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.