Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 195
Posted on 23 January 18 at 02:42
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a strikingly high-fidelity game; the graphics, particularly of the main character and some of the enemies, are quite impressive. Unfortunately, the beauty is only skin deep; this game is a slow-paced slog with poor gameplay.

You play as Senua, a mentally ill young warrior woman who is travelling to Helheim – the Norse hell – to battle Hel for the soul of her dead lover. She has voices in her head, constantly talking to her – encouraging her, telling her what to do, whispering about how she is going to fail or how she should turn back, or even telling her that everything is all her fault.

This game seems to be very impressed with itself in its depiction of mental illness, and indeed, it is pretty well-executed on the whole – the whispering voices both work to reinforce the protagonist’s psychosis, as well as to help direct the player towards what they should be doing.

And the game is very graphically beautiful – there are a lot of nicely rendered enemies, and Senua herself has a very impressive character model. That being said, I feel like Senua might be entering in on the uncanny valley – she looks kind of wrong on some level, despite her highly realistic appearance, and there is just something a little bit off about her visually which is constantly unsettling.

Unfortunately, this is about where the game’s pros end.

The gameplay consists more or less of four things – walking through long corridors, solving environmental puzzles by lining up environmental features to make “runes” that unlock doors or piece together objects in the environment, walking through gates to reveal some change in the environment, and fighting a series of battles against pretty samey enemies with not-so-great controls.

The environmental puzzles are vaguely clever – walking around to line stuff up in the environment is a vaguely interesting idea that I’ve seen a few times. Unfortunately, it is only vaguely interesting, and the game has a very large number of these puzzles. Most of them are not particularly interesting, either – oftentimes, you’ll simply do a series of simple tasks, following through to the end of the path to get the assembled piece. Only on rare occasion does this require much in the way of actual problem solving, and after a while it becomes very old hat.

This is not assisted by the protagonist’s slow walking speed – the character, even when running, simply does not move very fast, and this is constantly wearing, as navigating the environment is something of a bore and it only further stretches out the already slow-paced game.

The combat is quite bad as well. The protagonist and their enemies move pretty slowly on the whole, with only a few moving at any real speed – while Senua herself is pretty slow. She has a weak slash, a powerful slash, a kick that can stun enemies (useful against the enemy with a shield), and has a “slow down time” ability that also serves to make some enemies tangible and thus possible to attack.

Unfortunately, the combat is very, very bland. Most of the combat time is spent fighting pretty samey enemies – there’s only five types of base enemy, and you end up fighting them quite a bit. Unfortunately, there’s not much to mix things up there – two of them are pretty similar to each other, and none of them are particularly interesting to fight, as most of them are just defeated either by dodging an attack then counterattacking, or simply kicking them to stun them and then attacking. Due to the general clunkiness of the system, the various fights against the normal enemies feel extremely similar to each other. The slogginess of the combat is particularly evident towards the end, as there are two long combat sequences towards the end of the game which involve killing large numbers of these enemies back-to-back, and it is quite dull.

The combat simultaneously also feels difficult and easy. Difficult because the enemies will often attack you at the same time, and the rather clunky controls makes it hard to position yourself in the way that you’d really want. But it also was easy, both because of the power of the slow time ability and simply because it seems extremely difficult to actually die. In theory, a few hits will kill Senua, but in practice, I could always stand back up after getting knocked down – in fact, I only died once in combat outside of the two battles in which you *must* die in order to progress, and I’m not really sure why I even died there.

There are three real boss fights in the game, but of them, one felt rather similar on the whole to fights against the normal enemies, leaving only two which were really distinct in any meaningful fashion. They were okay, but neither felt great, and the general slow movement of Senua made them feel kind of slow and tedious.

As for the story itself – it was okay, but nothing spectacular. Going to the underworld to save the soul of your lover is a very old story idea indeed, and while the main character having voices in their head and having been messed up as a result of parental abuse from their father was okay, it honestly didn’t ever engage me as a piece. Senua is just not someone I really could bring myself to empathize with as a person – she’s very violent and shouty, and while she was obviously troubled, it was hard to really care about her struggle, as she didn’t really give me a strong reason to empathize with her.

Clocking in at about seven and a half hours, the only reason I completed this game was because I thought I was halfway done when I was, in fact, probably less than a third of the way through the game. I didn’t feel like the time I spent on this was well-spent, and nothing about it felt especially memorable save for the idea of using voices in a character’s head as a means of helping to direct the player.

In short, this was a neat idea whose execution bored me. Good aesthetics, but poor gameplay and a not-so-memorable story left me feeling empty at the end, and like I should have done something else with my time.
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