Developer Ninja Theory has made a name for itself by crafting beautiful games filled to the brim with action packed gameplay. Arriving on the scene with 2007’s Heavenly Sword, the team would go on to release the post-apocalyptic retelling of ‘Journey To The West,’ Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and would join forces with Capcom to reboot its popular Devil May Cry franchise with the well reviewed DmC: Devil May Cry.
While the developer would put aside its love of sword-based action and work on Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes, Ninja Theory has revealed that they are returning to the genre that made them famous. After initially revealing their new title at Gamescom 2014, Ninja Theory has taken to the official Sony blog to show off more of that upcoming game, Hellblade. With its strong female protagonist, dark fantasy setting, and emphasis on swordplay, Hellblade will look familiar to fans of Ninja Theory’s past games.
A reveal trailer accompanied the PlayStation blog post, and it paints Hellblade as a dark, combat-oriented examination of mental illness. No, the ‘Hell’ in Hellblade does not refer to a literal Hell; instead, it refers to the protagonist’s battle with mental issues. The game follows Senua, a brave Celtic Warrior that grapples with mental issues. The game places players in Senua’s shoes, as she embarks on a highly personal journey to overcome her personal demons.
Ninja Theory’s development producer Dominic Matthews admitted in the blog post that mental illness is not a topic that is normally addressed in video games. But Hellblade seeks to show what it is like to deal with mental issues, going so far as to enlist a professor of neuroscience from the University of Cambridge to ensure that the topic is handled correctly.
As Senua faces down both enemies real and imagined, she will have to deal with the anxiety and depression she has developed from the trauma of surviving a Viking invasion. Senua is also prone to hallucinations, spotting faces in the gaps of tree branches and having to convince herself that the sight of her arm becoming brittle and rotted is not real. This is conveyed through gameplay by hallucinations manifesting as clues, which the player will have to decipher to progress.
With such a sensitive topic serving as the building block for the game, Ninja Theory has opted to develop the game independently, ensuring the vision for the game won’t be compromised by outside interference. The team developing the game is also being kept small to prevent the message of the game from becoming muddled, with only 15 members of Ninja Theory actively working on the game.
Matthews announced that Hellblade will launch for PlayStation 4 sometime next year, but Ninja Theory has yet to clarify if the game is a system exclusive or if it can be expected to release for other consoles.
Hellblade looks to be a dark, moody look at an illness that is often stigmatized, and it is made all the more impressive when the size of the team developing it is considered. The game will be shown further at E3 2015, so it stands to be seen if the initial first impression of the game will hold up to it’s appearance at the game trade show next week.
Hellblade will release for PlayStation 4 in 2016