Additional Warning: There will be considerable less sass in this review than usual for reasons to be made apparent soon.
This game is really heavy, though, and I had a few moments when I was left in a puddle of tears. The added threat of actual, real permadeath made the moments in game so much more tense and terrifying. And can I just gush about the combat for a moment? It felt real, it looked amazing, and it was honestly one of my favourite things about this game. It was just so good!
Senua, from a physical perspective looks good. Really good. The designers took great care to include aspects of actual descriptions of the Celts of Northern Britain (and Celts in general, there is a scene near a tree that got me super excited because they had actual round houses in the picture). It's not just the woad war paint, but the hair (described as being "matted with lye"). I loved how Senua looked.
I also loved that she looked the part of a swordswoman.
Also, I would add, given the subject matter, it would be really stupidly jarring if they did make Senua all about player titillation.
Senua is also the only character in the game that is fully realised. Other characters come through, her druid father, her beloved, and the madman she met in the woods, but these are seen in wavering, flickering remembrances throughout the game. This is Senua's story through and through.
So, instead let's talk about how awesome the monster design is.
They gave me nightmares.
So... uh... good job, Ninja Theory. I think.
As to the character of Senua herself, I have fallen in love with her as a character. She suffers from severe mental illness. She hears voices, has another personality that pops up all scary every so often, sees things... And man, did they ever do a great job of portraying this.
I do not suffer from psychosis. I don't hear voices, have other personalities that pop up (to the best of my knowledge), or have visual hallucinations. But I do have depression, and it skews everything. Everything. People having a conversation that laugh when you pass by? Well, they're laughing at you. They think so little of you, they're laughing in your face.
It's not true. But depression will convince you it is. I cannot count the number of times I have cried because people having their own conversations laughed just as I walked past, and depression convinced me that they were laughing at me, because I'm awful/ugly/fat/insert favourite trigger here.
So Senua immediately became incredibly relatable, even though I don't have the same mental illness she does. I have my own darkness chasing me.
What made me love Senua most, however, was how determined she was. How brave. How strong. In the face of the terrors thrown at her as part of this game, she presses on, through trials that would have shattered me long ago. There are few things I admire as much as courage, and Senua has it in spades.
I love her.
So... uh... good job, Ninja Theory. I think.
The story is, on the surface, about Senua taking on a vision quest to save the soul of her beloved from Helheim after her village was attacked by Vikings and he was sacrificed to their gods. But that's not what the story is really about. That's what Senua is doing, but that's not the story is about.
The story is about Senua coming to terms with the horrors thrust upon her by others, namely her father, because of her mental illness, coming to terms with the loss of her beloved, the one ray of light in her dark world, and the rejection of the narrative of her as monster, accepting herself as she is, and facing the world again, whole and sure.
At the end of the game, Senua releases the seat of her beloved's soul (his head), stands and invites you to go with them. Them. Plural. Her, and all the voices in her head. They are part of her. She is a them. And that is alright. She knows now that she is not the monster her father claimed her to be. And they have other stories to tell.
That was such a powerful message that I started sobbing. I tried to keep it quiet because I was live, but I was in a state, let me tell you.
Terrifying, stressful, awful and, ultimately beautiful, this is a story so very worth the telling. I loved it so much.
Okay, the combat was incredible. I honestly feel like if I had a chance to practice, I would be a fucking pro at the combat. It was so good, and intuitive. It played so smoothly. Honestly, if I could get a game with just facing monsters with this combat system, I would play for hours. I really, really, really loved the combat.
This game was a really fantastic mix of puzzles, combat and flat-out terror. Those of you who know, know that I adore puzzles. Myst is one of my favourite game series, and I really want a VR version for my console, because that would be dooooooope. Anyway, the puzzle elements were fantastic. They were enough of a puzzle to make me occasionally frustrated, particularly when I struck upon the solution, which, in hindsight, was so damned obvious.
The horror elements were absolutely terrifying, made even more so by the threat of permadeath hovering over every single interaction. The fear was absolutely real. The number of times my heart rate peaked was insane. They managed to create moments of extreme tension, and bounced moods between depressing, to horrifying, to suspenseful to straight up terror, to, finally, beautiful and affirming.
It was expertly done.
As much as I hated spending my time afraid while gaming, I loved the game play in this.
The story was amazing, and beautiful, and touching. The world was thoroughly researched and beautifully portrayed. The game play was fun - particularly the combat. This game was so, so good.
I'm still a little sensitive from the first play through, though, because I would peg its replayability as extremely low. I have one more trophy left to collect, so I will probably replay it. In a couple of years. Maybe.
Fantastic job, Ninja Theory. You really did deserve those five BAFTA's.