The game re-Design of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Staff Writer By: Sergio Rosa (nemirc)
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (Hellblade, for short) is a very interesting game.
Not because it has an original mechanic, but rather because it makes a very interesting design, thanks to the combination of gameplay and story.
As a really brief introduction, I'll just say in Hellblade you play as Senua, a warrior on a quest... to do something... The developers pitched it as a game that explores psychosis, a very odd choice of words for a game about a female Nordic warrior, with the title of "hell BLADE." However, at you play the game you see what they meant by that.
However, at you play the game you see what they meant by that.
First, you realize Hellblade has a narrator.
That by itself is not something out of the ordinary since many stories begin with a narration (although it's more common in movies than in games).
The interesting part comes when you listen to what the narrator says, and that can make you wonder who the narrator is. Is she the same protagonist? Is it someone else? After all, you are constantly hearing voices in her head, so herself acting as her own narrator is not a really unlikely scenario.
And now, about those voices... Senua constantly hears voices in her head. Sometimes those voices will say a very similar message, but sometimes they will tell you contradicting things. Some of them invite you to push forward, while the others tell you to go back (spoiler alert, you can't really go back...), and, during combat situations, they will provide you "tips" to combat the enemies, and sometimes they repeatedly tell you that you will fail.
The part I find most interesting about the game is the combat, and not because "combat is so good, and addictive, and what have you." Combat is not very prevalent in the game, which is somewhat funny for a game called "hell BLADE" (as I said before). Combat is heavy and exhausting, and since the game has no health bars, you never know how close the enemy is to death (the same applies to you, BTW). On top of that, the camera and navigation are designed in such a way that makes combat even more difficult. Many times you're more concerned with surviving and yelling "why won't you just die!" than anything else.
Enemies appear out of thin air, so that raises the question of whether or not they are real. They seem real enough to kill you, but what if everything is just happening in Senua's head? You still die, but as Morpheus says, "a body cannot live without the mind." The fact that the environment changes to become more menacing in some scenarios, and that you see things that are obviously not real, adds to the idea of enemies not being real.
Theme, psychosis and all aside, I think what's interesting about Hellblade is how the entire game is designed to reinforce an idea. In games, usually, gameplay comes first and then developers invent a story or a context that helps move gameplay forward.
When you play as a soldier, warrior, or anything, the entire plot and game design revolves around the combat mechanic (be it a first-person shooter, third-person shooter, a weapon-wielding warrior, or anything similar).
For example, the plot of the last two Tomb Raider games revolves around Lara facing a large group (be it a cult or an organization) so you have enough enemies to kill. However, developers of Hellblade were brave enough to consider all aspects of their game and design them in a way they would all work, even if that means Senua only engages in combat maybe 10 times, instead of "ten hundred."
And finally, the plot of Hellblade only seems to reinforce everything else.
In the beginning, I didn't say much about it, but now I can tell you that Senua is traveling to this place because she says she needs to perform a sacrifice, and whether or not the sacrifice is a real thing, the premise makes me wonder if the sacrifice is really useful, or if she just thinks it's useful, given her state of mind.
Hellblade is a very interesting game, and something completely different to what you usually expect, and you should take a look.
Relevant links: hellblade.com
Sergio Aris ROSA, Sr. Staff Writer