It’s always an incredibly pleasant experience to be surprised by an original IP. We get so used to franchises that when a new game like Journey or Nioh arrives with little fanfare and turns out to be excellent, it feels like a special treat. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one such title that is suddenly here and receiving surprisingly good critical reviews. We had a chance to play through Ninja Theory’s new title and already feel like it’s one of the most significant games we’ve played this year or perhaps in the last couple of years. Here are three reasons you really should check this game out.
3. So many impressive sequences
When trying to describe this game to a friend recently I was stunned how basic this entire experience was. I felt like I had significantly undersold the whole thing as I could point to fairly basic combat, visual puzzles, and some extremely rudimentary platforming as really the core mechanics of the entire game. Stripped down from the aesthetics and story, the gameplay itself is lackluster.
But despite this Ninja Theory pulls off some remarkable sleight of hand leading to create some stunning sequences. Your encounters with the game’s bosses are uniquely memorable especially Valravn’s nonplussed chanting as he watches you navigate his forest of illusions or the nightmarish Hela the few times you do encounter your main antagonist. I completed the game thinking back at the intensity of the demon chase in the dark or the march through the river of blood with countless enemies standing in your way. I was in awe anytime the camera panned around to let me see the agony or pure fury on Senua’s face during dramatic sequences. The game may be basic to play, but its sequences throughout are striking and will leave an indelible impression on you long after you make it to the end.
2. Visually it’s unparalleled
Much of weighty narrative works in this game largely because the game is breathtakingly beautiful to play. Every region in this game is richly defined and absolutely stunning, even its incarnation of hell that sees contorted broken humans writhing in agony across the landscape and storm clouds of fire and lightning whirling over head. But it’s not just pretty backgrounds and skyboxes. The game also provides the most impressive mocap work we’ve ever seen, in any medium.
The game wisely starts in the fog as Senua rows to the shore to start her quest, which allows you to immediately see how, detailed the mocap work is here. When Senua curls her lip when she’s enraged, you can feel it. When she stares directly at the camera to answer one of the voices in her head, you feel like she’s talking to you. The game seamlessly blends rendered characters with FMV actors too in a way that we’ve never seen and completely works. But we have to applaud Ninja Theory and its lead actress Melina Juergens for providing the most lifelike game character we’ve ever seen.
1. That permadeath though
The game’s most hyped feature is the novel take on permadeath. No, it’s not as punishing as some recent “rogue-types” (man, we hate that descriptor) like Binding of Isaac or FTL. After a scripted tutorial that leads to your unwelcome death, upon returning, the game breaks the 4th wall to deliver the heavy news to you. If you die too many times, the game will delete your saves and make you restart the entire campaign.
I hate to say much more about this without ruining the game but this does add consequence to everything you do. Every fight matters. Every near fatal moment is significant and you will try hard to avoid another death that sees Senua’s corruption get closer to her head which marks the moment the game will delete your progress.
I will say this though; this is not a punitive game. It wants you to make it to the end. It’s not out to grief you like those damn mimics in Dark Souls or anything. It just wants you feel the weight of the journey the same way Senua does as she gets closer to her catharsis.
Seriously, no more spoilers, go play this game now. It’s unlike any other game you’ve seen.