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Senua's Saga: Hellblade II shows off some particularly prescriptive gameplay

Do as I say, AND as I do?..

There’s no denying that Senua’s Sacrifice: Hellblade II is without a doubt one of my most anticipated upcoming releases. I was enamored with Ninja Theory’s cerebral 2017 original and, as such, am especially excited to see what the team can do when offered a little more confidence, a higher budget, and the incredible technical power of modern-day platforms.

However, something in this footage is a little amiss…

At last night’s The Game Awards event, Ninja Theory released the first gameplay trailer for the suitably bleak-looking sequel. It looks visually masterful, with gloomy and immersive settings, fantastic character models, smooth animation, and the return of the excellent Melina Juergens as our vulnerable yet stoic hero Senua. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, from an aesthetic standpoint, looks to be everything I, (and hopefully other fans), want from the incoming sequel. I wouldn’t expect anything else from Ninja Theory’s exceptionally talented team of world creators.

But all that said, when it comes to the aforementioned gameplay, there’s something so unnervingly contrived and scripted about everything we’re seeing. Save for a few moments when the camera centers behind our protagonist, the entire staging of the sequence looks like a non-interactive cutscene, the game constantly wrestling control out of the player’s hands to show off something impressive, to highlight a setpiece, or add a sense of (admitted) realism to a character’s movement and actions. While this certainly makes for an exhilarating fantasy movie, the footage here appears to put player agency at the very bottom of the priority list, offering almost a sense of “No! you’re playing it wrong… Here… I’ll do it for you.”

I have complete faith in Ninja Theory’s ability to make an excellent and worthy sequel to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and there is certainly a lot for fans to get excited about featured in the above showcase. While people often fire the term “walking simulator” at games as a negatory statement, there is a place for titles that limit control over dramatic performance. It can be done very well, and without leaving the player feeling like a bystander.

That said, I hope the team remembers to add some Actual Interaction to our interactive experience. Hellblade is a franchise that asks you to immerse yourself within the very soul and being of its troubled hero, becoming one with young Senua and her plight. We can do this — we’ve proven as such before — but you have to allow us to approach her, at the very least.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is currently in development for Xbox Series X and PC.

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