In a world where mental illness is still very much a keep-hush conversational taboo, Ninja Theory must be applauded for tackling the issue with great passion and ferocity, placing it centre-stage in what is an incredibly hands-on medium. That’s before even considering Hellblade as a game. Hellblade, as a concept, is a huge step toward pulling back the veil and shining a light on something we’re all so complacent and ignorant toward.
So, before going any further, kudos to you men and women at Ninja Theory.
Senua’s Sacrifice is, for a lot of its eight-hour run-time, an uncomfortable experience. This Pict girl’s vision quest is a sensory onslaught thickly rooted in despair and a profound longing for redemption. As she journeys to rescue the soul of her departed lover, the Hel she scours is quite clearly of her own creation, as the psychotic manifestations and visions of her past continually rear up and deny her hopes of succeeding. Hellblade’s pacing is all over the shop during the game’s first act, but it manages to really pull things together for the remainder of Senua’s odyssey.I could never begin to know whether Ninja Theory has done justice to those suffering from these horrible afflictions, but given their work with world-leaders in the field coupled with their dedication to understanding the toll psychosis takes on the mind, I have no reason to doubt them. They pay respect to the subject matter and, through some trickery, force us to relate to Senua in ways we mightn’t have otherwise. A lot has been said of Hellblade’s permadeath mechanic, where each death causes the rot to creep toward Senua’s head, the result of which would wipe your progress. I found out after my playthrough that it’s simply not true, it’s a cunning bluff on Ninja Theory’s part. But I’d be lying if I said that a slight pang of anxiety didn’t creep in as I watched the rot consume Senua, piece by piece. It made me care which, I dare say, was their aim all along.