Today marks the release of Ninja Theory's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. This is one for the single players among us; we who do not care about competitiveness in games and look only towards deep characters, an engaging narrative, and a lasting impression. Ninja Theory (known for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and 2013's Devil May Cry) defines Hellblade as an "independent AAA" game; the studio has put its resources and hopes, through a small team of around twenty people, on independently developing, publishing, and delivering an experience that defies convention on what exactly goes into the making of an AAA gaming experience, without sacrificing quality.
The game is based on Celtic and Nordic mythology, and in something that is a welcome twist in recent games' focus, it centers around the very human struggle of the titular Senua (interpreted by Melina Juergens) as she battles not the world around her, but herself. In a 6-8 hour long experience, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice explores Senua's psychosis in what seems to be the deepest video-game dive we've seen into such a psychological condition (Halo 4 also previously touched upon psychosis and its effects through the exploration of Cortana, though this Ninja Theory game was entirely designed around it). Ninja theory worked with renowned psychiatrists and psychosis specialists in order to better be able to visually and auditorily convey the tragedy and effects of such a condition on the human mind. The general consensus seems to be that the team has achieved it, and while playing the game, I did ask myself several times, "so that's how having voices in your head feel like?".
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice has some of the best facial animations and motion capture we've seen to date - Ninja Theory already won the Siggraph 2016 Award for Best Real-Time Graphics & Interactivity, where they showcased a technique they employed in the game they called "Realtime Cinematography".
To bring this world to life, Ninja Theory leveraged the power of Unreal Engine 4 in what must be one of the engine's most beautiful and most prominent showcases to date. From the art direction to the visual effects and color palette, the graphics in Hellblade do a service in elevating the game to the depth of its character. This is delivered in PC with 4K resolution and 21:9 support, but without the use of DirectX 12.