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Review: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PC)By Ofisil At 10.08.2017 21:57

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Upon meeting one of the towering man-beasts that act as the enemies here, the player will be introduced to the magnificent, almost For Honor-esque, melee battle system. Apart from a neat bullet mode-like ability that can be activated every now and then, however, this is just an assortment of fast and heavy sword swings, blocks, and evasion moves, and yet, for all its simplicity, everything feels great, as the controls are perfect, and each hit has lots of "weight." Soon, however, repetitiveness will rear its ugly head, as this lacks the depth and variety expected from an action game. The thing is, though, that this isn't one…

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is heavily narrative-driven, as mentioned, and, thus, it cares more about making you experience it than simply play through it. Set in the Viking age, it tells the twisted story of Senua, a survivor of a brutal raid, and one that has taken away more than her lover's soul - it has taken hers. You see, while the goal here is to reclaim his life from Hel (the Viking underworld), the central concept is the heroine's battle with her troubled mind. Besides constantly hearing voices talk around her (or to her), reality itself seems to frequently change in front of her very eyes. In other words, Senua has gone mad… or has she…?

Ninja Theory has collaborated with mental health experts to create a protagonist that is suffering from psychosis, and the result is worthy of applause. Not because it can creep you out, though - in fact, the whole voices-in-your-head thing constantly goes back between well-handled and corny, and can even get annoying after a few hours, instead of unsettling as it's supposed to. No, the real greatness here lies in how this manages to make the player actually question whether this is a typical fantasy adventure where the gods and their sorcery is real, or nothing more than a sick woman's delusion.

Of course, a great deal of it all is largely symbolic and allegorical. As an example, and similar to Silent Hill 2, the monstrous look of the enemies feels as if it's how Senua's scarred mind perceives the Northmen that have killed her beloved Dillion, and not how these folks really are. Generally, from the gameplay to the plot itself, Hellblade feels like a typical hero's journey kind of saga; a story that, while strongly influenced by the Norse myths, is mainly an attempt to touch a variety of subjects that range from madness, war, and superstition, to the terrifying uncertainty of death, as well as the need to embrace it.

If this sounds like a very bold move for a videogame developer, that's because it certainly is, and while the end result is a diamond that's extremely rough around the edges, it's a diamond that shines nonetheless. The Unreal 4-painted landscapes look fantastic, and even otherworldly at times; several cut-scenes will bring gamers to the edge of their seats - the battles feel great, the music is awesome, and so on - but it's Melina Juergens that steals the show, due to her exceptional motion-capture acting for Senua, and especially her facial expressions, which help an already great character become even more so. Simply put, she will move you…

Unfortunately, there's a videogame attached to it all, and it is the lesser ambitious aspect here. Hellblade cares a lot about narrative, immersion, and symbolism, but it sacrifices gameplay for those. Battles, for instance, are more about looking cool and making those experiencing it feel as if they are really "there," and that's all fine, but it doesn't excuse the developer not trying to do something more with them, instead of simply throwing some in for the sake of drawing people into the game world. Heck, even the existence of a perma-death mechanic is mostly used as a means to frighten rather than challenge, as even bosses are a piece of cake, albeit tasty cake…

…And yet, this is mostly a nit-pick - something that is annoying because it's far from the greatness of the storytelling portion. Same goes for the linear structure of this adventure. Yes, you can't really explore, and the only "bonus" material is the few bits of Norse mythology that can be found, and, yes, it's an experience that can feel like a walking simulator at times, but it also manages to do what this title wants to, which is tell a spellbinding tale. The same can't be said for the mind-numbingly boring, simplistic, and chore-ish "puzzles" that need to be solved, however, as many of them feel like speed-bumps rather than exciting steps towards the finale.

On one hand, they are - initially - a joy to figure out, and have something ritualistic about them, which fits right in here. The thing is that almost every puzzle, on the other hand, is basically a variation of a particular one, which is to find a Rune in an area by fiddling with the environment - light a torch, take a look at the shadow the light casts, and see the Rune on it, for instance. That's not to say that these are bad or anything, it's just that they happen way too often, and many times ruin the overall pace, to the point where reaching such a segment can make you cry out, "Oh, not another of those!" which is far from a good thing… Those who will manage to stomach the available flaws, though, are in for one Hel of a ride!

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Final Score
While in strict gameplay terms this lacks depth, and although it feels as if it tries to bite off more than it can chew on the storytelling side of things, [i]Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice[/i] turns out to be an epic journey through madness and Norse myth, and one that's worth a playthrough or two despite its problems - as long as you aren't here for something more action-packed.

7

/10

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