Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is due for release in August 2017. The impressive narrative-driven adventure through the eyes of a Nordic woman with mental illness has been revered for its dynamic development process with the potential for industry-changing repercussions. Let’s dig in to everything you will need to know about this somewhat experimental title from Ninja Theory.
Ninja Theory have allowed the general public an unprecedented access to the development of their latest title, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice over the last few years. Through regular dev diaries detailing the entire process and expanding the journey from concept to creation for all us players, we’ve been granted a
completely mostly transparent insight.
For obvious reasons, the storyline is still firmly under wraps, but much of Ninja Theory’s discussion surrounding the game’s protagonist is perhaps more enticing anyway.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice brings players into the world of mental illness. Developed in partnership with the Wellcome Trust as well as psychiatrist and patient consultation, Ninja Theory have set an admirable goal to present a world informed by the subjective state of mind of a protagonist experiencing psychosis. It has been officially stated that, in terms of modern diagnoses, protagonist Senua might well be considered Schizophrenic with her symptoms of depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and delusions manipulating gameplay.
And they really do manipulate gameplay. The entire world around you is constructed through Senua’s mental state. Using 3D spatial sound, visual effects, and even puzzle gameplay, the game environment has been developed as a dynamic character itself. From its trailers and developer discussions, Hellblade looks like an incredibly experiential game. From its uniquely dark art style to its intense soundscape, you can tell Senua’s journey will be keeping your own mind scrabbling in the dark even after the console powers down.
What really excites me about this approach to gameplay experience is just that. It is a gameplay experience, built around the premise of experience itself. The developers themselves have commented on how ‘experience’ is using what we already know to shape and govern what we see and structure the world around us. Well, for one of the first times in video game development, we are being given an experience that won’t apply to the majority of gamers. We are being given an opportunity to view a world through an unknown experience, from a manner of thinking that colours the world in a completely different way.
Our prior expectations are used to define what we pay attention to in the world around us, so completely dissolving those prior expectations that come along with experience will allow us to focus on different things within the game environment, and truly view the world through Senua’s eyes.
And this approach has already been highlighted in a number of gameplay videos through a very small, but hopefully very subtly utilised mechanic.
While you are exploring the (not quite open) world of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice you may think to yourself: ‘huh… from this angle those trees kind of look like a face’. The game then injects meaning into this world cue – Senua picks up on these images throughout the world and imbues them with significance. Whether or not the ‘reality’ of the gameworld supports this significance is unknown, and possibly even irrelevant. What matters is you can use these ‘coincedental’ images to solve puzzles and unlock extra story content. Differing experiential attitudes are being incorporated into the very structure of the gameplay itself which, at once provides an understanding of the terror of mental illness to an individual who may not have experienced it before but also celebrates the diversity of the human mind in its application of individual approaches to the world around us.
Aside from this central gameplay structure, Hellblade also incorporates 1 on 1 combat systems that provide a rich array of combos to unleash. The combat system has improved dramatically since it was initially displayed in 2015. We have much more fluid actions as well as the knowledge that players will have access to all of Senua’s fighting moves at the start of the game, it’s just a question of tinkering combos and manouvres to tailor your own playstyle to her abilities.
Enemies themselves are undead Viking types, y’know the ones. Despite their broad swords and intimidating displays, they may not come off as terrifying as we’re supposed to believe in initial footage, but that’s something we might have wait and experience for ourselves. That being said, the locked in combat isn’t central to gameplay. Instead, Ninja Theory have devoted themselves to the storyline that provides the beating pulse beneath the surface structures of this intriguing mid-size title.
Just what that storyline is, however, will have to wait until August 8th. If Hellblade is a success, we may just see an industry surge in popularity of the mid-size game once more.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available for pre-order now for PS4 and PC.