Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

When you can see things that others can’t, and hear things that others insist aren’t there, how do you know what is real and what is not? Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice attempts to immerse you into the mind of someone who suffers from psychosis, and it does a few other important things besides that.

Hellblade (available now on PS4, Steam, and GOG, is a third person action game, but it’s a whole lot more. Before we get into the most important aspect of the game, let’s discuss the format. This is not a huge game in that it can be completed in 8-10 hours, the price of it reflects that, but all of the gameplay shows a level of polish that the much bigger games that have come out recently rarely do (cough Mass Effect: Andromeda cough). Every moment, every step, every animation has been looked at and refined to make the game visually stunning and tremendously immersive. It uses binaural audio (not to be confused with binaural beats) to make every sound feel as real as possible. When looking at the quality of this game, it’s hard to believe that the developer, Ninja Theory, has less than 40 staff in total. I’m hoping that some of the bigger studios take note of this and look at providing low priced, high quality games that aren’t a grind filled nuisance. This game tells a story in a way that no other form of media could accomplish.

What has caught the media’s attention about this game is that it simulates psychosis, and that the developers have worked with experts and patients in the field to make sure the experience is an accurate representation. This means that playing the game, and getting immersed in Senua’s character is a unique experience that runs the whole gamut of emotions. There are moments of intense wonder, there are voices that make you doubt you’re on the right path, there are breaks that make you wonder what is real and what isn’t, and there are moments of terror.

The game has also caused complaints among gamers for its permadeath system. The game tells you that, should you fail enough times, you will die and all your progress will be deleted. In my experience of the game, that’s a lie. The entire game exists to make you doubt reality, and I’ve noticed through my game play that exiting the game and resuming from the latest save resets the visual element of the permadeath progress somewhat. Also, the progress is tied into various cut scenes, so while the permadeath may actually happen if you go for it and let yourself be killed over and over, it’s not as scary as it seems.

All in all, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game that I hesitate to put my usual adjectives of “fantastic” or “awesome” to, not because it doesn’t live up to those words, but because they don’t capture the experience. This is not a normal game, so it isn’t one I can add normal adjectives to, but to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this game, I’m going to give it a full 5/5 rating. It is as perfect a gaming experience as possible with current technology.

Spider-Man Homecoming – A Spoiler-free Review

How do you talk about a movie without talking about a movie? Do you simply say that it was good or bad, give it a rating, and throw together many words that ultimately don’t mean a thing?

I’m going to go a different route and talk about Spider-Man Homecoming in terms of how it made me feel, rather than the many, many little details and geek-out moments I could share.

It started with the opening, after the Sony logos were done with. I was transformed into a child by the first strains of music, and left wide-eyed as Marvel worked their magic. Every word, every line, every bit of action, every little mention that tied in to something else washed over me as I remained constantly awed by the fact that this was the first Spider-man movie that actually has Spider-Man, as I know him, in it.

The achievement of this film isn’t in the set pieces, the acting, or the directing, all of which are of high quality; instead it’s in the little things, the little details that make Peter Parker seem like a whole person, rather than a limited stereotype. He runs through many emotions through the film, not just a handful, and all of them are given their natural place, rather than being forced.

I give this film a solid 9/10. I’d love to write some of the theories and details I have, but that’ll have to wait until a few more people have seen it.

Riverdale – Ayoub’s Opinion

Okay. So. Why am I talking about Archie Comics? What on earth do Jughead, Archie, Betty, and Veronica have to do with a dark Twin Peaks-esque TV show?

Welcome to Riverdale.

Yes, those of you who remember the comics from back in the day will know that Riverdale is Archie’s home town, and it’s usually a place of innocent hi-jinks and good clean fun. Now that the comics have been rebooted (although I haven’t read the newer ones), the CW in the US and Netflix in the UK are airing this new series based on the rebooted comics. While on the surface this murder mystery in a town that has plenty of secrets seems like something we’ve all seen before (*cough* Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars *cough*) it’s different because the Archie comics’ characters are so well known.

