“Her story is one of confusion, sadness, fear, and loss...”
August 8, 2017 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice [IGN] “It follows the titular Senua, a celtic warrior, who embarks on a mission to the homeland of the Northmen in order to penetrate the depths of their version of hell, the mythological Norse land of the dead called Helheim. It's bound by threads of historical fiction, historical non-fiction, mythology, and metaphor all admirably weaved together to create a unique backdrop that's ripe for exploring the darker tones and themes Hellblade tackles. But as impressive as its story is, Ninja Theory’s smart design reinforces the sensory nature of the harrowing tale through subtle and intuitive mechanics. Even before the game begins, you're prompted to play with headphones in order to capitalize on the binaural audio design (simulated three-dimensional sound). This is used to great effect as the voices that plague Senua are in a constant chatter, dancing around her head in creepy ways that feel as though you're never alone.” [YouTube] [Trailer]

• Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a love letter to gaming [Game Zone]
“Graphically speaking, Hellblade is one of the most gorgeous games on a console. Ninja Theory first unveiled the game showing the realtime rendering technology behind Senua’s character. A lot of games fall short in their fidelity compared to when they’re first unveiled, but Hellblade looks just as impressive now as it did then. The game prompts you to play the game with headphones as the voices in Senua’s head and environmental sounds are directional. If you are playing on a PS4, there are enhanced graphical modes for either playing in a higher resolution or higher frame rate. Both the graphics and the gameplay are built to delight seasoned gamers. My recommendation is to sit in front of the best TV in the house with either a pair of good headphones or a great speaker system, and plan to be in that position for around six hours. I already fear that I’ve said too much about the game. The less you know, the better. All I can say is if you have a PS4 or a PC, this game is a must buy. Ninja Theory is doing something both feels familiar and wholly different from any other experience. If this year hadn’t already seen great releases like Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn, I’d say without hesitation it was my Game of the Year.”
• Hellblade Is Great Because It’s Frustrating [Kotaku]
“In any other game, I probably would’ve been frustrated by this series of events. No combat tutorial before an encounter that sapped one of my precious few chances to mess up? Bullshit! But Hellblade had already laid its cards on the table. No health meters, no tutorials, no respite. This, I realized, is a game about a character who’s far past the point of learning the basics, or even being at the height of her powers. Senua’s on the brink of a total breakdown. Her body is decaying. Her mind is home to incessant, irritating voices that never stop doubting, mocking, and mourning her. What she’s seeing might not even be real. It’s a game that’s difficult to play not in the traditional video game sense, but because it’s actively taxing. It wants you to feel angry, afraid, and exhausted. But it also wants you to persevere.”
• Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, A Bloody Rush [Playstation Lifestyle]
“The audio work in Hellblade is also impressive. As the game first booted up, it recommended that I use headphones for the best experience. This is a recommendation I concur with. Senua’s psychosis is best experienced with complete player immersion. She has many voices in her head, and they inundate her mind constantly. With headphones on, I could experience some of this for myself as Senua’s inner voices spoke from all angles. It was a disarming feeling to hear someone whisper in my left ear, almost as though they were sitting right next to me. Melina Juergens voiced Senua, and she did a fantastic job here. She captures a range of emotions perfectly, and really helped to get me into the headspace of a psychosis sufferer. Senua’s story is told through a series of flashbacks that she has as she goes through her adventure. It’s a painful story, one filled with love, loss, loneliness, frustration, and very little positive emotion until the end. This is likely by design, to give the player some sense of what many suffering from crippling depression, schizophrenia, or some other psychosis, feel all the time. It’s not a good feeling to live life as Senua does. Her story will resonate with anyone who has suffered from mental issues or known someone who has. It also serves as the battleground in which all the action takes place, as Senua is tasked with defeating Celtic and Norse gods and demigods.”
• Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice deletes your save file for dying too often [PC Gamer]
“"The trouble is that mistakes mean something here. Senua doesn't have many opportunities to screw up. Hela infected her arm with rot, and the tendrils of decay creep further up her limb with each death. And when they reach her head? Game Over. Progress erased. It's a possibly contentious element that helps make Senua's plight relatable. When she hesitates, I hesitate. When she's scared, I'm wary. I have something at stake, too, however minor. "The approach explains the relatively short eight or nine-hour running time. It's not as harsh as it could be. I died maybe six times in my playthrough, and by the end the rot had only snaked up around three-quarters of her arm. Good thing, too. Sometimes I failed for the dumbest reasons, as in a sequence when, in panic, I neglected to pick up a torch that would have chased off a beast hunting me in the darkness. I let my fear overpower my logic. Senua wouldn't have done that." ”
• Hellblade’s permadeath is a bluff. [PCGamesN]
“Yes, the game promises you that the rot will increase with every death, eventually killing Senua permanently. It just, well, doesn’t. The rot will grow to a certain point - which we think is governed by how far through the game you are - and then stop. In fact, this happens fairly quickly after a couple of deaths. Details, and 50 of our own deaths, are in the video above. However, the threat of it plays into the game’s message, which focuses on Senua’sown fear of her enemies and degrading mental state. We’ll let a few more people finish the game before we discuss how the ending plays into all this but, needless to say, it was a clever decision, even if it may have backfired with a portion of the playerbase.”
• The real-time motion capture behind ‘Hellblade’ [Engadget]
“Melina Juergens, the actress behind Hellblade's lead character, Senua, enters the room in another mocap suit. Her setup is a little different from mine, given she has a full digital double in the game. A circular, plastic arm wraps around the front of her face, similar to orthodontic headgear, with an LED light strip and cameras fitted on the inside. Senua soon pops into the scene, a powerful Celtic warrior covered in cuts and symbolic blue body paint. We are standing on a beach, with a huge tree behind us covered in flames and hanging bodies. It's a dark, sinister scene, but my first reaction is to dance around like a drunkard at a jamboree. The Viking warrior matches my movements, and for a moment, I'm lost in the magic. I spend the next half hour with Juergens dancing, pretend fighting and playing the most surreal game of red hands. All the while I'm looking over my shoulder at a wall-mounted monitor, marveling at how the scene is able to render my movements with zero perceivable lag. ”
posted by Fizz (11 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think I'm most intrigued by the fact that when you play as Senua, there's no game HUD. It's just your character and her madness. I don't know too much of the story but apparently she's sort of cursed in some way and there are muses or voices of some kind that guide her. So, she'll be battling and all of a sudden, a voice will be heard that says “Behind you!”

