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Ninja Theory’s Hellblade is more thoughtful than it sounds

Hellblade themes

When you name your action game “Hellblade”, you create certain expectations. Namely, that there’s a good chance your game is going to be a bit silly, and will probably feature demons and swords. And hey, Hellblade does indeed feature those things, but it doesn’t sound silly at all. Indeed, it sounds infinitely more interesting than the name suggests. 

Hellblade is an exploration of psychosis and trauma. 

It’s still a third-person action game, featuring a Celtic warrior, Senua, who has been left traumatised by a Viking invasion and must travel through a hell that’s a manifestation of mental illness.

The DmC and Enslaved developer has been working with Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist and Professor of Health and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, in an effort to handle the subject matter with sensitivity and accuracy.

“True understanding of mental health is not simply about books, lectures or verbal descriptions but from deeper engagement on all levels,” said Fletcher. “Working with Ninja Theory has shown me the potential that gaming has for sharing in a character’s experiences and engendering empathy in ways that go well beyond those offered by simple academic descriptions. Maybe this approach will contribute powerful new ways of challenging stigma.”

Hellblade is going to be self-published, and Ninja Theory describes the team as AAA indie, with the production values of the former and creative freedom of the latter.

“In Hellblade we are pursuing creative independence in order to explore a compelling subject matter and gaming experience that would not be possible under the current retail model,” Tameem Antoniades, Chief Creative Director said. “In movie terms, this would be a quality independent film, not a Hollywood blockbuster. Digital self-publishing means that we can offer a smaller, but high quality game at around half the price of retail games.”

Hellblade is due out in 2016.