The television show itself is full of twists and fairly grown up themes. The darkness added to the wholesome Archie characters doesn’t seem forced (they were always a little too happy in the old comics). Mädchen Amick‘s presence in the cast brings Twin Peaks to mind, while 90210 alum Luke Perry rebalances it slightly towards a high school drama, and the show switches between the two genres masterfully, aided well by Cole Sprouse‘s narration as Jughead.

Three episodes in and I’m loving the show enough to give it a 4/5 rating, but that’s partly because of my fondness for the characters of old. People not quite as familiar with the comics may not be so generous.

Doctor Strange – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

Doctor Strange is not a character I’m overly familiar with, so the latest movie from Marvel Studios had very little to live up to in terms of character canon for me. Of course, it still had to live up to all the other Marvel Studios films.

This film has all the ingredients of the other films in the MCU; humour, a human story, action, and good versus evil, but it felt as if the balance was different. It’s a darker tale than any of the others so far. I have a feeling this was intended as a poke in the eye to the DC bunch – here is a darker story, and yet there are sprinklings of humour, often in the most unexpected of places (when you see it, you’ll see what I mean). At it’s core, however, this is a martial arts film. If there were an Iron Fist movie, it would be somewhat like this one.

While the bad guy is obvious as the bad guy, the film also deals with the concept of using dark power for good, and it deals with it well, but all of that makes the bad guy little more than an excuse to have a film. Other than Loki and Ultron, the bad guys in the MCU haven’t been that impressive, and this film is no different in that respect. Not that this detracts from the story as much as it could.

Now, before I get too tempted to throw in spoilers, I give the film 4/5 stars easily. When you go watch it, there are two end credits scenes. One hints towards Ragnarok, and the other hints towards Doctor Strange 2.

Deus-Ex: Mankind Divided – Ayoub’s Review

Sequels are tricky beasts to balance. Everyone wants change and improvement, but nobody wants to lose the feel, so Deux Ex: Mankind Divided, the sequel to one of my favourite games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, had a lot to live up to.

Mankind Divided begins two years after the events of Human Revolution; it immediately feels comfortable to play and looks beautiful. There is no visible difference to the very high and ultra settings on a 1080p display, and the game runs very smoothly. The tutorial system is one of the best I’ve seen because it lets you learn by playing trough a scenario without risk, and then rewinds to let you play your way. People playing on PC have a few more options than consoles, with the ability to give inventory items shortcut keys. There are also a number of user interface and HUD tweaks in the settings that are PC exclusive.

The cover system is vastly improved, because it needed to be, and the combat (should you choose to play that way) is fantastic. The biggest surprise in the game is in the vast detail that has been put into the main city hub of Prague. There is beautiful architecture, wonderfully animated advertising and store signs, and a much better map system to show you where everything is. It’s very easy to just stroll around the place and discover details about the Deus Ex world that are very easily missed if you just stick to the main story.

Speaking of which, the story of the game is somewhat lacking in scope in comparison to Human Revolution. It feels more like the the first part of a larger story than something complete. That’s not to say that the story is short, however. It has a similar chapter structure to Human Revolution, and when all the side missions are added, Mankind Divided has more playable hours. The game stays away from heavy social commentary, which is a good thing in my book. There are many moments where injustice is highlighted (provided you don’t storm through the story without doing any exploration or side missions), and the player is invited to draw their own conclusions. There are choices to be made, and some of the side missions can lead to assistance in the main mission.

The wonderful thing about Mankind Divided, and the Deus Ex franchise, is that there is a lot of choice in terms of how to approach the missions. Every mission, every accessible building and location, has multiple paths. You have real choice as to whether to be a ghost, or go in all guns blazing, becoming a storm of force and armour. There are many options to talk it out as well, without resorting to stealth or violence. This is what made Human Revolution great and very much replayable, and this is why I can see myself replaying Mankind Divided at least as often (Played it twice already, and getting ready for a third go).

At the end of the game, there are many unanswered questions, and even a little mid-credits scene that has a fun mini reveal. These questions are likely part of a set up for the next chapter in the Deus Ex expanded universe. Eidos have taken the success of Human Revolution and run with it in an epic way, and it has paid off as far as this finished product is concerned. The interesting thing will be in what comes next.

This game gets a solid 5/5 from me. It’s my kind of game.