Historically, there has been a stigma associated with budget game releases. If there wasn’t enough confidence to charge full price, there was a good chance the game was a real stinker. Thankfully, that paradigm has changed completely, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an excellent example of what can be achieved in a half-price game with a smaller scope.
Set in medieval Europe, Hellblade tackles some heavy topics. Abuse, mental illness, death, and spirituality are all on the table here, as the main character ventures forth into an unknown land in hopes of saving the soul of her dead lover. As one would hope, the game treats these sensitive topics with the care they deserve, and the story being told is legitimately gripping from head to tail.
Critically, the game has performed well. Our sister site IGN gave Hellblade a score of 9/10 – heaping praise on the concept, mechanics, and atmosphere. Review aggregation site Metacritic has Hellblade sitting at 83/100 based on 43 reviews with a surprising number of perfect and near-perfect scores.
Reactions vary quite drastically, and it’s worth noting that the environmental puzzles and the combat are off-putting to some. Previous Ninja Theory titles like DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West focused more on combat, so the relatively limited toolset on offer here might be slightly disappointing to anyone looking for a full-fledged character action game.
From a visual perspective, Hellblade is no slouch. With performance capture on par with the likes of Naughty Dog, the characters convey emotion effectively. The gritty film-grain effect and the hallucinatory effects with light are used well to convey a spooky and disconcerting tone without being heavy-handed.
And we’d be remiss if the sound design didn’t get some love here as well. Senua, the game’s protagonist, lives with some form of psychosis, and various voices surround her throughout the game. When played with headphones or a good speaker setup, the distinctly positioned voices add a lot to the experience of embodying Senua.
On the performance front, though, there’s some room for improvement. On the base PS4, the frame rate floats between 30fps and 40fps while outputting a fairly standard 1080p image. If Ninja Theory simply capped the frame rate to a consistent 30fps, there would be little to complain about here. But as it stands, it’s a bit uneven in its presentation.
On the PS4 Pro side, we have the ability to toggle on and off a 60Hz mode. The folks at Digital Foundry found that the default mode uses a dynamic resolution up to 1440p, but suffers from the similar un-capped frame rate issue we saw on the vanilla PS4.
When the 60Hz switch is thrown, the resolution drops down to around 1080p, but the frame rate is boosted to between 50fps and 60fps. As resolution and frame rate are the only variables here (no additional effects in the mix), it’s worth the drop in resolution for the additional fluidity. Still, a 30fps cap option would be much appreciated.
Hellblade is also playable on the PC, but it’s apparently quite demanding. Don’t expect to hit 60fps with UHD resolutions unless your rig is the absolute top of the line. Stick to 1080p or 1440p, and you’ll probably be fine on a decent gaming PC.