One’s psyche can be one of the scariest places we venture, not just during month of Halloween, but in our lives everyday. While I am no professional on the human psyche, I wanted to bring you my personal impression and experience of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
To me, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is not just a game, it is a personal experience. Every player will react to this game very differently on an emotional and psychological level.
I picked up this game as a recommendation. I enjoyed Ninja Theory’s previous female-centric title Heavenly Sword, so I knew I was guaranteed an dynamic visual novel with introspective characters. I did not, however, realize just how introspective this game would be. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is about the title character’s personal journey into hell as she tries to reach her lover – his death she blames on herself. The game incorporates various aspect of Celtic and Norse history and mythology.
The game mechanics are pretty easy, but the camera is incredibly annoying. I’m the gamer that flips the x-axis, but this game does not even give you the choice. Additionally, the camera is stuck at a fixed point right behind and above Senua’s right shoulder. At first I thought, “This is dumb, lemme move the friggin’ camera!” But then it occurred to me that perhaps, this fixed, slow, unforgiving camera is apart of the storytelling.
The game starts with a small exposition or rather, a warning.
Psychosis is the early onset of schizophrenia. It includes a range of cognitive issues including hallucinations of images and voices, delusions, disorganized speech and physical actions. This mental disorder, like all, are very different and particular to each individual.
Whether you have experienced this ailment or not, this game will give you a taste. Hellblade is best played with headphones as stated in the warning, and I agree. Without them you do not get to full engage in Senua’s psyche or your own. There are voices. So many voices talking about your decisions, berating you, encouraging you, giving tips, trying to mislead you. You. Not just Senua, but you. Constantly I found myself asking, “Is this the right way? One voice told me ‘yes,’ but another said ‘no.'” When you are stressed and trying to escape hellfire, all you can hear are the voices in your/Senua’s head and Senua’s deep, panicked breathing.
Now, let’s add the effect of the stiff camera positions. In the heat of the moment a voice says there is something behind you. If you trust the voice (because you should right? maybe…), you must turn yourself/Senua at this slow, lifelike rotation. You cannot move like a video game and switch axises. You have become another voice in Senua’s head. You have become Senua.
Truthfully, I could play this game in 30 minute increments ONLY.
I found it was extremely stressful. I was tense and distrustful and hyper alert. If you know anything about me, I am really bad with these types of stress and pressures. (Don’t get me started on how my body REFUSES to play horror games.) But this wasn’t just playing a thriller or horror game and feeling scared. This was playing with my cognitive process of playing games. It’s not all bad. On the contrary, this was a very moving game. Hellblade treated mental illness with sensitivity and seriousness. It used the game as a platform to address the seriousness of mental illness, and give us a glimpse into a person’s world. It taught the player to confront the darkness in our thoughts no matter how difficult it may be, or how much people refuse to understand. This was truly a personal experience.
Your experience will be vastly different from mine, and that’s not something every video game can guarantee let alone attempt. To give a deeply personal experience unique to each player all based on the same storyline in one of the most innovative stories told in gaming this year. I highly recommend you play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.