Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC
Editor's Note: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is now available in the Xbox One family of systems with additional support for Xbox One X. We've updated our review to reflect this and we have taken a look at the improvements One X.
Hellblade: The Sacrifice of Senua is not the greatest game of the Ninja Theory, but it could be the best. For years, the studio has been dedicated to ambitious film action titles, with artists like Andy Serkis, Alex Garland and Nitin Sawhney to create games that looked and felt like works of art. More focused and concise, Hellblade works on a smaller and more intimate scale, and combines excellent images, audio and games into a powerful and consistent experience. Hellblade is damn close to being perfect.
It is both a myth – a Nordic turn meets the Celt in the hero's tale – and a psychological study, following the search for a young warrior, Senua, to enter hell and recover his soul of a loved one. To say that Senua has his demons is to say it gently. She listens to voices, has visions and suffers from psychotic crises; all handled with sensitivity and intelligence by Ninja Theory with the advice of Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, Paul Fletcher, and the Wellcome Trust.
Related: The Last of Us Part 2
The game does not shy away from Senua disease, instead of putting it at the center of the whole experience. While you play, you will hear the voices of Senua, constantly commenting, warning, panicking, advising. Perspective, distortion, intensified senses, fear and ways of seeing things are an integral part of what you should do. And while the search for Senua is, on one level, a physical journey through trials, dangers, fearsome enemies and terrifying ideals, it is also on another level an inner journey. Only by struggling with his demons and trusting in himself and others, Senua can hope to survive.
In terms of visual and audio design, it's an incredible effort. There is something of The Revenant in the style of Hellblade, the camera disturbs Senua from a close third person perspective, the sounds that are listening, the game changing with a Focus button to give us the world from something closer to the point of view direct from Senua. It makes the experience incredibly visceral and almost unbearable at times.
And the mythical world of Senua is one of the strongest we have seen in this generation, forging unforgettable landscapes from a cocktail of Nordic legends, dark fantasies and bodily horror, with landscapes that can change instantaneously from gloomy and hazy to a bright sun. In 1080p on PS4 it's amazing, while on PS4 Pro on a 4K checkerboard with HDR it's almost amazing. And all that audiovisual art is anchored by a series of strong performances, most mixing voices with video very treated, but with the nuanced performance of Melina Juergen as Senua in the nucleus.
Now that the game is available on Xbox One, Ninja Theory has provided improvements for Xbox One X in the form of three different graphics configurations. Enriched images, high frame rate and high resolution are available for selection. Unlike games like God of War or Shadow of War, there is no pause after switching between different settings; You can jump directly from the pause menu to the game. When resuming the game, the alteration takes one or two seconds to activate, making the adjustment to the visual changes a little more subtle than it is in the two games mentioned above, and, sometimes, it is much more noticeable. 19659010] The game will literally remove the foliage from a scene and regenerate it according to your preferences. If it favors the enriched images, the vegetation will be denser, while changing to the other configurations will look somewhat exuberant. When looking at the rock formations, get away from the high resolution and a noticeable haze will crawl over them. Of course, the jump from 30 fps in high resolution or enriched visual effects is the most immediately noticeable.
Each offers something unique (unless you do not have a 4K TV, in which case the high resolution is null and void), and Hellblade's ability to switch between the three is really a case of choosing your preference in any point of the game.
Related: Best PC Games
The concern from the beginning is that the artistic achievements of the game do not always match the game. It is impressive to see, powerful to listen to and it affects strangely, but not as attractive as it should be to play. At first you have combat against one, two or three spooky warriors masked with animal skulls, using a fairly simple system of blocking, dodging and counter, plus some pretty basic riddles that involve trying to find the forms of runes within the environment of Senua , usually to open a door. I was worried that Hellblade could be a walking simulator with weak riddles and sudden explosions of ultraviolence.
Give it time, however, and Hellblade will make you work harder. Senua's attempts to locate a trickster god bring ingenious riddles of perspective and hidden routes. A series of tests see him stripped of light and vision, or navigates paths and walkways between the light and dark versions of the world. There are sections that play with their fears, sections that mix with your point of view and sections that will test your speed and nerves. More than once the audio is put in the foreground as a way to test more than just your reflections. What's more, each element seems to be more than a great idea or a game mechanic, but a way to discover who Senua is and why he suffers.
The combat, too, continues to improve. While the lack of tutorials and screen warnings is, in many ways, a good thing, it took me years to realize how to chain blocks, attacks and evasive maneuvers in combos, how to detect and counteract assaults from outside your point of view, and how to use Senua's approach skills in battle. Once I did, things were put in place and I began to enjoy the fierce flow of battle.
Related: E3 2018
As with everything in Hellblade, it can be so tense that it can be quite stressful, but it never goes too far and becomes frustrating. New types of enemies, all intelligently identifiable, begin to roll with new weapons and attack patterns. You go from fighting with one or two guys at the same time to fight against different groups in different configurations and you have to work on your positioning, time and crowd control. Basically, you need Senua to become the warrior-ruffian that you know can only be to survive, although she never stops looking like a very human and vulnerable figure, even when she cuts and eliminates nightmares.
Interestingly, the game points from the beginning in a situation by transformation, but this was not activated during my initial game. In any case, this fear made the action even more exciting, although I'm not sure I was too happy if I had had a game on the screen for six or seven hours.
Let's end with a warning. As with any game where the story and character are so important, the experiences will be different. You may not connect with Senua and its history, and you may not find the game as absorbing and powerful as I did. For me, however, there is something about Hellblade's commitment to his character and a vision that sets him apart. Haunted, rich, strange and beautiful, is an action game different from everything you've played before.
Related: Call of Duty Black Ops 4
Hellblade triumphs equally as an action game, mythical search and the study of psychological character, which brings together some surprising images, great performances and an ingenious design . It is of short duration, but it has a perfect rhythm with a mixture of action and riddles that grows in richness and complexity as the game progresses. While some might prefer the Enslaved or DMC reboot, I would call it Ninja Theory's best work so far.