Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice - Mandible Review

Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is a game that released a couple of weeks ago. I recently finished it and I wanted to share with everyone what I thought of the whole experience. The atmosphere, the story, the gameplay, I will touch up on everything that I can. So let’s get into this.

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This game was crafted beautifully with purpose inside of every bit of detail. I love it. The sounds, the graphics, the gameplay, all of it works together, so it’s hard to talk about everything separately, But I will do my best to go through the typical categories: Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, Story, and the everything together -

Graphics

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Up first is the graphics and presentation. I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of the game. Before going in I saw 1 trailer, and I thought that the game looked awesome, but trailers don’t really show how a game will really look in the end (at least most of the time). I have to say that it is immaculate. The developers put a lot of effort into Senua’s character, making sure that every wrinkle, blemish on the face is shown in crystal clear detail, which is necessary for the storytelling to work in this title – I will get into that later. I did not play the game on the playstation 4, I am on PC with a GTX 1070 playing at 1440p max settings, and so I can’t really speak for consoles, but from some of the videos that I have seen it seems that it still has a good amount of detail in them. The fabric on her clothing is excellently done, and the lighting effects are absolutely top notch. There is a real atmosphere that works perfectly and I think that it sets a great tone for every part of the game. There are real dynamic moments of intense darkness with only slivers of light that break through, and there are a few very bright and colorful moments that are on the warm side of saturation but fits the mood of the scene perfectly. This is really one of the prettiest game I have ever played. That being said I do have one complaint. There are times when they take fuzzy images of real live people and have them on the screen alongside Senua. For some this will be fine, but sometimes it was sort of putting Senua in a strange uncanny valley. It becomes very evident during this scene that Senua is still a 3-d Model character when standing right next to these filmed characters. The enemy designs are good, but they lack some diversity. That may be a point of the story, but I would have liked to see more variations than the big bulky men with animal masks coming at me. They are highly detailed, don’t get me wrong, just kind of same-y by the end of the game. The effects are great, sparks flying when metal clashes with metal, the way the focus lights up on her belt, and other outside battle effects in cutscenes, like the way the skull in on her belt pulses when it breathes. Excellent presentation overall.

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Sound

The sound design exceeds anything that I have experienced in a video game so far. As you travel through Senua’s story voices will fill her, and through her, your brain. The game starts off by telling you to get some headphones to experience this game. GET HEADPHONES. Find your favorite pair, I don’t care what they are. I have these Open Back SHP9500 headphones, and they were perfect for this experience. The game uses binaural mics to give you a real simulation of listening through someone else’s ears. It uses this to have the voices go all around your skull, left, right, front, back, sort of middle left behind, Far away 36.7 degrees to your right. It’s precise and full, and will drive you insane in the best way possible. It will make you feel for the main character. The ambient sounds are well done as well, mimicking the different spaces well, and the game has a very wide dynamic range. You will need to turn your sound UP, because there is a lot that is happening that is very quiet. But that forces the loud moments to be very loud, and very impactful. The sound alone in some places were so shilling that I would actually have goosebumps. Now I will be the first to admit that the voices in her head can be overbearing to the point where it backfires. I understand in a story sense that they are supposed to be overwhelming, and distracting. However, when I want to listen to a totem – this little optional relics you can listen to to learn more about the lore – I don’t want to just stand there and wait while they bicker about nothing. I personally that it was unnecessary and the overwhelming nature of them would be just fine if there wasn’t any overlap. The music is seldom, but well done. It makes you sad, or gets you hyped to beat the living hell out of the enemies surrounding you, though I did have a couple of times where the battle music ended mid battle, and there was an awkward pause before it would kick in again. A little distracting, but not a big deal. Overall Superb experience for my ears.

