A one-way ticket to Helheim.
“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.
You will know what it’s like to be in this person’s head.