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Headphones On: The Binaural Audio of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

The original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was an amazing game back in 2017. Developed by Ninja Theory, the game took bold strides in exploring mental health through a short, narrative-driven experience. The focus on Senua’s psychological journey was both daring and deeply impactful. Now, seven years later, the studio is set to release Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, promising an even richer and more immersive adventure.

If you were as captivated as me by the first game, you’ll remember its extraordinary audio design, particularly the myriad voices in Senua’s mind. Hellblade II takes this to the next level, integrating sound more deeply into the fabric of the game. The use of binaural audio, a technique that mimics the way we naturally hear the world, is central to this sequel’s immersive experience.


What is Binaural Audio?

Binaural audio records sound using two microphones to create a 3D soundscape, making you feel like you’re truly inside the game world. While the method isn’t new, its application in Hellblade II is truly groundbreaking. This approach allows players to experience the protagonist’s psychosis with unparalleled authenticity, thanks to nearly a decade of research and refinement by audio director David Garcia Diaz and his team.

Technological and Psychological Evolution

The enhancements in Hellblade II aren’t just technical; they’re deeply psychological. The audio team has expanded from just Garcia Diaz in the first game to a group of seven, allowing for a more detailed and immersive soundscape. This sequel doesn’t just replicate sounds; it captures how they interact with the environment, whether it’s the echo of a shout bouncing off a rock or the distant sound of waves on a shoreline.

As you navigate Hellblade II’s environments, every sound is meticulously placed. For instance, in an abandoned village, you might hear the eerie cries of a mother mixed with the buzz of flies around a carcass, creating a hauntingly realistic experience. On quieter coasts, the ambient noises like crashing waves and wind provide a stark contrast to the crunch of Senua’s footsteps on gravel.


Senua’s Psychological Journey

Senua’s journey in Hellblade II is marked by her evolving relationship with her psychosis. While the first game’s Furies – the voices in her head – were overwhelming, the sequel shows Senua developing a better understanding of these voices. This doesn’t mean she’s cured; instead, she engages with them more deeply, resulting in richer and more meaningful interactions.

The voices now exhibit a wider range of emotions and conversations, sometimes providing comfort and sometimes conflict. This dynamic is beautifully illustrated as Senua navigates conversations with new characters, balancing their spoken words against the incessant chatter of the Furies. The game portrays abstract concepts like guilt, sadness, and rage through sound, making Senua’s internal struggles tangible for players.

A New Perspective

Unlike the insular journey of the first game, Hellblade II introduces new characters that Senua interacts with, adding layers to her mental challenges. In one scene, Senua meets a captive held by Viking slavers, and the conversation is complicated by the conflicting voices in her head. This three-way dialogue creates a unique auditory experience that reflects Senua’s internal and external conflicts.

The audio team’s approach to recording these voices is as innovative as it is effective. Performers Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalan use a head-shaped microphone to create a surround-sound effect, making the voices seem like they’re circling inside your head, just as they do for Senua. This method ensures that the game’s auditory experience remains fresh and dynamic, mirroring the unpredictable nature of Senua’s psychosis.


A Unique and Immersive Journey

The audio design is just one part of Ninja Theory’s quest to create an unparalleled immersive experience. Garcia Diaz emphasises the importance of integrating all elements of the game to support Senua’s story. The ultimate goal is for players to not just play but to feel fully immersed in Senua’s world and her struggles.

Hellblade II promises to be a profound and unique journey, leveraging cutting-edge audio technology and deep psychological insights to create a truly immersive experience. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II launches today on Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, Steam, and Cloud. The game will also be available on day one with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass.

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