Gameplay

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The gameplay may be the weakest point of the game, but that does not mean it is bad by any means. It is smooth, and accurate. The controls are well laid out, at least on a controller (I really only use keyboard and mouse for shooter games) But it is slow-paced. It works well for this title though, and there is so much going on within the audio and the story for those long walks between battles that nothing feels too empty. So the game starts off with a long opening where Senua glides into this mysterious island alone. There are corpses on spikes, and the voices telling you that it’s a trap, there is no escape, but she has to go anyway. So you go on, and unlike most games, there are no tutorials. You find your first totem immediately and figure out which trigger to press to zoom in to listen to it. Which leads back into the level design and presentation. The way the totem lit up I just knew there was something I could do with it, and the game let me figure out how rather than tell me. I like that better than a forced tutorial. So you venture forward, and you may immediately think you are going kind of slow, until you realize that everything around you is beautiful and worth looking at. It wasn’t until the sound and shadows frightened me that I even tried to sprint. I tried everything, and eventually found out that the left bumper was the button I was looking for. But even when I knew how to sprint, I didn’t usually use it. The sights are so well done, and the voices keep things from being boring so I was never in a rush. And this is where it gets really hard to remove the other parts from gameplay. It all adds together. It may sound boring to walk through trees, but in this setting and sound design it really isn’t. That is much of the first part of the game. Just walking. It isn’t until half an hour in that the gameplay is actually presented. Ever seen For Honor? It reminds me a lot of that.

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The close over the shoulder view, with an emphasis on timing and dodging. The Field of view can be killer for some, but this is where the audio cues come in. The voices say look out, behind you, and you dodge and the camera shifts to reveal this epic maneuver you just pulled to escape danger. And it is awesome. The enemies generally have very easy to read attacks, so it isn’t Dark Souls levels of hard, but then again I only played on the regular set difficulty. But I think I only died from battle 3 or 4 times in the whole game. For some it may be too easy. I realized way later in the game that you can block, almost indefinitely. I never used it, so I had a lot of fun challenging myself to dodge. The battles are immersive, and tense. The FOV ties with the story, making you feel small, not a super human, and at risk in your blind spots. And there are actual combos to play with, mixing in left bumper will cause you to lunge attack, there are light attacks, heavy attacks that can be put together in different combinations, and kicking. Surprisingly enough I was still finding new combos well into the game, which is really nice to see. The only thing is that I think the enemies were a little boring at times. Their same-y designs caused them to have similar battle styles; really slow and predictable attacks. My favorite boss was Valrov, who is pretty early in the game. He required learning the most move sets, and mastering the most timing.

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Outside of battle though there are puzzles outside of battle to play with. There are searchable symbols that unlock doors that at first are really hard to find, until you get used to the game, and start to realize where you can start looking to find the symbols. They are general very intelligently laid out. But every now and then I did get legitimately lost, and slowed the pacing down even more than it already is. But the other puzzles that are served by the story are so much better, having to figure out where to walk, and why, and where you should listen, and what you need to do to find the light… I am getting rambly because the story is where this game shines.

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Story and Conclusion

Make a sandwich of all of the ingredients thus far- The graphics, sound, gameplay – and wrap it in the story, the most precisely engineered piece of self-loathing bread ever and you get Hellblade: Senua’s sacrifice. The dark tones, the subtle lighting, the close-suffocating feeling of the battles, and the sounds that make you question everything that you are doing comes from the main character Senua. She suffers from something called Mental Psychosis. The games developers hired specialists to explain and guide the experience so that it portrayed the mental illness accurately. And that love and dedication can be felt through everything. She is riding a boat into the depths of Hel, to fight with the God that holds her loved one, Dillion’s soul so that she can revive him and be back with her. Through this linier experience you learn how he died, and some more about her village and close family members. She is black-labeled because she carries darkness inside of her. This game makes you feel everything. And makes you care. And lets you discover senua as she is discovering herself. And that is good storytelling in games. There is a dynamic in videogames lately, where people will hate games that have little gameplay and super crazy cutscenes, I will probably do a video on that later, but Hellblade is a game that I think everyone should experience. It is story-driven, but the story is told so damn well, and it is told as much through the player’s hands, and their ears, and their eyes, as much as it is in just cutscenes. It is most certainly worth the 30 dollars, even if it is a shorter title. There is so much passion for the lore, the character, and the player that the developers put in the game. So go and watch my playthrough, go experience this game. Enjoy the somber sandwich that it is and let it melt you.

 

Let me know what you think of this review in the comments below! I will also be doing a video version of this review soon! If you interested in watching my let's play of this game, come and watch here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eZDHc9RD10&list=PL9QjAVw_5zHUYG9n-5tFtW9w2DXae98U0

Thank you for reading and have a great day!