Think about Digital Distribution for Video Games what you whant, the fact that it is much cheaper for smaller Studios to self-publish their games and therefor cut off the big Publishers is amazing. Hellblade: Senua´s Sacrifice is the perfect example for this. Because developer Ninja Theory self published this game they where able to really make the exact game tghey wanted to make without any compromises to any publisher what so ever. And Hellblade truly is a game that could only be realised without someone telling the devs what they could and couldn´t do with their game because it deals with a very sensitive topic. Senua, the main character, suffers from a mental illness known as Psycosis. This is a condition that can take various forms, in Senua for example see´s and hear´s things that aren´t there, and you as the player has to deal with that too. Almost all the time you hear various voices around you, some talking you down for you stupid your actions are, some encouraging you, some giving you hints and helping you in combat. To really surround you by these voices Ninja Theory decided to use a Binaural Audio System instead of traditinal 5.1 Sound. Binaural Audio is a System Audio Recording system that allows to position and hear audio from all directions using only Stereo Headphones, and it is really incredible to hear. If you never experienced Binaural Audio yourself search Google for the "Virtual Barbershop", put your Stereo Headphones on and be amazed. Now Imagine hearing various Voices thoughout a videogame. And the more the game progresses the more you begin to wonder if the things that happen to Senua on the screen are really happening to her or not.
Gameplaywise you are solving puzzles, fight against enemies and try to stay sane yourself. The Puzzles are usualy a matter of finding rune shapes in the environment, however this can sometimes be a tricky task because you have to get to the right spot to be able to do this and simetimes it isn´t very clear where or what makes the shape. In general these puzzles are fairly good though since most of them require you to change the landscape around you a bit by finding gates or using masks. The other major gameplay element is the combat system. While it is not very deep it still manages to feel overwhelming at times, especially during Boss fights. Enemies are always stronger than yourself and more often than not outnumber you. Senua has to evade their attacks or block them before she can land some hits on her foes. You can take a look at the controls in the menu, everything else you have to figure out yourself. There is no Tutorial, no on-screen help, no HUD, only the voices in your head give you a hint from time to time. Voice acting is top notch, but that´s to be expected considering the topic Hellblade deals with, the Soundtrack takes a backseat for the most part, but that´s actually a good thing here. Not because it is bad, but because it really shouldn´t be the focus of the sound since music could easily distract and get in the way of the voices. Unreal Engine 4 is really showing what it can do here, Hellblade looks like a big budget game from a big studio, if not better.
I love Hellblade for everything that it isn´t and doesn´t have. It is not a Dark Souls clone, it has no Skill Trees and no unlockable super weapons, it isn´t a Action RPG and isn´t a large, epic journey like Enslaved was. But I love it at least as much for everything that it is. It is a unique Story set within the very interesting northern mythology, it is an insane trip into the mind of young woman suffering from Psycosis that just whant´s to save her love. It is dark, brutal and unlike anything else you ever played before. At this point I can´t even tell you if the Permadeath feature is real or not. I can just tell you that I dies multiple times during my first playthrough and I didn´t fall victim to a Permadeath, however I don´t know if it really is there or not. It might as well just be something Ninja Theory uses to to play with the mind of the players. Hellblade is well worth the money, it´s a roughly 8 to 10 hour long game, and considering that some games that cost you twice as much are sometimes shorter than this you can´t really complain. Just do yourself a favour and play it with headphones, even a 5.1 Speaker setup would ruin half the experience.