- The use of real actors alongside in-game characters in Alan Wake 2 contributed to the game’s meta-narrative and blurs the line between life and art, creating the feeling of experiencing multiple realities.
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice successfully combined FMV with in-game graphics to explore its protagonist’s troubled state of mind, and Hellblade 2 has the potential to push the boundaries of what’s possible with FMV even further.
Whether you liked Alan Wake 2 for what it is, or felt that it was a little too slow and that the combat could have been executed better, there’s no denying that Remedy really mixed things up creatively. In particular, the developers have nailed the in-engine graphics with the mix of full motion video (FMV), creating a dense, dreamlike and twisted atmosphere, especially in the episodes where Alan is stuck in the Dark Place.
From the standout musical numbers you won’t find anywhere else to the intrusive jump scares featuring a creepy grandma, Alan Wake 2 is a celebration of fresh ideas and uncompromising execution not often seen in other triple-A projects sees today.
Furthermore, it’s not just a neat trick that the game uses just for its own sake. The depiction of real actors on screen alongside their in-game counterparts in Alan Wake 2, as well as playing around with the whole concept of who creates who, contributes significantly to the game’s central “Spiral” idea, blurring the line between life and art. To Remedy’s credit, he experimented with this direction for years on both Quantum Break and Control. But it wasn’t until Alan Wake 2 that these techniques finally reached the right point, allowing the team to create a meta-narrative and the feeling of experiencing realities within realities.
Such artistic devices might seem a bit out of place in other games with a more traditional, straightforward narrative. However, there is at least one area besides survival horror where they fit like a glove. When portraying mentally disturbed characters like Senua from Hellblade, the mix of visual styles is invaluable. Distinguishing between reality and what is only happening in a character’s head is a key element in achieving believability.
Hellblade has already taken the first step
Back in 2017, Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice successfully combined FMV with in-game graphics, disguising its tight budget and compact scope with clever tricks and experimental flair. Now that the team is busy with the long-awaited – and far more ambitious – sequel Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with FMV. It may be a challenge to match Alan Wake 2’s current achievements in this regard, but if anyone can do it, it’s Ninja Theory.
Combining real footage with in-game graphics in the first entry managed to delve deeper into Senua’s troubled state of mind. However, in contrast to the voices in Senua’s head, the team used FMV sparingly in the original, mainly to depict characters talking about their memories with Senua – such as her Irish friend Druth (Fidan), her father, the druid Zynbel and her deceased Lover Dillion. Each of these scenes felt incredibly intimate, conveying a sense of Senua’s fears and inner struggles while enhancing the dreamlike feeling of an otherworldly realm filled with gods and their trials.
While the creators admitted that they used this particular approach primarily for budget reasons, they ultimately turned “Hellblade” into an even more unique and haunting trauma experience. It increased the complexity of his themes and made Senua’s visions even more believable. Your next adventure should be even more twisted and dreamlike than the first, exploring new ways to make players feel like they’re perceiving the world through someone else’s eyes – and mind.
Will Hellblade 2 keep up?
I admit that it hasn’t been easy for me to maintain excitement for Hellblade 2 over the years. Since the first announcement four Years ago, the developers only showed snippets of Senua running and throwing spears at giant monsters, highlighting the game’s groundbreaking facial animations and Melina Jürgens’ standout performance. According to creative director Tameem Antoniades, Hellblade 2 will be much larger than the original, making the first entry “feel like an indie game.” Rather than generating additional excitement, this left me worried that the sequel might end up being more of a God of War-like blockbuster, focusing on Senua’s battle against legendary Scandinavian monsters rather than her inner monsters. To stay true to its essence, the sequel, like its experimental predecessor, must deal with more intimate themes and delve deeper into discussions of mental disorders.
From what we’ve seen so far, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 promises stunning graphics and off-the-charts facial animations, powered by Unreal Engine 5 and MetaHuman technology. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ninja Theory, in its pursuit of realistic graphics and epic scope, won’t abandon its artistic style that made the original Hellblade so memorable and unique. With an increased budget and more time than ever to complete their ambitious project, Ninja Theory could probably create something truly unique on their own terms, just like Remedy did.
Further potential pressure on the team to focus on a strictly realistic appeal is that not everyone is a fan of FMV, which is used in both “Alan Wake 2” and “Hellblade,” as numerous online Comments describe such scenes as “cheap” and “disgusting”. Maybe I’m in the minority here and still hold out hope that FMV will return in Hellblade 2, but for me, eliminating this outstanding technique would be a great loss to the sequel. Whatever path Ninja Theory takes for the sequel, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s definitely worth the wait.
Hellblade: Senua’s victim
- PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Switch, PC
- August 16, 2017
- Ninja theory
- Ninja theory
- Action, adventure
- Unreal Engine 4
- M For adults 17+ due to blood and gore, intense violence, strong language
- How long to beat
- 8 hours