It's one reason why most of these reviews are mentioning that this game should be played with headphones. That could be a very interesting mechanic to play with. I'll be purchasing this later tonight. I'm quite excited.
posted by Fizz at 7:08 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


It will also be interesting to see how they portray her "madness". Video games have been getting better with how they portray mental health but still a lot of work to be done.

While I realize this is a game about a young woman who descends into hell of some kind and is cursed, that doesn't mean that the way they portray her mental health in a fantasy video game cannot be handled with some form of sensitivity, maturity or respect. Will see what happens and report back after a few hours of play.
posted by Fizz at 7:35 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Huh weird, I wonder if it's because of a fear of it being a spoiler or something that the notion that the permadeath is a bluff hasn't propagated more widely. Seems it would be simple enough to test the hypothesis.
posted by juv3nal at 8:28 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


It seems that they've implemented it such that you can only get so much corruption in any given area. So, you can die on the same jumping puzzle 30 times and it counts as one or two, but if you die in a number of consecutive places you are doomed.
posted by pan at 9:48 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


“The audio work in Hellblade is also impressive. As the game first booted up, it recommended that I use headphones for the best experience. This is a recommendation I concur with. Senua’s psychosis is best experienced with complete player immersion. She has many voices in her head, and they inundate her mind constantly. With headphones on, I could experience some of this for myself as Senua’s inner voices spoke from all angles. It was a disarming feeling to hear someone whisper in my left ear, almost as though they were sitting right next to me. Melina Juergens voiced Senua, and she did a fantastic job here. She captures a range of emotions perfectly, and really helped to get me into the headspace of a psychosis sufferer. Senua’s story is told through a series of flashbacks that she has as she goes through her adventure. It’s a painful story, one filled with love, loss, loneliness, frustration, and very little positive emotion until the end. This is likely by design, to give the player some sense of what many suffering from crippling depression, schizophrenia, or some other psychosis, feel all the time. It’s not a good feeling to live life as Senua does. Her story will resonate with anyone who has suffered from mental issues or known someone who has. It also serves as the battleground in which all the action takes place, as Senua is tasked with defeating Celtic and Norse gods and demigods.”
I'm going to go out on a limb here to suggest that these are the inner voices not of paranoid schizophrenia, but of severe PTSD (similar as those are!), and that Senua's ordeal is that of the victim of trauma who chooses to turn around and fight her way back into the red heart of the worst things that could ever happen to a person, and overcome them as much as is humanly possible.

