Hellblade Features

Death is a given, and that's doubly true for video games. And when death comes, it tends to come in force. Who among us can claim we haven't, at some point in our gaming career, meandered through plains sprinkled with corpses, or waded through rivers of blood past bobbing human remains? If video games are to be believed, corpses are more gregarious than the living. They flock to gruesome sites of executions, torture and massacres, hang themselves from nooses, impale, flay, contort or dismember themselves into bloody bouquets for us to gawk and shudder at in passing.

Games are, generally, not very good at depicting mental illness. Games are atrocious at tackling a lot of topics, to be fair, but this one is surprisingly prevalent: sanity meters, psycho villains, dozens of games set in insane asylums. This is probably why so many people leapt at the chance to praise Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice for its considered portrayal of a tricky subject.

FeatureThe road to video game hell

Sightseeing in the abyss.

If the games we play are anything to go by, the depths of hell are one of humankind's favourite destinations when it comes to travels of the mind. Few fantasy RPGs or horror games could be considered complete without at least a quick excursion into the domain of demons and sinners. And what better place to conclude your game than hell itself? What better villains to fight than the citizens of Pandemonium? Hell has found a steady home in many kinds of games, and its popularity shows no sign of abating.

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.

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.