Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice game review

Published at 2021/07/28

This article might contain non-direct game spoilers.

The game that wasn't meant to be played by me

I know I'm kinda late to the party, as Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is already a 4 year old game but I really thought that I'm never gonna play this game.

Why?

Not sure, honestly - maybe because of the Celtic/Viking-like setting, maybe the main protagonist looked a bit creepy for me (at least in the commercials - never watched a gameplay until I've played it by myself).

Without any particular reason, I've invested into Microsoft's Game Pass recently and decided to give it a try.

And oh boy, I've literally sucked into that game.

I learnt the hard way to not be afraid of death, Senua. Because a life without loss is one without love.
-- Dillion

This game has been advertised as a game that tells the story about mental health and psychosis. While there's no doubt that it plays a major role here, for me it was a game about love. An artistic, dramatic, kind of Romeo-Juliet, love.

For the whole game I honestly had a problem to identify myself with Senua's physical problems (does it mean that I don't have them? 😮) Maybe because I was more interested into what actually happened between Senua and her beloved Dillion.

For every battle won, a greater battle takes its place and so it goes until we fall. And in the end we all fall. Even the gods have their time…"
-- Druth

I've noticed that Hellblade is a mix of various game genres. It consists of 30% sword fighting, 10% of running-for-your-life phases and 60% of solving puzzles*.

* those percentages are taken out of nowhere - it's just for presentation purpose

Fighting

During the fight we've got a limited amount of moves that we can combine together: a light attack, heavy attack, block, run, roll.

In my opinion, this range of options is just fine. Combat is demanding enough, and you can easily make a mistake and stupidly lose.

There's also a focus mode, that slows time and boosts Senua's attack power - very handy when you get surrounded or while fighting with bosses.

Run! Run for your life!

There are moments when Senua needs to run away from something (it varies over the game).

Despite there's only couple such moments in the game, I've found them most difficult (a.k.a. I've lost most lifes during those phases). I think they are also most demanding parts, as very often you need to do something else during the run.

Puzzles

Those are pretty interesting! Most of them base on finding appropriate symbols (called runes in game) that are hidden among the environment in a very clever way (e.g. you need to position yourself at appropriate angle between the trees etc.). The amount of available variations that has been prepared for those is pretty good, so you won't feel bored.

There are also puzzles related to rune doors which works as a kind of portals - when you walk through them something changes in current level and (sometimes) lets you progress.

Physical horror

Is this game scary? I don't think so. I think the word disturbing is a better one here. There is no jump scares (or they're not really a "jump" ones, as game prepares us a bit earlier that something will happen). There are some hallucination moments or fighting with monsters, but they way they were designed made them not that haunting - just a mix of people/animals but with tribe masks/skulls on their heads.

Never forget what it is like to see the world as a child, Senua: where every autumn leaf is a work of art; every rolling cloud, a moving picture; every day a new story.
-- The Narrator

I've played this game on Xbox Series X in enhanced visuals mode and gosh - it looks pretty damn beautiful. After couple first hours (I've beat it in ~6hours in total) I've even began tolerating Senua's face.

In fact, I've also realized why I was finding her a bit creepy.

The developers & graphic designers from Ninja Theory did a great job in digitalizing Melina Juergens (real-life actress that performed Senua's motion capture) face. Especially her eye movement is gorgeous - almost alive like. They're almost never static, they're shaking a bit, just as in real life. It's a very subtle detail, yet making a huge difference (and that level of realism made her creepy for me).

Despite the fact that you might find couple less-detailed elements here and ther, in the overall this is a really nice looking game - even for 2021 standards I think.

Safe and sound

Honestly, the audio was really the thing that pushed me to write this whole review. I totally recommend playing this game with the headphones on. Senua, due to her physical illness, constantly hear the voices in her head and listening to them on remote speakers kills the whole "effect" of overwhelming psychosis.

And the final battle song is soo climatic - during the playthrough I wished to never finish it (it was THAT good). The credits/final scene has another great song - very nostalgic, in fact it made me sad about completing the story.

For me, just those 2 moments made this whole game a personal favorite in terms of game audio (which was previously occupied by Hyper Light Drifter for a veeery long time 😃)

Why suffer the past, when there is a new road ahead?
-- The Darkness

Fortunately, there's already a sequel announced and I just can't wait. I hope it will be about the Senua's revenge on people that hurt her & her loved ones.

But who knows, a week ago my attitude and an idea what is this game about was totally different - we'll see.

I recommend this game to everyone now.

-- ł.