Hellblade is a tricky bag of thoughts and impressions. In today’s environment, mental health to many is a field of landmines, having scarcely been touched in the video game industry. There have been a few landmark titles, but Hellblade really raises the bar… or should I say down since our main Celtic heroine, Senua, needs to trek the decrepit waters of the Northmen to make her perilous passage into Helheim, the Norse equivalent of the underworld.

At the beginning of the game, we take control of Senua as she drifts down what can only be described as the most intimidating river since the battle against The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3. Corpses lie on stakes, rotting bodies lay hung from above, and all the meanwhile, over half a dozen voices are telling Senua to turn back, there’s no hope. Having been a victim of abuse, isolation, and mental illness all her life, her only cling to sanity was her long deceased mother, and her true love Dillion, who was sacrificed by the Norse and whose soul rests for eternal damnation in Helheim. Having lost everything to what she describes as her darkness, she spits at her cursed nature and refuses to accept the circumstances of her life, taking sword in hand and going to the bowels of the underworld and bringing back her lost love.

Armed only with a single blade, stories from a man who managed to escape Helheim, Druth, and the multitudes of her own voices trying to both guide and hinder her, Senua enters the deathly realm of psychological horror and action-adventure where puzzles are aplenty, and battles come few. Although the majority of this game is a walking simulator, there are welcomed moments of vicious combat that involve perfect timing of dodges and parries against otherworldly and demonic creatures that serve Helya, the ruler of Helheim.

The battle system is, to an extent, very simple. Everything you learn in your first fight is essentially all you get to the very bitter end. You gain an ability to slow time against the darkness to gain a temporary edge, but the fights usually are to keep everyone in sight and parry the heck out of whoever is closest. Being from the same line of titles like Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory takes a page out of Nariko’s sword swinging and gives a melee, a light swing, and a heavy assault as your only options of battle, with a few combos strewn between them. It does feel repetitive to do the same motions over time, but they counteract it with newer enemies with different fight styles, forcing you to adapt to fresher and more demanding motions.
The puzzles, at least in the very beginning, are very slow, with the occasional burst of frantic running and solving. One moment you’re passing through a desolate looking forest, and the next you need to retrace your steps while engulfed in a blazing inferno, sprinting on instinct alone as you try to narrowly escape death. Speaking of death, they try to tease a horrifying element in the very beginning of the game; cursed with rot on her right hand, should Senua die, the rot will slowly grow up her arm, and eventually her head. Should she die too much throughout the game, the rot will permanently kill her and you will lose your save file.

Do not let this affect your decision to play; I’m spoiling you now. Spoilers ahoy!

This is a bluff.

I don’t know why they thought that this was a good idea to incorporate if they weren’t going to stick with it. Technically speaking, when you do “beat” the game, your save file is, in fact, deleted. Your story is over, is it not? It will not trigger prematurely as it would suggest, though, thanks to experts testing out the theory very extensively. I didn’t know this and all it did was make me angry for any time I died, my fault or no. If I can save you the frustration and stress of what is otherwise a great game, let me do that here for you now. Just ignore it.

Back to puzzles – It’s not like Tetris rocks on a wall or anything like that. The world serves to trick and frighten you, deter you with each step you take, but Senua must push on and see the truth. There were moments where they scared me so much that I almost quit playing entirely. I am easily frightened, but having played Dead Space, Resident Evil, Until Dawn, Alien: Isolation, Outlast; I know the feeling of fear and how to isolate myself from the object to feel in control. I could not do that here.

There was a time where I was forced to traverse in near absolute darkness and nothing to follow but a glimmer of light and Dillion’s lost voice. There were also horrific blurs of monsters who I couldn’t fight sauntering in the shadows, grinding and screeching as I tried to sneak within grasping distances of them. All I could do to keep my wits is trust that the game would not hurt me, like accepting a roller coaster would not go off its tracks, and I pushed on. Add the fact that I had headphones on (which is a necessity, not a recommendation; absolutely, POSITIVELY put headphones in for the entirety of this game), I admitted later that I nearly peed myself in pure fear and adrenaline.

It was about seven, maybe eight hours of this. For the initial price of thirty buckaroos on PSN and on Steam, I was ecstatic that something this great came at such a cheap price. I almost felt dirty for paying so little; I would have paid at least fifty for it brand new if I had known what I was in for.  The game delivers an absolutely phenomenal chapter of love, struggle, and internal conflict, and I could not recommend it more. Do not let this game pass you by while you’re waiting for the heavy hitters to show up this fall and winter.

Hellblade

30.00
Hellblade
85

Overall Score

9/10

    Pros

    • Emotionally Packed and Thrilling
    • Wonderfully Deep Story and Dialogue
    • Beautiful and Haunting Scenery
    • Best Headphones Game in Years

    Cons

    • Combat Feel Repetitive Over Time
    • Easy To Die Due to Glitches or Simple Mistakes
    • Uncalled For Permadeath Threat