Review by horror_spooky
Interesting gimmick, but a chore to play
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is the latest game from Ninja Theory, a controversial developer that made DmC: Devil May Cry for Capcom. I personally was a big fan of that game, and so I was excited to see what the developer could do with Hellblade, billed as an AAA game for a budget price.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice warns players right at the start that they will have to start the game over from the beginning if they die too many times. This seems to be an empty threat, though the thought of being penalized so viciously in a world when most games hold players hands is intriguing in and of itself. Unfortunately, the Hellblade experience is so mundane that the idea of having to start it from the beginning is laughable. If made to do so, I imagine virtually everyone would never bother picking it up again.
The game is a third-person action game, where players solve puzzles and fight enemies while constantly pushing forward through the linear environments. Combat is impressive at first, with Senua busting out an impressive amount of moves, including various sword attacks and a CM Punk-like running knee to the head.
Combat then quickly gets repetitive, as players are constantly fighting the same enemy type throughout the game, and the strategies for the enemies rarely differ. Not only that, but it becomes apparent that the combat system is not as deep as it seems, and players trying to do flashy stuff will be punished for doing so. The combat can also be frustrating, as enemies tend to spawn randomly behind Senua.
The weak combat could be forgiven if the puzzles weren't so boring, but as it turns out, they are incredibly boring. The vast majority of puzzles in the game are "rune puzzles," where players have to line shadows up with objects in the environment. These rune puzzles are sometimes so obvious that their inclusion seems to serve no purpose other than to give players another task to do on their way to the end, whereas other times they are tedious to the point of pulling out your own hair.
Hellblade has few redeeming qualities when it comes to the gameplay, but I would argue that the game is still worth playing. Where it lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for with its creepy, disturbing atmosphere that overwhelms the player with its Norse-horror vibes. Senua herself is an incredibly interesting character that struggles with mental illness in one of the most surprisingly realistic ways I've seen in a video game. Senua seems like a genuine, real person, despite the supernatural and fantastical elements of the story at hand.
Ninja Theory's game is also quite stunning, with Senua notable for not being a knockout gorgeous woman. Whereas most video game characters seem to be "good looking," Senua is average looking, and often has expressions of pain and grimaces of worry etched out on her face. The facial animations, by the way, are definitely a highlight of the Hellblade visual experience.
Voice acting is kept to a minimum, which is a fantastic artistic touch. The audio in general is masterfully done, and goes a long way in complementing the suffocating, chilling atmosphere that the game so successfully creates.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is very much a one and done experience. The game can be completed in less than 10 hours, and while there are collectibles and other reasons to go back to it, most people will be more than satisfied after one go-through.
Hellblade's short length and weak gameplay don't make it seem like an AAA title for a budget price, but its gorgeous visuals, well-written lead character, and brilliantly crafted atmosphere do. The game is the definition of a mixed bag, and while its permadeath gimmick may just be blowing smoke, it's still an intriguing enough set-up to make the game worth checking out.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (US, 08/08/17)
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