Video Game Review: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4, 2017) tackles mental illness in a bold, disturbing yet beautiful manner

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is developed by Ninja Theory, the team that brought you games such as Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. While these games are exceptional examples within the third person action genre, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice stands out as a monstrous cut above the rest.

Make no mistake, everything about Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice points towards an indie game. A lower price of $44.95 AUD and the lack of a physical edition may seem like Ninja Theory were aiming for a smaller, cheaper experience. Apart from the length of the game, this is well and truly a benchmark for the genre, and practically a top notch AAA experience. It’s hard not to get excited when Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tackles issues of mental health, love, loss and ultimately sacrifice, wrapped up in a six or so hour experience.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice takes place within the world of Norse mythology, and puts you in the shoes of Senua, a young woman in search of her lost love. In a bid to remain as spoiler free as possible, Senua must journey into the depths of the underworld in order to rescue the soul of her loved one. It’s chilling and interesting stuff all on its own, but to top it off, Senua is battling a range of mental health issues which hinder her throughout her entire journey.

Mechanically, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice presents nothing new to the genre. Blending exploration, puzzle solving and combat is nothing new, but the manner in which they are infused is just so damn interesting. The binding factor here is Senua’s mental illness and it plays a role in every mechanic, giving it a unique flavour and twist. The lack of any HUD or button prompts also allow for a more immersive experience, and exploration is sprinkled with hallucinations, visions and voices in Senua’s head, guiding her forward, deeper into the world. Puzzle solving is inventive as hallucinations and voices also play a role, but it would be a shame to discuss the puzzles anymore as I fear spoiling them. While exploration and puzzle solving are the main aspects of the experience, there are combat segments that occur every now and then. Now before I go on, keep in mind that combat is not the main draw of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. In the spirit of honesty and objectivity, I will say that while combat is functional, it becomes a tad bland after a while. While you have access to a dodge, heavy, light and melee attacks, there’s simply not much depth to the combat, and you’ll find yourself repeating combos over and over once you have the system down pat, which really doesn’t take long.

Given the shortcomings of combat and length, the presentation of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is near astounding. It’s truly a graphical powerhouse, and playing on a regular Playstation 4 system, I rarely came across any bugs or performance issues. Senua’s motion capture looks amazing, lighting effects dance around trees and reflect of puddles in the muddy ground and culminate in a what can be described as a work of art. Sound also plays a major role, as Senua’s voices within her head prove to be as helpful as they are creepy. Although not a make or break factor, I personally recommend the use of a headset or headphones to make use of the 360 degree sound mechanics. Senua’s voices will envelop you to an eerily realistic degree, which made me surprisingly uncomfortable .

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an astoundingly horrific, touching and profound experience that had me wrapped up all the way through. It’s stunning visuals, creative use of sound and clever puzzles make up for the blandness of the combat or the length of the experience. It may not make you feel comfortable and it may creep you out at times, but Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice speaks volumes when it comes to creativity, pushing the concept of an indie experience into the next level.

Score: 9.0 out of 10

Highlights: Astounding visuals and sound design

Lowlights: Bland, repetitive combat, length

Developer: Ninja Theory

Publisher: Ninja Theory

Platform: Playstation 4, Windows PC

Release Date: Out Now

Reviewed on Playstation 4.