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Discussion The Patient Gamer - Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice - BAFTA Bait

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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Developed by Ninja Theory, otherwise best known for their "Heavenly Sword" and "DmC Reboot" games, Hellblade is a third person narrative heavy brawler. The game really promotes itself on being developed with a lot of input from Doctors who study, and people who suffer from, psychosis. Psychosis is generally defined as a mental schism or break from reality, and a form of mental illness that is uniquely suited to being captured in the presentation and style of a videogame.

You play as Senua, a Pict (tribe of Celts) warrior who through a propensity toward mental illness and some seriously traumatic experiences at the hands of Norse raiding parties, descends into full blown psychosis and embarks on a sort of spirit quest to purify her mind and soul. She travels into the Norse afterlife, aided by Druth (a mentally ill outcast from her tribe) and the voices in her own head.

The game does some stuff really, really well. The production value, imagery, and art direction of the game is absolutely outstanding. The wilds, Norse structures, and supernatural elements are an absolute joy to take in. The collectible Norse myths are fantastically narrated and gripping, feeding into the game narrative and Senua's journey remarkably well. Puzzles, especially those that involve finding runes in the environment are a clever tie in to the underlying mental illness with regard to finding meaning in coincidental or happenstance in the surroundings.

The sound design is absolutely sublime, with the various voices in Senua's head not only adding flair and contributing to the narrative of the game, but also providing advice or tips on how to overcome certain obstacles. The narrative structure of the game is also excellent, slowly unfolding the mystery surrounding the crisis that set Senua on her path

The game does trip in a few big ways, however. Level design is cramped, small, and enormously linear, although some movement or "perspective" based puzzles spice it up quite a bit. The worse element by far was the combat, or more to the point the design of the combat encounters.

Combat is your standard light attack/heavy attack/melee/parry/dodge fair and mechanically is built pretty well with some VERY loose tolerances and a very slow pace. The norsemen generally move slowly, and each enemy is designed to be countered with one of the actions listed previously (Swordsmen should be parried, Mace guys should be dodged, Shieldbearers need to be melee'd, etc). Take too many hits yourself and you get knocked down, with the opportunity to mash buttons to get back up. Take a hit while knocked down and its lights out and Senua uses up a "life". Once all lives are gone, you must restart the game (The game is easy enough that I really only died twice through the whole thing). Its actually some pretty solid fundamentals.

The problems start piling on when you run into multiple enemies in a combat encounter. In their infinite wisdom, Ninja Theory did not include an ability to switch targeting (despite having a bunch of unused buttons on the controller), leaving Senua targeting whoever seems to be in her general forward direction. To change your targeting priority, you have to basically dodge around until the person you want to attack is in front of you and hope the game gets the hint. Combined with small arenas or narrow corridors where combat usually occurs, and it gets frustrating when enemies are able to get cheap hits on you because you're not targeting who you want to be or you dodge roll into a wall you couldn't see due to the limited FOV.

Ninja Theory knows how to build a satisfying combat system, so I suspect something about this design is intentional and feeds into the game's core theme of mental illness and distress, but it makes for some aggravating encounters once the enemy count starts to exceed three enemies. Its somewhat easy to excuse these encounters since combat is pretty sparse in terms of overall gametime and its generally so forgiving that you're never really feel permanently punished by the poor encounter design, but its a mark against the game none the less, especially when Ninja Theory knows how to do better.

Which sort of brings it all around: It really feels like Ninja Theory wanted to make a really pretty walking sim/puzzle game/interactive movie, and at many times it really feels like that is what you're playing until the token combat gets crowbarred in. The game is short, but thanks to a solid narrative arc and the general pace of the game, it *feels* like it took twice as long as its 7 hour play length suggests (which sounds like an underhanded compliment, but its really just a compliment).

For full price, I would feel for someone looking for hours of entertainment for the $$$, but that's the whole point of patient gaming right? For $5.00 fully patched up and ready to roll, Hellblade is an easily enjoyable game and really feels like a considerable amount of thought and consideration went into its design. The game looks great, it engages the senses and mind, high production values and an arthouse sensibility make the game seem like it would have been at home on HBO as a miniseries. I'd personally recommend if you're looking for a small bite of game, and know what you're getting into.
 

quikah

Diamond Member
Apr 7, 2003
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Headphones are a must with this game. I hope they improve the combat in the next one. They were a small team when making Hellblade, so things had to be pared down.

The rot is all in her head. There is no life limit, you can die as many times as needed.
 

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
3,361
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Headphones are a must with this game. I hope they improve the combat in the next one. They were a small team when making Hellblade, so things had to be pared down.

The rot is all in her head. There is no life limit, you can die as many times as needed.
-All Hellblade really needs in terms of combat are some roomier arenas and a change focus button (or buttons). I enjoyed the low tempo, almost puzzle like characteristic of the combat in the game.

It just fell apart became quickly overwhelmed as soon as you were fighting more than a few enemies at once (especially those speedy shaman guys, they were a true pain in the ass while also fighting the controls).
 

quikah

Diamond Member
Apr 7, 2003
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I never had much issue with multiple enemies. I just thought it was a bit too simplistic. Did you use a controller or keyboard? I played on controller, thought it worked well, never tried with keyboard.
 

[DHT]Osiris

Diamond Member
Dec 15, 2015
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I never had much issue with multiple enemies. I just thought it was a bit too simplistic. Did you use a controller or keyboard? I played on controller, thought it worked well, never tried with keyboard.
Played on kb/mouse, found it plenty fun, though a bit simple on combat with the exception of one fight that I've since forgotten. Very enjoyable though.
 

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
3,361
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I never had much issue with multiple enemies. I just thought it was a bit too simplistic. Did you use a controller or keyboard? I played on controller, thought it worked well, never tried with keyboard.
- I played with a controller.

Granted, I never had any serious issues on account of the combat being absurdly forgiving, but in the event that the combat does speed up or become less forgiving then it will have to give the player a few more tools.

I don't want to dwell on the combat too much. While I did feel it was the weakest part of the game it certainly did not hugely detract from the experience, it just didn't really enhance it in any meaningful way other than to slow down your progress and pad out the game time.
 

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