High-per­for­mance play­time

A one-way ticket to Hel­heim.

APC Australia - - Contents -

“Ex­pect the voices to mock you about how you don’t know where you’re go­ing — an in­ge­nious way to sub­tly put you back on the right path with­out hold­ing your hand.”

Opt­ing to go the in­die route for its lat­est re­lease, Bri­tish devel­oper Ninja The­ory has ap­plied the same triple-A pro­duc­tion val­ues that brought it great ac­claim in ti­tles like Heav­enly Sword and DmC to a more in­ti­mate, yet no less am­bi­tious af­fair.

A psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror game at its core, Hell­blade fol­lows a Pict named Senua as she takes an un­nerv­ing jour­ney into a Celtic and Norse mythol­ogy-in­spired un­der­world where she must bat­tle psy­chotic man­i­fes­ta­tions caused by her se­vere men­tal ill­ness. Need­less to say, this is far from light en­ter­tain­ment. With only the abu­sive voices in her head to keep her com­pany, Senua sets off on a lonely quest to bring her de­ceased lover back to life. The game rec­om­mends you play with head­phones — a ter­rific sug­ges­tion that greatly im­proves the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. Those voices in Senua’s head? Now they’re the voices in your head, con­stantly insulting and laugh­ing at you, telling you how worth­less you are and doubt­ing you at ev­ery turn.

At first, th­ese taunts are dis­heart­en­ing, but then, some­thing clicks and it be­comes ap­par­ent that th­ese jibes can be used to your ad­van­tage. Walk­ing off in the wrong di­rec­tion? Ex­pect the voices to mock you about how you don’t know where you’re go­ing — an in­ge­nious way to sub­tly put you back on the right path with­out hold­ing your hand. You may get some help from time to time, but don’t let that fool you — this is a re­lent­lessly grim game with the lurk­ing threat of per­madeath con­stantly loom­ing over you if you fail too many times.

In terms of game­play, Hell­blade con­sists mostly of puz­zle-solv­ing and melee com­bat with some light ex­plo­ration. A lot of the time, you’ll be try­ing to solve per­spec­tive puz­zles or find­ing hid­den glyphs in the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment in or­der to un­lock closed-off bar­ri­ers. You do this by us­ing your fo­cus abil­ity, which al­lows you to look closely at sym­bols, ac­ti­vate totems and even slow down the ac­tion dur­ing com­bat sce­nar­ios. Com­bat isn’t par­tic­u­larly deep, but it still man­ages to be quite sat­is­fy­ing in its sim­plic­ity.

How­ever, the qual­ity of Ninja The­ory’s sto­ry­telling has never been bet­ter. Hell­blade aims to show you what it’s like to suf­fer from men­tal ill­ness, and does a bet­ter job than any other game in re­cent mem­ory.

Stephen Lam­brechts

You will know what it’s like to be in this per­son’s head.

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