Hellblade

Ninja Theory crafts a highly competent action game and a nuanced, powerful exploration of mental health.

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VideoVideo: Hellblade has noble ambitions but it also has us worried

UPDATE: Ninja Theory tweets that it has "started Hellblade production afresh".

VideoVideo: Games that do mental health right

Hellblade isn't the first to tackle this complex topic.

Key events

FeatureThe allure of medieval weaponry

The sword cuts many ways.

Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweihänder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.

Does Hellblade on Xbox One X deliver the definitive console experience?

Built on a relatively low budget compared to the triple-A heavyweights, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice still impresses as one of the generation's most striking games. Miraculously, a core team of 14 people at Ninja Theory created something greater than the sum of its parts - marrying beautiful art direction with Unreal Engine 4's cutting-edge feature-set. It certainly impressed on PS4 and PC when it debuted in late 2017, and with the recently released Xbox One X version, we have the best console version of the game bar none.

It's also a highly accomplished tech showcase across all platforms. With titles likes Heavenly Sword and Enslaved on the studio's CV, it's no surprise that motion capture plays a big part in Hellblade's storytelling. It quite literally screams at you from the start, though adds a crucial element of humanity to the script. Each grimace and cry of the lead actress is keyed in - synchronised with her body movements - using a camera as a reference point. It's one half of the process to bringing Senua to life, the other being the high level of detail applied to her character model.

Indeed Senua's design is clearly a labour of love for the studio. Physics-based elements dangle from her body rig - from the accessories to a mass of dreadlocked hair - all reacting to the original motion capture or player input. Meanwhile a process of photogrammetry is used to map every wrinkle, pore and streak of cracked paint across her skin. Even clothing is based on real-life materials for fur and leather. It's scanned in to make realistic, physically-based lighting possible within the engine, interplaying with the light shafts and bonfires across the world. The combined result is eerily realistic - even if Senua's eyes do veer towards the uncanny valley in some close-ups, this approach still feels authentic enough to tell the grounded story Ninja Theory is gunning for.

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Hellblade leads BAFTA game nominations with nine nods

Horizon and Edith Finch not far behind.

Ninja Theory's self-published gamble, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, leads the nominations for the BAFTA video game awards 2018, with nine nods including Best Game. It's been a tremendous success for the British studio, with Hellblade winning both critical acclaim and bringing in more than half-a-million sales.

500,000 sales in 3 months: the risk Ninja Theory took with Hellblade paid off

500,000 sales in 3 months: the risk Ninja Theory took with Hellblade paid off

"We're now ready to face the next set of challenges."

The creative and commercial risk British studio Ninja Theory took by making and self-publishing Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, an action game with a deeply researched focus on mental illness, has paid off.

In three months the game has sold more than half-a-million copies and broken even and moved into profit, far quicker than Ninja Theory had originally hoped (the prediction was six months).

In that time, this £25 downloadable PC and PS4 game - which our Hellblade review deemed Essential by the way - raked in more than $13m. Not bad for a game which took 20 people three years to make - and that's precisely the point.

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All proceeds from Hellblade's sales tomorrow will go to UK mental health charity Rethink

Ninja Theory will donate all proceeds it receives from sales of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice tomorrow, October 10th, to UK mental health charity Rethink.

The donation is being made to coincide with World Mental Health Day, which this year is focussed on raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace. To accompany its announcement, Ninja Theory has released a new Hellblade trailer, which includes messages from fans detailing their own mental health experiences.

Mental health is a key theme in Hellblade's narrative, with its traditional odyssey tale shown from the perspective of Senua, a traumatised Celtic warrior struggling with psychosis.

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FeatureIn praise of bad game design

Taking the rough with the smooth.

There is a certain language we too often use around video games, a particular body of criteria and expectations. You could call it the cult of smoothness. This is, I'll admit, more of a characterisation born of years spent trawling forums than it is some kind of scientific appraisal, but glance over the average review comments thread and you might know what I mean. It's the idea that an excellent game is, fundamentally, a game that knows how to get out of your way. This is the language of “polish” and “seamless” integration, of beautifully chiming ludic and narrative components, of vast realms in which you are never truly lost, and campaigns that "peak" and "trough" considerately, setting up a tempo of crises and revelations without ever seriously jolting you.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice review

Doubt and uncertainty are, I think, very difficult things to accurately portray in video games. We're used to the idea that an encounter, a mission or a shot may not go our way but, in a medium that by design requires us to succeed, the idea that we may not be capable - that we may be innately destined for failure - is a difficult thing to convey. With Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, developer Ninja Theory has managed it beautifully.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Developer: Ninja Theory

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Watch 10 minutes of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice gameplay

DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West developer Ninja Theory has revealed 10 minutes of gameplay from its upcoming viking action epic Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.

Hellblade follows the exploits of its titular heroine as she copes with her psychosis following a brutal battle. It seems that the war may be over, but the one in her head is just beginning.

