Go to hell... literally
Helheim is a lot quieter than we thought it would be. No wailing. No demons jumping around with pointy sticks. Senua, the warrior who you’re accompanying through this harsh land, walks through the forest with silent footsteps. Oddly for Ninja Theory’s action-adventure game, the only noise is coming from the voices in Senua’s head as she quests to save her lover Dillion. Jostling over each other, they doubt her, they push her onwards, they laugh when she thinks she’s making progress... and every so often, they help.
Hellblade does its best to make you feel like you’re alone. All the voices in your head make it painfully obvious how little human support surrounds you, their hoarse screaming when you’re fighting being the closest the game gets to a tutorial. But... it works. Simple controls mean that although you’re limited to a basic light and heavy attack (along with a vicious kick to break your enemy’s block), you’re given the building blocks for creating some brutal combos on the fly. There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon one by chance and being treated to a raw, bone-crunching finishing move that rewards you with enough time to give them a quick stab before dodging their flailing attack. Honestly, just try to resist yelping with glee. There’s no room for error either, as on Normal difficulty it only takes three hits – four if you count the one that makes Senua a bloody splatter on the dirt – for you to start all over again.
Making the break
Hellblade isn’t harsh, though. Each enemy has a routine set of attacks and provides you with a whole second – two if you’re lucky – to exploit the break in its defences. Okay, so that doesn’t sound like a lot. Taking full advantage of these gaps in your enemy’s metaphorical armour (they’re all rippling with muscle, by the way) is the only way you’ll survive. We know this sounds ridiculous, but Senua’s defeats are as rewarding as her victories. Every strangled scream you let out when you’re hit by a chipped axe is a lesson in patience and timing, encouraging you like a stern parent – or god, if you’re getting into Hellblade’s Celtic setting – to memorise the attack patterns of each foe you’re facing. Sometimes combat can get dull as the game suffers from a relatively slim amount of enemies. You know how the game sidesteps this, possibly its only fault? It throws more enemies at you.
Because once you’ve mastered taking on one target, Hellblade decides to give you a couple more. At first it’s horrifically stressful, but gradually it becomes second nature to evade to a position where all your enemies remain in your eyeline. When it all gets a bit too much – as it inevitably will – the voices start to become your most important resource, warning you when someone’s getting too close or yelling “evade!” just at the moment a