( Played on PC.)
Hellblade is an insane game. I use that in the good way, not in the bad way. The game uses everything in it’s power to make you feel emotions, feelings of dread, anxiousness, and fear. The game uses these three emotions effectively and successfully, Hellblade isn’t a horror game instead it taps into human psychology and plays on the idea that humans are the worst creatures on this earth. It is successful.
The game revolves around the topic of mental health and mental illness, a topic that not many videogames use and it is something of a taboo out in the real world. I don’t know anything about it and I’m ignorant on this topic, however that changed, with this game because it solely revolves around a character with mental illness as she goes on a quest to find her lover who has been taken by the Vikings. The hallucinations and the voices that Senua sees and hears are vivid and terrifying. Every little thing you do jumps the line of what’s myth and an inescapable reality, everything within the game ties back to the central theme that the game is all about: Psychosis and mental illness.
In Hellblade, the experience opens up with Senua, a Celtic warrior with severe mental illness, returning to her village after the Vikings raid and sack her village. After discovering that her partner was sacrificed to the Norse gods, she embarks on a quest to retrieve his soul from Hela. She paddles by and it isn’t long where the voices starts whispering and they get louder and louder until the voices are all around you and this is where the center of the game is.
Hellblade’s audio is easily the best part of the game, it rivals DICE’s audio techniques for their games, voices are all around you, sinking you into this short experience. The voices laugh, degrade, mock, cheer you on, cautioned all around you until you don’t know who’s speaking anymore. The world that Senua’s inhabits is one without rest or peace of mind.
Ninja Theory’s audio techniques are ace and the use of sound plays a much bigger role then you might expect. You have to use your sense of hearing in basically everything, from combat to puzzles like a trial where you have to walk around in complete darkness and the game is masterful into tapping that part of being human where you’re afraid of the unknown and in that section of the game, the fear of what’s hiding in the dark.
Besides that, Hellblade does a great job at making you feel emotions, not just only fear but also anxiety. You feel vulnerable at every turn, even with your sword and shield out and it doesn’t help when the game doesn’t teach you how the game works. You have to find everything out on your own and it doesn’t help when the game throws you one single prompt which is when Senua dies and when she gains rot on her arm and when it reaches to her head, she will die and all progress will be lost. That mechanic adds an extra layer of fear and tension into the game that you weren’t really expecting.
This aspect is a mystery. You don’t know how much lives she has left outside of the screen distortions. Everything is a mystery in this game but when you get into the rhythm of combat then it becomes second nature and it becomes one of the weakest parts of the game. Attack patterns become predictable and easy to read, it becomes into a hack and slash with a predictable wave pattern in some sections. They require fast reflexes but normally, after your first enemy, the combat falls into a traditional hack and slash.
Hellblade also features puzzles which are easy to do. Solving them expands your perception because you’re paying attention to the environment around you and finding certain patterns.
To unlock doors or certain doors, you’ll need to look at a rune and walk around the environment in search of something that matches that rune. The idea is that you walk around the environment and finding the right vantage point and seeing the environment that you’re in differently then how you would normally see it. Solving these quick puzzles are interesting but kind of staggered the pacing of the game; you’re killing enemies and the next you’re looking for a rune across the environment that you’re in, it doesn’t kill the flow and the pacing but it slows it down a little bit.
Hellblade is a fantastic game. It’s opening your mind about mental illness and what people with this condition goes through, I absolutely love this game because it taught me about mental illness and how we can try to approach this topic. The way how Hellblade uses and handles this topic was very well done, the way how everything comes together is a very grating and draining experience.
Although, the combat and the puzzles fall short, it’s ultimately a small nitpick in this large and fantastic game with a powerful story and a powerful theme. Hellblade was top tier storytelling, Hellblade has become one of my favorite games of 2017.