As seen in this IGN video, Senua gets into bloody scrapes with mental manifestations of the warriors she encountered in previous traumatic experiences. Some ethereal voiceovers provide commentary on what's happening, suggesting that either Senua is physically resting up in a hospital somewhere or maybe these are her own inner monologues. Based on this out of context clip, it seems intentionally ambiguous.

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DmC: Devil May Cry developer Ninja Theory made waves last year when it showed off its incredible motion-capture tech, developed in Unreal Engine 4, that portrayed the titular heroine of its upcoming viking epic, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, rendered in real-time. We could see Senua rendered in-game while her actress, Melina Jeurgens, acted out the very same scene in a funny mo-cap suit beside the screen. Now, Ninja Theory is using this tech for the world's first real-time video Q&A with an animated video game character.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice sets release date and price

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice sets release date and price

It's "half the size of a AAA game, but sold at half the price."

DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved developer Ninja Theory's upcoming psychological horror viking epic Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is coming to PS4 and PC on 8th August.

Already available for pre-order on PSN, Steam and GOG, Hellblade will launch at the unique price point of £24.99 / €29.99 / $29.99.

If the price seems steep for a self-published independent game or worryingly inexpensive for a AAA blockbuster, there's a reason for that: Ninja Theory considers Hellblade is be an experimental affair with a smaller scope than most retail games but with the sort of high end production values and polish that rival anything on the market. Indeed Hellblade's motion-capture tech is top of the line.

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In the year since I played it, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice appears significantly improved. A steady stream of developer diary videos, the most recent published yesterday, show a game looking much more the blockbuster production British developer Ninja Theory is known for - no small feat for the studio's first self-published, smaller-team game.

DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved developer Ninja Theory has a tendency to shoot for the moon with its narratively ambitious roster of action games, and early impressions on its upcoming psychological viking adventure Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice have left our Bertie Purchese a bit skeptical of the studio's capacity to delve into the issue of mental illness in a sophisticated way. But holy cow do they know how to animate!

Ninja Theory announces new name for Hellblade

Ninja Theory announces new name for Hellblade

UPDATE: Watch lead actress motion-capturing Senua in real-time.

UPDATE 16/03/2016 6.35pm: Ninja Theory has revealed a stunning new video of Hellblade's lead actress motion-capturing heroine Senua in real-time.

That's right, when the actress contorts her face and body the character does like-wise on the spot. Earlier today at Epic's Unreal Engine GDC keynote we saw this being presented live (skip to the 42-minute mark for more).

"As far as we know, no one has done this with a character of such fidelity before," said Ninja Theory's product development ninja Dominic Matthews on the PlayStation Blog.

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Ninja Theory revisits Hellblade heroine Senua's face

Expressions and complexity "an order of magnitude higher" than anything studio has done before.

I had concerns about Hellblade after playing it at Gamescom. As an action game it was well short of what Ninja Theory did with DMC Devil May Cry or Enslaved or Heavenly Sword, and its portrayal of severe mental health issues was basic, however sincere - and applaudable - its intentions.

VideoVideo: Hellblade has noble ambitions but it also has us worried

UPDATE: Ninja Theory tweets that it has "started Hellblade production afresh".

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.

The Eurogamer Gamescom day two podcast extravaganza

What the blue blazes did Chris, Ian and Bertie see now?

Well, well, well, a second podcast, what on earth is going on. I tell you what's going on: Gamescom! Day two is over, Bertie, Chris and Ian are knackered, and Martin's gone home. However, we're not too tired to have good chit-chat about what we saw today (Thursday 6th) and we saw quite a lot: the brilliant Oculus Touch, the brilliant XCOM 2 and the brilliant but maybe a little simple Star Wars: Battlefront spaceship fights. We also saw Ninja Theory's curious new game Hellblade, which Bertie was a bit underwhelmed by. And how about that man who sent his game in a briefcase to Gabe Newell? Join us as we debrief - hope you enjoy it.

VideoVideo: Games that do mental health right

Hellblade isn't the first to tackle this complex topic.

Hellblade, Ninja Theory's next game, focuses heavily on the mental health of main character Senua. It's an interesting premise and one I hope is executed successfully. In making this design choice, Ninja Theory has placed itself among a number of other developers who have attempted, in a variety of ways, to portray mental health issues in a constructive manner.

Ninja Theory's Hellblade also confirmed for PC

Ninja Theory's Hellblade also confirmed for PC

4K support and modding mooted.

Ninja Theory's upcoming third-person hack-and-slash game Hellblade will also launch for PC, the developer has confirmed.

Details of the PC version, as revealed by PC Gamer, include the possibility of support for PC mods and 4K resolution.

"I think PC offers us a level of freedom that we haven't had before," Ninja Theory's Tameem Antoniades explained.

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Ninja Theory unveils Hellblade

Ninja Theory unveils Hellblade

First to console on PS4. Rekindles memories of Heavenly Sword.

Ninja Theory has unveiled Hellblade, first to console on PlayStation 4.

The Cambridge studio behind Enslaved and Devil May Cry DmC announced the project with a trailer, below, that rekindles memories of Nariko, star of its PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavenly Sword.

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