I wouldn't say I'm certain that this game was designed with therapeutic aims very near the head of the list of priorities of the makers, but boy would I be surprised if that's not the case.
posted by jamjam at 10:40 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I just finished the introduction and I need to take a break. This is a heavy game and not for the light-hearted. I have my own issues with mental health and anxiety. So my playing this game is maybe a tad ill-advised. Still, I'm intrigued to see how Senua's mental health is explored.

From the brief bit of story I've consumed so far, you seem to be right on the money jamjam. She's fighting and pushing her way into battle with something that deeply wronged her, something that caused serious emotional and mental harm.

The "inner voices", her "memories", or "muses" are terrifying and wondrous. I'm off to bed, I'll have to play this game in chunks as I'm not sure I can take more than an hour of this game without it getting to me.

It's beautiful, dark, cryptic, & tense. I can see this game going on my top 5 of the year. Right up there with Resident Evil VII, Prey, & Nier Automata.
posted by Fizz at 11:01 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I have only completed the first couple of sections, but it's clear that its going to be a very influential game.

The lighting alone is revolutionary, in terms of being well-directed in a cinematic way rather than only being technologically advanced. The way that Senua's skin is rendered is perfectly judged whether under the gloom of a rain storm in a dark swamp or brightly lit on a misty shoreline. It's so perfect that I suspect they have used studio recorded footage to get the lighting right and somehow mapped it on to the 3D models, because I haven't seen any other game do it quite so well. There are also points where the cutscenes seem to blend motion captured models and recorded video, but it's so carefully crafted that I'm still not entirely sure where the joins are. I suspect we may see more games using these techniques.

The sound design is what everyone is talking about though, and I can attest that the binaural semi-psychotic voices are effective. There's one particular voice that takes up residence intimately beside your left ear, and remains there distinct from the cacophony, sadly narrating Senua's life. I haven't seen enough of the plot to know how well this ties in beyond the opening where it does a good job at introducing the main character and her motivations, and sometimes the voices are a little bit BBC-drama melodramatic, but again it's convincingly atmospheric.

The gameplay is competent but not particularly inventive, but it's used to complement the narrative and draw you in. The search for the hidden clue puzzles invite you to explore the beautifully atmospheric scenes, but they can lose their mystery if they drag on too long. The combat is the popular block/dodge/light-attack/heavy-attack affair from almost every third person brawler, but is thankfully not punishingly difficult. The struggle of the violence is very deliberately metaphorical and fits the tone of the game well, even it's not that original.

But still, I haven't decided if I like it or not, even if I really want it to be very successful. The production values are incredible, and it certainly deserves to do well commercially, but I have seen one too many plots where mental illness is treated as a tragedy of supernatural proportions, and from what little I have played, it looks particularly and supernaturally tragic. I want a gloriously happy ending for Senua, dammit.
posted by Eleven at 4:38 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Worth noting that the developers, Ninja Theory, were responsible for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and the most recent Devil May Cry game, DmC.
posted by Merus at 7:08 AM on August 9


I remember seeing a video about this several months ago and being blown away by what they had in such an early stage of things. While I haven't yet poked the preview yet, I'm hoping their hard work pays off. It sounds sad and brilliant, aching in that artistic way some truly great movies do.

And to think-how quickly we got so far in game storytelling! It's completely unique and I am glad this exists and I hope it is a success.
posted by locashGamer at 8:25 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Huh this is interesting, the lead is a video editor for the company, not a professional actress. I'm guessing the SAG-AFTRA strike might have something to do with that.
posted by juv3nal at 6:20 AM on August 10


Wow, this sounds like an amazing game. I'll have to check it out when I'm done with the game I'm playing now.

I don't have a pair of headphones yet, but I'd like to get one for this. Does anyone have a particular brand of headphones they recommend?
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on August 10


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