Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has been a long time coming, and all things considered, an ambitious project that would see developers Ninja Theory self-publish the title, giving them complete control with no publisher dictating development and pushing for deadlines. But given the pedigree of the developers after giving us such titles as Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the controversial DmC reboot, which by the way, despite not liking Dante’s new look, I thought was fantastic, Hellblade is met with some high expectations. So should it really be in any doubt given Ninja Theory’s credentials? In terms of sales, only time will tell, but from a creative prospect, I’ll say outright from the get-go that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will go down as one of my favourite games of 2017. And given the great titles, we’ve seen released already this year, that’s no easy task.

Almost as soon as the game begins, it’s clear that this will be a tormenting game in terms of our lead protagonist’s mental state. Leading up to release, Ninja Theory has been working closely with Cambridge University and those that live with Psychosis to ensure that Senua’s tale is not only told with as much authenticity as possible but also to ensure that her story is handled with the utmost respect. And I can’t speak for everyone of course, but Senua’s tale is not only intriguing but also daunting as the voices in her head fill her with self-doubt and torment as she looks to reclaim her lost soul, scratching and clawing her way through this hellacious world.

Not only must all the voice-cast that contributed towards this title be commended, as more than one voice narrates Senua’s tale, but in recent memory, Hellblade features some of the most inspired sound design that I’ve experienced. Upon starting the game, it’s recommended that you play the title with a headset, and I certainly echo that sentiment. Of course, the game still sounds superb without a headset, but with it, it’s nothing short of spectacular as the thunder crashes so loudly and clearly, that for that split second you’re tricked into thinking it’s coming from outside your own home. And as the voices taunt you, there was more than one occasion in which I had to resist the strong urge not to tell them to “fuck off!” (Apologies for the language, but I couldn’t find a better way to express my experience). However at times, if you listen carefully, those voices will lend you a helping hand when Senua is faced with the most grave of dangers.

Gameplay-wise, Hellblade starts off a little slowly as you’re eased into Senua’s world, which given the extent of her story, it’s perhaps the best method of approach, rather than throwing you straight into combat and puzzle-solving. But when that combat does come into play, you’ll find that despite not being as deep as the DmC reboot, it still remains very refined and requires a degree of strategy depending on the foe at hand. Senua can hack and slash, dodge and kick and, if you time your block just right, you can unleash a devastating counter that will temporarily stun your opponent. Also, when it comes to puzzle-solving, Senua will rely a lot on her focus if she is to pass through her gates of hell, but her focus can also be used as a deadly ability to slay the demons that attempt to stand in the way of her quest.

It’s often a clear sign that a developer has done its job so well, that while talking about how well the game plays and sounds first and foremost, it’s almost easy to forget just how visually stunning Hellblade is. Powered by the Unreal Engine 4, it looks like Ninja Theory has squeezed every bit of graphical juice possible and then some. The facial animation on Senua is among the best you’ll see, with her world looking beautiful and vibrant one minute, and chilling the next. To show how much confidence the developers had in how good this game looked, Hellblade also includes its very own Photo mode, with some features and filters that I’ve not seen in other console games. For those that own a PS4 Pro, you’ll also be pleased to know that Hellblade fully supports the system, giving players the choice of a higher resolution or a framerate at 60fps. PC players will also get true 4K and 21:9 Ultra Widescreen support.

In conclusion, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one of my standout games of this year. Its tale is both haunting and beautifully told. You’ll be rooting for Senua as soon as you feel her torment. You’ll feel a part of her story like you’re the one that’s going to ensure you’ll see her through until the end. I’ve already played some fantastic games this year, but none as much as Hellblade has made me feel so invested in its story. Knowing how Ninja Theory operate, this will likely be the last game of this kind from the studio, yet once again they’ve reminded me just how much of a talented team that they are. If you own a PS4 or capable PC, please go out and download Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from your systems dedicated digital outlet, because this is a game that’s more than deserving of your attention and is an experience that will stay with you for quite some time.