All Things Zombie

What’s Gus Playing? Episode 13

The bantam-weight banterer of badassery battles in a bygone Britain ~

Lloyd Sabin, 8 January 2018

I obviously try to keep this column as light as possible, but some games are just heavy. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one such heavy game.

Just be warned – I would not recommend playing for extended periods of time. Hellblade seriously changed my mood, and quickly.

Giving the player the opportunity to play as Senua, a female Celt, in Dark Age Britain, Hellblade is much more than a game of exploration or first person combat. These aspects are there, but Hellblade, first and foremost, is about fear…fear generated through mental illness.

Ninja Theory, the producers of Hellblade, consulted mental illness experts to create the game and state they wanted to make as accurate a portrayal of mental illness as possible, so that those lucky enough to live without it could have some idea of what it’s like. They did a fine job, because Hellblade is terrifying, confusing and infuriating, by design.

I found myself panicking, getting angry and frustrated, and finally having to step away from the game for a breather…about an hour of Hellblade is all I can really do before it becomes too much.

This is not a knock at the game itself – it’s awesome, well-produced, beautiful to look at and takes its content very seriously. Just be prepared to be affected. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. Hopefully you will be able to see some of what I saw in the screen shots below. I also have to mention the audio design. The sound, maybe even more than the visuals, are the real terror drivers here. Play Hellblade for just an hour and you will see what I mean.

If you are interested in British, Celtic, Viking, or Druidic history, or enjoyed movies like The Wicker Man (with Edward Woodward) or even the Blair Witch Project, you will definitely find value in Hellblade. If you have a friend or family member who is mentally ill, you will appreciate what the producers are trying to do here.

Just be warned – I would not recommend playing for extended periods of time. Hellblade seriously changed my mood, and quickly. It’s an amazing, serious experience – one in which you really feel empathy for the main character – but in larger doses I do not think it good for anyone’s mental well being.

Play it, understand where it is coming from, and compartmentalize it…use it for deeper understanding of people who need help.

 

This is Senua. You will come to know her very well.

 

This is a scene from the very early minutes of the game. It starts out dark and just gets bleaker.

 

These runestones give background to different areas of the game and help guide you. They are voices of reason in an otherwise chaotic environment.

 

Hanging, impalement, burning…Hellblade is very violent and not shy about it. But who perpetrated these crimes? “Northmen”, as the game calls them? Angry gods? Or is it all in Senua’s head?

 

Some scenes are outright terrifying while others are unsettling and disturbing.

 

There is exploration, of both the outside environment and Senua’s internal struggle.

 

 

Puzzles play a huge part of Hellblade, most of which involve finding the correct placement of runes. While these are not particularly difficult, the exact timing and positioning can be a little more frustrating.

 

 

After not too long, this man appears. He seems to be there to help Senua but it’s difficult to know for sure.

 

 

Elaborate gateways require more rune problem solving to get through as Senua advances.

 

 

This rot mechanic adds to the urgency and tension in the game.

 

 

Here’s an example of the types of runes that need to be found and the visual cues Senua uses to find them. Are they real?

 

 

Despite being quite scary, Hellblade can also be beautiful.

A quick write up like this can’t really do such a game justice – players will have to experience it for themselves. Be forewarned, Hellblade is not for everyone. It can be very disturbing and even panic-inducing. If you are very interested and know you can take it, dive in.

Just know what awaits you.


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