If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a copy of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, tomorrow you may have one of the best you could ask for. Tomorrow, October 10th, Hellblade Developer Ninja Theory will be donating ALL proceeds made to the UK mental health group Rethink.
In the game (which i have not player, for the sake of disclosure) the protagonist Senua suffers from psychosis. This has draw both praise and criticism to the game for it’s depiction of mental illness, but overall there seems to be a consensus that Ninja Theory handled the topic with the respect it deserves.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has an 80 or higher on both Metacritic and OpenCritic, and is widely considered to be one of the best games this year (which is saying a lot. 2017 has been a good year for games).
Obtained By: Review Copy Provided By Exordium Games
Bear With Me is adorable. Every facet of the game radiates a sickening level of cuteness that could infect even the edgiest of misanthropic goth kids. But as many a film noir femme fatale has proven, being pretty doesn’t make something good. So is the game worth bearing with? Lets find out.
You play as a young girl named Amber Ashworth who is awoken in the middle of the night by one of her stuffed animals, an elderly giraffe named Millie, who has some important news. Millie informs you that Paper City has been put on lock down after a string of fires, and that the mysterious Red Man believed to be behind them has been asking around about Miss Amber. After hearing this Amber teams up with her old partner, the retired private investigator Ted E. Bear, to solve the mystery of why the Red Man is looking for her and why he’s starting these fires.
The one thing Bear With Me does perfectly is sell you on the idea that this is a film noir as understood by a 10 year old girl. Character all speak like there are doing an Chinatown reenactment, but one put on by a fourth grade drama club. A couple of gangsters smuggle carrots instead of drugs and the hard drinking PI drowns his sorrows in carrot juice (I think the development team was made up of Bugs Bunny incarnations). This all leads to a feeling that Amber is a child raised on classic Noir films by cinephile parents, but one without the world experiences to quite catch the nuances.
While I did enjoy my time with Episode One, it does suffer from its stand alone nature. Where the best of episodic games manage to make each chapter feel fulfilling on its own while still contributing to the overarching story, Bear With Me Episode One feels incomplete. It ended at the perfect place and did it’s job setting the season up, but when looking back it’s easy to see that there really isn’t a lot here story wise. Once I’m able to look at the game as a whole I very much doubt this will be an issue, but as for now I can’t help but wish there was more here.
What probably will be an issue once the game is done are the out of place fourth wall breaks and odd tonal shifts. The two fourth wall breaks are the worst offenders here as they don’t add much and only served to take me out of the experience. One of them can be justified as it being a part of Amber using her imagination, but I didn’t care for it. The other one was…way to dark. Spoiler Warning I guess (this doesn’t impact the story in anyway): when interacting with a specific you listen to one of the developers (and yes, they do state they are a developer working on the game) being gruesomely murdered. The game does have dark moments that i’ll get into later, but this comes out of nowhere, contributes nothing, and is way more disturbing than anything else in the game. For a game that does so much right, that I enjoyed so much this was a “what were they thinking” scene on the level normally reserved for for truly awful games.
Then there are the tone shifts. These at least make some kind of since in the context of the games story and I can see what they might be leading up too, but they are so sudden it’s hard not to find them jarring. I’m not going to spoil when these happen, as they were effective scenes, but when they happen the game shifts into pure horror mode for a few seconds, and not knowing they were coming rattled me.
With all of that combined, the game feels like there wasn’t a strong understanding of who the target audience was. That never bothered me or impacted my enjoyment of the game, but I wont hold the criticism against anyone who was bothered by it.
Gameplay wise this is a pretty standard point and click adventure. Most of the game is spent solving puzzles by finding the right item or right combinations of items to uses on people and objects in the game world. My main complaint is that these tended to be a little too easy. In the two hours I spent with the game on my first play through there was only one puzzle that game me any trouble. I didn’t actually use one item on another but thought I had, so I kept ignoring the solution because I thought it didn’t work. While I do appreciate the lack of classic Point and Click “Space Logic” in the game, I do wish the puzzles tested me just a bit more.
On the other end of that spectrum, the hint system also needs a bit of retooling. In that one puzzle I couldn’t figure out I kept asking Ted for help, but the advise he gave ignored the step of the puzzle I was on. So much time was wasted trying to figure out that last puzzle, and Ted was no help at all. While I shouldn’t have needed it, I still think the hints provided should have been more better focused on the step of the puzzle I was on.
In the end, Bear With Me Episode One hints at a great game to come, but never manages to reach those heights itself. I have no doubt this will work better once it’s a full game rather than an episodic one. I loved it, I want more of it and the wait for Episode Two is going to be unbearable (you didn’t think I’d end this review without another bear pun, did you?).