Going into this game, I knew it was going to be something of a psychological trip. I cannot believe it is nearing four years since its release. I feel like just yesterday I was avoiding YouTube playthroughs and critiques. (Guess that goes to show how backed up my list is.)
Even though I went into this game knowing Senua was experiencing psychosis from personal loss, what I got was something way beyond my expectations. The game begins in a boat fit for one, but you quickly realize there is more than one mind aboard. The narrator is one of the many voices in Senua’s head that talks pretty much all the time during the game.
I feared that the constant talking from these voices would grow annoying rather quickly, like they were for Senua, but I came to appreciate their presence once I discovered their purpose to the player. I heavily advise playing this game with headphones so you can hear everything they say, as they can often help you. They’ll give hints to some of the puzzles you come across, and they’ll also make you feel good when you figure something out. However, there is one downside. The voices often also reflect Senua’s self-doubts and lack of confidence. Sometimes they’ll tease her and put her down, but that grows less common as you progress and gain confidence. I was deeply impressed by what this one element of ambiance gave to the overall experience.
I was also shocked (but in that good new way) by this game’s attempts to make me have a panic attack. You quickly realize the game does not give you a tutorial. You do not know the button commands until you pause to look at them in the menu. Most of the controls are obvious to experienced players, but to someone who may prefer more story-based games, I imagine they would be panicking when the first bout of combat takes place.
The game forces Senua to die once and explains how every time she dies, the rot on her arm would grow larger. It threatens that if the rot grows too much, you’ll have to start over and lose all progress. Man, did that freak me out. I think I died about a total of five times, and each time my heart stopped as I wondered if I’d have to start again. I actually didn’t learn until after beating the game (thanks internet) that the game will not punish you, no matter how many times you die. The rot slowly progresses no matter what, and the game only said that to scare you. Holy crap. Thanks.
Bringing things back to the voices, they also like to provide you with false bouts of unneeded anxiety. I recall when exploring a dark temple, the voices at one point said something like, “Oh no, she touched the walls!” which immediately made me stop and think, and freak out. What was going to happen because I touched the wall? I imagined everything from beasts racing down the halls to kill me, to the floor below me turning into quicksand and swallowing me whole. Want to know what actually happened? Nothing. This sort of doubt seed was also planted in a different area of the game where you needed a torch to keep something from chasing you in the dark. If you were holding onto the same torch for long enough, the voices would start to scare you by saying that it would go out soon. Yet again, no matter how long I waited (once I was in a safe place), the torch never went out. Oh my god, game, stop it. (But please don’t.)
The voices are connected to Senua, so it made sense some of her worries and doubts were communicated to the player through them. She could have feared for a moment that the torch would go out, so the voices repeated that to us.
You spend the game defeating demon-like enemies and bosses, each a bit more challenging than the last. The Norse theme plays heavily in their design, and you can learn more about the inspiration for the world by listening to the Norse stones that are placed throughout the game. Some tell of Norse legends, some of Senua’s past. I recommend listening to each one you find because it does nothing but add to this already fantastic atmosphere.
I did find the ending a little lackluster, but it didn’t take anything away from my overall experience. I felt happy about Senua’s story ending the way it did and wouldn’t dream of taking that from her. This sort of game is about the journey, not the end. *Hint, Hint* If you collect all of the Norse stones, you receive an extra clip right before the last battle, which is considered the ‘true’ ending.
If it wasn’t obvious, I immensely enjoyed this game. For me, it was a shining 10/10 experience, which I cannot say happens often. However, one note of disclosure is that I would not play this game if you find yourself at a low point or are easily influenced by anxiety. You should be in a good mental position if you want to play this. Also, there is one boss fight that contains a lot of strobe light effects, so I’ll slap a huge seizure warning here as well.