Microsoft have blown us all away with the announcement of five new studios to the fold of Microsoft Studios. The Initiative is the new studio formed in Santa Monica, California. Playground Games is the UK studio responsible for the Forza Horizon series of racers, including the new UK based Forza Horizon 4. Undead Labs are the brains behind the recent zombie survival game State Of Decay 2.
Probably the biggest coup is the purchase of Ninja Theory, who were the masterminds behind the recent Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, one of the best games of the last few years.
Completing the quintet are Compulsion Studios, who are currently working on We Happy Few.
Part action game, part walking sim and wrapped in a cinematic experience, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice looks absolutely stunning with lifelike characters, gorgeous lighting and stunning vistas. The graphics constantly impressed me as I travelled with Senua to Helheim on her quest to reclaim the lost soul of her dear beloved, Dillion, who was sacrificed by Northmen (Vikings) when they invaded Senua’s home while she was in exile.
From the get go Hellblade pulls no punches, but before you begin the game there is a warning about the content depicted in the game. This note about psychosis highlights that Ninja Theory have done their homework around the condition, consulting with both professionals and people living with the condition. To fully experience the game, Ninja Theory also recommends that you play with headphones for a ‘full 3D binaural sound’ experience. I of course was happy to oblige and if I were you, then take heed and do so too – the sound engineering is some of the finest I have ever heard in a video game.
The gameplay, while simple, owes its mechanics to the research conducted by the team, which is elegantly detailed in a featurette that is worth watching once you have finished the game. Hellblade’s many intricacies pay homage to the different symptoms of psychosis – it’s a tremendous achievement – not only does the game look at mental health and psychosis, but Ninja Theory have managed to create an enjoyable experience that is sympathetic to its source material.
Indeed it’s an enjoyable experience, but one that is fantastically uncomfortable. The many voices in Senua’s head swirl around you. They argue, they discuss, they talk over one another and they heighten the tension of the game making you squirm under their constant murmurs. Not only is the voice acting top notch, but the intensity of them will set the hairs on the back of your neck to attention.
Senua’s world is one that is made even more unsettling by the character herself. Her body language is incredible. You can feel her pain as you look on; her eyes pierce through the screen as she looks beyond her world. Often she swings wildly around, almost flailing, to piercingly look right at you. Sometimes her eyes are challenging or accusing and sometimes they are frightful. This is heightened by one of the voices calling to you directly as you look on. There is even a scratched lens effect that sits in front of Senua’s virtual world – a device that makes the game almost voyeur in nature – it’s incredibly chilling and extremely intimate.
To progress through the game, Senua must overcome many challenges, both combat and environmental. Navigational obstacles hide the path Senua must follow, highlighting the twisted nature in which she interprets her world – using ‘magic portals’ to reveal past, future and present states of the environment. Numerous puzzles are focused around runes, which require you to locate them within the landscape as objects or shadows – another symptom of psychosis – visualising patterns and images that others would simply pass by.
The combat of Hellblade is very intimate, with one-on-one fights that lock your gaze onto a single opponent and can be swapped with a flick of the RS. The move set is limited to simple button presses for attacking, blocking and parrying; there are no complex combos or unlockable moves. It keeps the game focused on the experience; fights are instead paced throughout the game so as not to make them too monotonous.
There is weight to the combat too and the choreography is wonderful. Each strike feels empowering, particularly as you take down some pretty grim looking enemies – freaky, morbid creatures that grunt and fight unrelentingly, with cow skulls and sticks for hair – they reminded me of the creature from the film, The Village or the warped nightmares of Silent Hill – but no action game would be complete with boss fights and Hellblade’s are superb, it’s a shame there weren’t more of them.
Unfortunately the camera can be a real pain in the ass during combat. Should you back up too far the environment can obscure your vision and if you have multiple enemies, some may even be behind you, then certain death almost always follows and if you die too often then you risk having your save deleted!
Yes, apparently there is perma death, which I think is more of an empty threat. Early on you discover that Senua is obsessed with ‘The darkness’, a threat that scares her, worse is that she is tainted by black rot and should it reach her head the journey is over. You are warned that the black rot travels further towards Senua’s head when she falls in battle. Even though I died numerous times, the black rot never won, whether this ‘mechanic’ is a white lie to heighten the action, I cannot confirm but it certainly worked, it made me on edge when playing and fighting.
There is also an auto difficulty that adjusts as you play. Towards the end of the game I was up against numerous enemies and thanks to the camera crashing, I was at the wrong end of a cleaver. On my next attempt there were far less enemies to fight – a clear indication of just how the setting works.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a story driven experience where combat and environmental puzzles are almost tertiary to the game. The visuals and sound pull you in, offering an experience that had me on the edge of my seat and leaving me with my mouth agasp as the end credits rolled.
Although simple, I found the combat finely balanced – it didn’t take the focus away from what the game is about. I did however feel cheated by the lack of exploration opportunities. The world is terrifically detailed, it may be morbid and intimidating but it is so invitingly stunning that I wanted to explore deeper.
Shut yourself away. Dim the lights and pop on your favourite pair of cams to truly immerse yourself in Senua’s world. If time allows, then play it through in one sitting, which takes around 6-8 hours. The ending is extremely satisfying, punching you right in the gut and staying with you to ponder for days to come. Hellblade certainly has some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced and one that is built around mental health. Bold and sympathetic, it’s a game you simply must experience.
We purchased our own copy of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice to bring you this review
DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition is the remastered edition of the 2013 DmC: Devil May Cry title originally released for Xbox 360 and other platforms. The original title, an action-adventure hack and slash video game developed by Ninja Theory and published by Capcom is the fifth instalment of the Devil May Cry series. The Definitive Edition released this month includes all DLC, new costumes and new gameplay features such as a manual targeting system.
DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition tells the story of Dante, a Nephilim (born of an angel mother and demon father), who embarks on a journey of revenge. The game is set in Limbo City, a city controlled by demons led by the King of Demons, Mundus. During an opening sequence in which we are introduced to the various control mechanics, we are also introduced to Kat, a member of ‘The Order’, a rogue vigilante organization led by the mysterious Vergil, intent on exposing the demons and releasing the world from their control. Having helped to save your life, Kat insists on you escorting her to meet Vergil who is waiting for you in The Orders Head Quarters. Having met Vergil, the extended introductory mission continues whilst we get to grips with new weapons and abilities and then learning the shocking news that Vergil is your brother. Vergil explains that Mundus killed your mother and enslaved your father and he needs your help to set things right, of course, you agree and the main body of the game begins.
It is easy to feel like DmC is way to over the top, but that’s part of its charm. Don’t forget that the majority of humans in the game don’t realise that angels and demons exists, in fact although you’ll spend the majority of your time carving demons into small bloody chunks and navigating around flame grilled hell-scapes, this takes place in Limbo, a parallel plane between the real world and the demons. This keeps the rest of the world oblivious to what is happening around them. While in this parallel plane; Limbo, Dante sees the true and terrifying nature of the world around him. Where you would normally see a soda dispenser, in limbo he sees a succubus dolling out poison to the unknowing masses. This is how Mundus keeps the humans controlled, through brainwashing via their favourite carbonated soda drinks.
The original DmC: Devil May Cry title was well received for its action sequences, so any Definitive Edition release would need to capture this. Dante uses his powers and weaponry to fight against demon enemies in all shapes and sizes, and navigate the treacherous surrounding of Limbo. Like all previous games in the series before it, Dante can perform combos by attacking with his sword, Rebellion, and shooting with his twin pistols, Ebony and Ivory. One of the nicer touches are the modifiers to Dante’s default move set, known as Angel Mode and Devil Mode. Angel mode is activated by holding down the left trigger and Devil mode the right trigger. Angel mode changes Rebellion into the Osiris, a speedy scythe type weapon, whilst Devil mode uses the slower but more powerful Arbiter. Dante is also able to dash across large gaps in Angel mode. All of these moves can be used in conjunction with each other to perform massive combos, which are ranked based on the damage we the player deal out. Like previous games, Dante can collect various types of souls which can be used to recover health, purchase items and upgrade Dante’s moveset.
If you’ve not experienced Devil May Cry before, the game can be easily summarised as a mix of hack-and-slash combat and 3D platforming combined with a game world which is grungy, gothic and very ‘metal’. Dante’s sarcastic personality and the fast paced, sometimes hardcore soundtrack, add perfectly to the universal Ninja Theory have worked hard to create.
There is a massive amount of new content in this Definitive Edition. The game contains numerous new improvements and features such as the 1080p resolution and 60 fps frame rate and rebalanced gameplay. All downloadable content available to the Xbox 360 version including The Bloody Palace and Vergil’s Downfall, a smaller main campaign featuring Vergil as the main character. A new Bloody Palace mode for Vergil as well as a Turbo Mode which gives a 20 percent boost to game speed. But that’s not all… A Hardcore mode and then a Gods Must Die difficulty level wherein enemies have Devil Trigger and deal 2.5 times the normal damage. Also there is a Must Style mode wherein enemies can only be damaged when the style rank is S and above. But that’s not including all the new costumes unavailable to the previous versions, updated achievements, and new leaderboards for hardcore mode. If you are looking for a game with replayability, then this game definitely has that.
DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition pretty much makes the transition from last-gen to current-gen unscathed. Visually it looks fantastic and the frame rate runs consistently without too many drops, or at least I didn’t notice them. The visual design is fantastic and matched the dark, gothic feel mentioned above. There are particular key moments of which one was a level in a dance club set with colours across the rainbow spectrum which seemed to burst forth from the screen. Design wise, the huge array of demons and monsters are well put together and uniquely distinct from one another so there is no getting confused as to what you are fighting.
When looking back to what made the first Devil May Cry title so enjoyable, much has been altered; the majority of it for the better. However there are a few bits that just come off worse. While the fluid and highly enjoyable combat remain intact, the restructuring of collectibles and scenarios such as the final boss tarnish the experience, you’ll see what I mean when you get there. The Turbo mode is definitely a welcome addition to the game, speeding up the action enough to make it a challenge to hardcore DmC players out there. DmC: Devil May Cry is a top-notch experience that I highly recommended for newcomers and existing fans alike. With hours of replayability, if you enjoyed any of the previous titles then be sure to pick this up.
Thanks to Xbox and Capcom for supplying TiX with a download code
Capcom have unveiled their plans for Devil May Cry’s entry onto Xbox One with a Definitive Edition of DmC and a Special Edition of Devil May Cry 4.
DmC will be released in March alongside all of its previously released DLC and run in glorious 1080p at 60fps. The Definitive Edition will also allow you to play through the “Bloody Palace” DLC as Vergil and take a crack at the game with three new modes that will surely test your mettle – Gods Must die, Must Style and Hardcore.
But wait, there’s more… new costumes inspired by the original Devil May Cry character designs are included for both Dante and Vergil. If you’ve always felt DmC’s combat was on the slow side then you’re in luck. Must go faster mode whacks the game speed up by 20% – can you hack the pace!
Devil May Cry 4 will be making its redux jump in the Summer of 2015 and at a guess it will also receive gameplay tweaks and include all of the previously released DLC.