I’d be happy to call it a high ability action game as Hellblade, then, is a great looking game with excellent audio design, glossy combat and some engaging puzzles and, were its positive attributes to stop there. However, It’s the game’s nuanced portrayal of psychosis, that makes it something truly special.
One of the continuous fights against self-doubt is what’s Senua’s story about — against enemies both untouchable and unbearable, and against harmful attitudes toward the cognitively ill. Although it also finds room for comfort, it’s a story that touches on loss and how difficult it can be to persevere. For those suffering from mental disorders, Hellblade shows how relationships can provide solace and comfort, but also shows that a relationship can be a double-edged sword; tinged with an awareness of how different she feels from other people, this is Senua’s reflections on love. She can’t help but notice the contrast to her own mental state while basking in the love of a man whose outlook is so overwhelmingly positive. By being loved she feels relief, but roughly a sense of guilt – she doesn’t deserve this man is what she clearly feels, and she fears what pain will be done to him by her ‘darkness’, as she calls it.
More significantly, without making any grand pronouncements about the nature of mental health, Hellblade gives a sensitive depiction of psychosis. Senua’s psychosis makes her struggle greater and it shows simply and clearly; that she is fighting with mental illness and the result of others not being aware of mental health for years. She is a profoundly human heroine, though Senua’s journey is a quest of a stygian fraction. Through the out-and-out strength of will, not by any innate otherworldly powers or gifts, Senua survives by surviving. She’s the Dragonborn not.
Hellblade is an amazing game. Hellblade is a superb exploration of mental illness told with poise and poignancy despite some dissatisfaction in carrying out and some design choice that are likely to drive some players off.