Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a brutal, mind-bending dark fantasy tale of the warrior Senua and her harsh journey to Helheim in search of her dead lover. Senua's struggles with psychosis offers an empathetic experience of mental illness through psychological horror, serving as an example of how video games can push the medium to new heights.
Pro The infighting of voices in Senua's head is unnerving
The many voices in Senua's head, all with their own unique personalities, showcase her struggles with psychosis, with the voices either taunting Senua, picking at her weaknesses, or encouraging her to stand her ground and fight. They can also be useful in battle, with some voices warning Senua to look out behind her as a new enemy spawns and readies to attack her. Constant exposure to these voices is unsettling, because their constant back and forth with praise or insults can take a toll on you after a while. Playing with headphones on is a must in order to feel the full experience of the voices and how well they blend into the gameplay.
Pro Compelling main character
Bolstered by an award-winning performance from Melina Juergens, The story constantly pushes Senua to her limits, both through the innumerable enemies who challenge her and the voices in her head that mock her to give up her impossible journey. She is an incredibly vulnerable character who fights on with her many fears and doubts, showing a different type of protagonist in the gaming landscape.
Pro Intense boss fights
Though few in number, the boss battles in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice are a testament to how brutal the game's combat can be, with menacing boss designs and distorted arenas that inspire true fear in their intensity. These fights put Senua's skills as a warrior to the test with telegraphed moves that she must react to swiftly, along with tight windows of opportunity for her to wound the enemy. With no UI elements for health bars, neither for Senua nor the enemies she faces, these boss fights are an exercise of patience and mettle, giving an adrenaline-filled sense of satisfaction after a hard-fought victory.
Pro Powerful environments and atmosphere
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice boasts a beautiful, yet haunted atmosphere that evokes powerful feelings of awe, with towering mountains that stretch on for miles, lakes that glitter in the sunset glow and reflect the intimidating architecture of the Norse halls throughout the environment.
Pro Amazing voice acting
Melina Juergens gives a riveting performance that showcases the full range of Senua's rage, vulnerability and introspection throughout her journey. Each tremble of fear in Senua's voice and her sharp cries of pain in battle further highlight her determination to reach her goal, pressing onward in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
Con Too many puzzles
Because those with psychosis are adept at pattern recognition, Senua's strength with patterns translates into puzzles to solve throughout the linear world, but they're far too numerous and overstay their welcome quite early on. They often break the pace of exploration, with too many instances of Senua needing to loop around a small area several times in order to align shadows or illusory portals to open up the path to the next area.
Con Shallow combat
Although the enemy and boss designs are top-notch, the moment-to-moment swordplay with Senua isn't as deep as it could have been. Simple presses of light attacks and heavy attacks mixed in with blocks, strafes and rolls are most of what the combat has to offer. Occasionally an enemy will be blacked out and unable to take damage, and Senua can use her Focus ability to rectify this and continue attacking normally. On one hand, it's realistic that Senua's sword fights are to-the-point, but from a gameplay perspective, things can get dull rather quickly.