This is way less of an ethically focus tested mental illness empathy simulator GAME 4 CHANGE than the (offputtingly self righteous) marketing might lead you to believe. I think this is both a good and bad thing. The way Senua experiences mental illness / hallucinations is hyperstylized and painted with both ridiculous elements of gameification (FOLLOW THE PUZZLE RUNES IN UR MINDZ EYE 4 NEXT OBJECTIVE) and nu-metal woad raider mythological window dressing. It's all just a tad TOO self-seriously morose and hellish and obsessed with exaggerated primeval suffering, and this God of Trauma vibe makes Senua's experiences of mental illness like, totally unrelatable and unaligned with the primary needs and struggles of people dealing with psychosis today. These real-life concerns are usually way more mundane and demoralizing; low decibel but high impact social and material struggles concerning healthcare availability, getting hired/making rent, and functioning in a a hostile individualist world of bootstrap productivity designed for neurotypical people but empathetic to nobody! I really dont understand how, aside from "ending stigma/spreading awareness" this game offers any real calls to action for the lifting up of mentally ill people. Ninja Theory framing their games marketing so high-mindedly but not engaging with any ideas of real material advocacy is laughable, and imo people are completely justified in their disgust and divestment from the entire project based on that alone.
BUT BUT BUT
As a survival horror / walking sim tonal experiment with a unique setting and bold audiovisual design? There are some very interesting choices here. The 3d sound design and fully narrated internal greek chorus is moody, genuinely disturbing, and almost totally unique in popular gaming. The FMV/CGI composite memory sequences have a singular, scuzzy visual texture I just love. IMO Melina Juergens delivers a really absurd performance of almost universally one-note agonized wailing, but her naive (and probably badly directed) commitment to the "heightened intensity equals good acting" bit is equal parts camp and actually kind of cool and transporting if you can meet it where it's at??? The game lags and fails in many ways (redundant, tepid puzzles, kind of awful combat that truly feels there for no reason) but there are a lot of laudable aesthetic choices that give it a much more entrancing and horrific atmosphere than it would have without them. I think this is FAR less of a "mental illness empathy sim" than it is an unrelentingly bleak tone poem about celtic death mythology/ripoff chris cunningham music video using stylized trappings about mental illness to reinforce its oppressive atmosphere, without being 100% hostile and stigmatizing to people with mental health conditions in real life. Personally? I think it's okay for media to explore stylized (even grandiose, mythologized, lurid, "unhelpful") renditions of neuroatypical characters in all kinds of settings, especially when it does make an effort to not make you hate or fear schizophrenic people by its end. I DONT think its okay for work like this to advertise itself as groundbreaking or progressive, especially with so little material centering the lives of neurodivergent people out there.
That's maybe a weird line to draw, and I completely understand (but dont fully agree with) anyone feeling like it's 100% not okay to use such a sensitive topic as window dressing for your grimdark survival horror game under any circumstances. I COMPLETELY agree that the marketing of this game is maybe the most ableist and grotesque thing about it and that just calling it an exploitation horror game would be way more honest. It's like if fromsoftware came out saying that bloodborne is ACTUALLY about ENDING MENTAL ILLNESS STIGMA with FULLY RESEARCHED DEPICTIONS OF BREAKS FROM REALITY. like i dont care if you parade footage from some sensitivity focus group in your making of featurette who the fuck are you guys kidding

fyi I am not someone who deals with hallucinations or any of the symptoms Senua (and millions of irl people) experience, so I am by no means any authority on this--plz dont listen to me i have no power or sway 0:). I'm a big dumb idiot writing about a middling videogame with aesthetics i only sometimes really clicked with!
also the credits song is one of the most embarrassing and maudlin things of all time
also its SO stupid they're making a sequel to this and it totally reveals the insincerity behind all their high-minded promotion of the first game :)

Reviewed on Sep 05, 2020


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