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Project Mara - Everything we know about Ninja Theory's new experimental horror game

(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

After the runaway success of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which dropped onto PC and PS4 in 2017, the studio has announced a sequel and most recently, an experimental title known as Project Mara. The game is still mostly shrouded in secrecy, so we thought it’d be best to pin down all the information we currently have about the project so you can prepare for its eventual reveal later down the line. Here’s everything we know about Project Mara. 

What is Project Mara?

(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

Project Mara is an in-development experimental game from Ninja Theory with a focus on recreating the terror of mental health issues and it will be “based on real lived experience accounts and in-depth research.” You may know Ninja Theory from their work on games like DMC: Devil May Cry, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Bleeding Edge. 

After the success of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the studio revealed a research and development effort known as The Insight Project, which is a collaboration between Ninja Theory and a series of experts, psychiatrists, and professors. The project aims to create “self-contained, individualized and absorbing game experiences” to help people control things like fear and anxiety. Ninja Theory wants to “deliver a mainstream solution to help treat mental suffering and encourage mental well being.” An ambitious endeavour to say the least, and whilst it hasn’t been confirmed, it’s fair to say Project Mara is something of an offshoot of this research push. 

The focus appears to be recreating “the horrors of the mind as accurately and realistically as possible” to usher in some kind of new approach to storytelling in games. Let’s just hope it's respectful of mental health issues and those suffering from them whilst trying to shine a necessary spotlight on something stigmatized. Gamifying something like anxiety or fear is ambitious, but also cause for concern - it has to be done with an as of yet unseen level of tact. 

Project Mara release date - When can we expect it?

(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

The game was revealed in January of this year following the reveal of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II at The Game Awards 2019. Given that Hellblade II is yet to receive a release date, it’s safe to say that Project Mara’s launch window is even more out of the way. Considering that the studio was acquired by Xbox Game Studios in 2018, We can readily assume that the game will come to Microsoft’s flagship platforms whenever it’s ready, which means Xbox Series X and PC for the time being. 

Project Mara teaser trailer - Watch it now

Upon its reveal, the game received a terrifying teaser trailer which appears to feature award-winning Hellblade actor Melina Juergens in the titular role as Mara. The teaser shows off some impeccably rendered slices of what looks like a research facility, soundtracked by heavy breathing and close-ups of documents detailing a study of Mara’s brain function and mental health progress. The trailer tagline is “I can't tell what’s real anymore” and at the end of the trailer, we can see Mara turn to face some sort of antagonistic force in the darkness. 

It’s very hard to grasp what the premise of the game is from this disorienting trailer, but it seems to follow a mental health patient struggling with her illness. The game presents the facility in a somewhat antagonistic way but it’s yet to be revealed whether this is the reality of the situation or not.

Project Mara development diary 

Alongside the teaser trailer, Ninja Theory released a development diary for players to follow the progress of their upcoming projects. They’re focusing on small-scope development similar to their approach with Hellblade, which was made by a small team of 20 developers. This is what they’re calling the Dreadnought approach, where the company is splitting into a set of small teams to work on their upcoming titles, each even combined not totalling the scale of a typical AAA development project. This is so that they can take more creative risks and drill into their ideas.

Co-founder Tameem Antoniades talks a little bit about The Insight Project, which seeks to use the environmental control of game design and adapt it into a push towards mental wellbeing for players by allowing users to engage with and overcome their fears. There are a couple of short scenes where we see clips from projects tied to this, including a person in a rowboat with a heart monitor, somebody running on a treadmill whilst being tracked and a VR project where the player interacts with an avatar. Ninja Theory want to explore the “new control interfaces and the psychology of play,” which has much to do with the forthcoming Project Mara.

Antoniades notes that the game has only one character (Mara, probably) and one location (what looks to be a mental health facility) and if successful, the team plan to expand upon this new medium for storytelling in games.