Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrafice — 4.5/5 Stars
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a psychological action/adventure game developed by Ninja Theory. You play as Senua, an ancient Celtic warrior. Senua is on a quest to save her dead husband’s soul from Helheim, Norse mythology’s afterlife, reserved for those who died unheroically. On her quest, Senua solves puzzles and fights her way through countless monsters, all while struggling with the symptoms of psychosis.
Senua’s Sacrifice features stunning visuals. The characters and environments are so realistic; it feels as if you could reach out and touch them. I paused the action on several occasions to utilize the game’s “Photo Mode” to take screenshots of this compelling world. Additionally, Norse mythology serves as a rich backdrop that adds a wealth of flavor and backstory, especially for those familiar enough to catch the references. Whether running through the skeletons of old Viking ships or facing-off against intricately designed enemies, the visuals may be the game’s strongest point.
Gameplay in Senua’s Sacrifice is a mix of environmental puzzles and hack-and-slash style sword combat. The puzzles have a recurring theme of needing to change your perspective to find the answer, at times even revealing alternate realities within the game world. This supports the story’s questions about what is real. The combat is challenging, but standard for this type of game.
Senua’s psychotic symptoms include hearing voices, which interact with the combat and puzzle-solving parts of the game. At times the voices will aid you in combat, warning of unforeseen attacks. At other times the voices will distract you with discouraging tirades. During puzzles, the voices either insult you or give small hints. It’s disorienting in a way that draws you into the life of Senua and allows you to feel her experience.
The story is complex and leaves you with more questions than answers, even at the end. It’s the type of story that’s meant to be contemplated and discussed, rather than immediately understood. Nothing is off limits, as the story delves into themes of guilt, grief, anger, and mental illness. Senua’s struggle with psychosis is present throughout the story. One thing that remains constant throughout the game is Senua’s unrelenting love for her husband. She turns down numerous opportunities to turn back, and fights through ever-greater challenges to save him. Witnessing Senua’s unfailing love called to mind John 15:13—“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a challenging game, both in its unforgiving combat and unflinching depiction of mental illness, but it is ultimately a story of hope, love, and perseverance through hardship. If you enjoy cerebral storytelling and Norse mythology, this is a game I would recommend.
Chris Clark | Portland | Northern New England