Every so often something special comes along. Out of the left field. Totally unexpected. This is Hellblade. An “indie” game release by Ninja Theory, previously of Heavenly Sword and DmC fame.
At its heart it’s a fairly standard, somewhat low key, linear hack and slash adventure. However the subject matter, story and presentation lift a mediocre puzzle fighter into one of the PS4’s greatest games.
The game is intentionally a study in to and a reflection of mental illness. You play the eponymous Senua traveling through the Norse underworld of Helheim. How much is her traveling through the realms of the gods, and how much is in her mind and a depiction of her decent in to insanity following the death of her mother, is purely left to the player to decide.
Graphically the game is top draw, especially facial animations, that it’s hard to believe this is a low(er) budget AA release on not the product of a full blown AAA publisher. Of particular note is the use of sound within the game. It makes full use of a rich 3D aural space to the extent the developers ask players to game using headphones to get the full effect of voices whispering in their ears.
The combat is a basic slash-block affair. Some what primitive and sloppy, but it’s not the core of the game – which goes to the story and total immersion. Indeed, for a hack and slash game there’s precious little hacking and slashing. Fighting being broken up in to long-ish periods of silence where the game focuses on exploration and puzzle solving.
Puzzle solving isn’t amazingly varied and predominantly takes the recurring theme of pattern matching based around norse runes.
Still despite the mediocre-ness of the main gameplay elements something just shines through and grabs you. Hellblade is less a game and more an experience and an experience that you just have to have.