into gaming. Really it doesn’t matter what the graphics look like, but NT did such a ridiculously good job of bending Unreal Engine 4 to their will that I can say it’s art. The textures, the lighting, even the post processing effects are all absolutely gorgeous, and that includes the chromatic aberration. The gravity of saying so cannot be understated. Chromatic aberration is a sin.
That graphical design extends to the user interface as well. There isn’t one. No health bar, no items (not that there are replenishables), no power meter. Everything is diagetic and the only indication you have that you might be ready to die is that your screen gets red and blurry and bloody. All cutscenes in the game are in engine, in game – even those that may be pre-rendered are not so obviously different looking from the game itself that it never really breaks the immersion.
As an added bonus, Hellblade is also one of the few games out there with full support for Nvidia’s Ansel technology. Even for those without Nvidia cards, the game features its own fully functional camera mode, joining the ranks of games like Mad Max, Shadow of Mordor, Shadow Warrior 2, and The Last of Us (remastered) or Uncharted 4 that have their own independent camera built into the game. Most gamers appear to disregard this type of feature, but it really is a shame that more developers don’t give people the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of a game beyond just playing it. Any time a game is announced to have photo mode or Ansel support, that game should be paid attention to because that developer appreciates their artists.
The sound design as well is brilliant – especially if you play with a headset on as the game implores you to. It can be unsettling or frightening at times. I personally stopped using the headset because the bass made me uncomfortable, but it wasn’t bad.
Praise aside though, the game isn’t anything spectacular. Gameplay consists of very simple puzzle solving – split up into sections composed entirely of perspective puzzles – no other types. When not puzzle solving, you are plodding along a linear path that punishes you for even thinking there might be more than one way around, in most areas. When not doing that, you are fighting in pre-ordained skirmishes with either regular enemies or a boss. The combat is not challenging, and there’s very little variety in enemies – maybe 5 or 6 types at most excluding bosses.
On top of that, there’s also very little variety in combat animations or possible moves. Everything is very standard for a hack and slash type game. You’ve got a run button, a running attack, block/parry, dodge/roll, a punch/disarm type attack, your standard focus/supermode/ragemode and a regular attack. All attacks will always use their same animation with no change. That isn’t to say it’s not fun, i t’s just very barebones. Actually just like Ryse, a game which was crucified for its lack of complexity and replay, while a game like Hellblade which arguably isn’t any better, won awards.
One more thing. There are pretty regular live-action overlays when Druth and Galena and Hela are talking. I thought it was pretty low-budget but the game is otherwise solid.
Still, it’s worth a play through if you like this type of game, mythology, hearing about Freya and Ragnorak and Sigurd and a guy with a very Irish accent who is Norse for some reason.