Today Ninja Theory released a gameplay trailer that may suggest that Hellblade isn’t a classical trek into hell like depicted in Dante’s Inferno or a typical wander amongst the Norse-influenced landscape like in Viking: Battle For Asgard or Lords Of The Fallen. Rather, we may also be getting an exploration of mental illness in the setting as the Celtic warrior Senua must tackle ???psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, as well as suffering from anxiety and depression???. The hell in the name may not just be a Norse/Celtic equivalent of the Christian Hell but also a metaphor for the battles with the main character’s own mind.
Those confused at my interchanging usage of the phrase ???Celtic??? (to describe tribes in Ireland, Wales and northern England) and ???Norse??? (to describe the Scandinavian people prior to the Christianisation of the region) will be displeased to know that’s not a fault with me. Describing Senua as a ???Celtic warrior??? can be attributed to the Playstation blog the trailer was found on and my mentions of Norse are from the development team in a prior trailer about environment design (shown below). It is possible there is a historical basis for using Norse mythology with a Celtic warrior, but it appears to me as a potential misstep.
Judging by the trailer, it looks to be a cinematic linear game where reality and mental illness meld together to the point where they become indistinct from each other. If I could conjure up a good comparison, I would suggest Spec Ops: The Line except without the deconstruction aspect of it.
Although if the footage is any indication, those looking for a gameplay-focused experience may be disappointed as it appears not the goal of the game. Which personally is fine, as I am interested about the story it will tell.
I am cautiously curious about the depiction of mental illness, as it is an area often depicted with stereotypes, crudeness and over-simplification. While this is usually fine in games like Darkest Dungeon, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and Max Payne, it is a shame there are barely any games that try to fully explore as much as possible the experience of having mental health problems.
However, this seems to be a game where they are trying to do research to depict Senua’s mental struggle with both accuracy and sensitivity. Ninja Theory are not only working with Professor Paul Fletcher of Health Neuroscience of the University Of Cambridge, as well as those who have experience of mental health problems, but are also being supported by the Wellcome Trust which seeks to create a better understanding of science and, in particular, health.
So I hope with the resources they seem to be drawing upon they can weave a tale that will make for an interesting examination of mental health, possibly even making it centre-stage so they can explore the subtleties of the subject. Although that could just be my own personal interest in the subject of mental health talking.
Hellblade is currently being developed by 15 people at Ninja Theory, a developer known for DMC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved: Journey To The West and Heavenly Sword. The game will be looking to be released in 2016 on the Playstation 4 only.