Hellblade is an Important Game
I just finished Hellblade: Senuas Sacrifice. It’s a game I’d heard a lot about, but put off playing for a while, I didn’t really believe the rave reviews. I was wrong.
Hellblade is an important game because it’s a powerful example of what a video game can be. You could pick out any single element of Hellblade and find very little to complain about, but put them togther and they support each other beautifully. The game tackles a dark and difficult subject in Psychosis - but it does it with real oomph and authenticity, and importantly it does it in a way that helps the player to garner some understanding of the condition and feel Senuas struggle (the sound design around the voices especially is just amazing).
The acting (voice and mocap) is brilliant, some of the best performances I’ve seen in a game. The mechanics support the theme extremely well, but it doesn’t ever feel like they force the issue and never pull your attention away from the game as a whole. The mechanics deal directly with the symptoms of psychosis; delusion, issues of perception; visions and patterns, and a fractured reality. Even the combat feels like a struggle, while staying tight and focused. From a design perspective I was very impressed by how much mileage they got out of the simple mechanics; they introduce 3 or 4 mechanics in the opening couple of hours. These mechanics are then slowly developed and toyed with throughout the game, in a ‘Mario school of design’ sort of fashion. They do it effectively too, keeping the gameplay fresh and interesting, and the pace at a good level throughout.
I also love that they have used a dark ages Celtic background to this story, theres the fact that its’ a really interesting era, with a clashing of cultures between the Celts and the Scandanavian mythologies. But this setting also supports the theme so extremely well - it’s a people (the Picts) and an era that are not clearly understood, where there is no clear record and we must peice together an understanding - it’s a really nice choice thematically, for a tale of mental illness. If I had to sum up Hellblade as a game I’d call it perfectly lean, yet completely engaging and very emotional. The whole experience reminded me an awful lot of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, both of these games absolutely deserve to be played by anyone who wants to see a strong vision of what games can be as an art form when they maintain a primary purpose of being great as games and not just as art projects.