UPDATE: Not long after this article went live, the official Ninja Theory Twitter account posted the following message: "A vertical slice is a testbed of ideas, not part of the final game. It has been retired and we have started #Hellblade production afresh". Rather confusingly, this was followed less than an hour later by another tweet which read: "Retiring a vertical slice and moving on into full production is good news. It is not starting again, it is moving forward as expected". We'll update this story as and when Ninja Theory clarifies what it means.
UPDATE 2: "We are not starting the game development again," Ninja Theory has explained. "Production is a phase of dev that we are just moving into. Now we build the game". We'll have to wait and see whether any of the concepts from the "testbed of ideas" that was shown off at Gamescom survive into the finished game.
ORIGINAL STORY: On paper Hellblade sounds great: a cinematic, story-led action game by Ninja Theory, tackling the thorny issue of mental health disorders. Ninja Theory has great experience in the genre, having produced games like DmC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved and Heavenly Sword, and the mental health topic attracted the help and funding of the Wellcome Trust - meaning access to expert consultation and advice from people suffering disorders themselves. Whatever Hellblade has to say about mental health should at least be authentic and respectful.
Now, Hellblade is an independently financed and published production by Ninja Theory and therefore doesn't have the budget of previous games, nor the entire studio working on it. It has a team of 15. And it's not due out until 2016 on PC and PS4 (all questions about an Xbox One version are deflected for now). Nevertheless the idea is to create something comparable to previous Ninja Theory games, a game baring the cinematic hallmarks of the studio; something high-end, but something short.
With all that in mind I sat down to play the first demo of Hellblade at Gamescom. And I was disappointed. It was neither fun nor illuminating. In the video I explain to Chris Bratt why.