Heavy metal music and devilry, Hell and whatnot have always been synonymous. Look at all the grief that bands used to get for “Satanism”, whereas now games like the latest Doom’s thrive on their metal soundtracks. Yet it’s only recently has the rhythm shooter become popular, first with BPM: Bullets Per Minute and now Metal: Hellsinger.
Rather than headbanging whilst head-shotting, Hellsinger has players slaying hordes of various Hells to the beat. These beats aren’t just any license-free generic metal though, instead featuring artists from bands like Arch Enemy, Jinjer and more. It’s heavier than Brütal Legend, that’s for sure.
Will Metal: Hellsinger bring more weight to this new genre popularised by BPM, or have the Outsiders missed their cue? Grab a shotgun in one hand, lift those horns with the other, as we rock the frick’ [and find] out…
The plot is… well, probably the weakest aspect of Metal: Hellsinger. But for the sake of review, it has to at least be mentioned. No driving force, no reason to play and all that…
You are unknown. No, wait: you, the player character, are Unknown. The capitalisation there is important, given it’s the main character’s “name”. Unknown is very annoyed at being cast out and having her voice stolen, subsequently going on a foretold rampage through several iterations of hell.
Partnered up with a skull named Paz, who sounds like a Southern version of Johnson from Shadows of the Damned, the two set out to raze Hell(s) by way of slaughter. The powers that be, on both sides, don’t like this concept, throwing literal hordes at the unlikely pair to stop them. It’s essentially Doom, but… metal-er, if that were possible.
Rock to the Rock
It’s not the story that’s the selling part here, it’s the gameplay. In broad terms, you shoot your way through stages that get broken up like Gears of War cover-shooter sections, then deal with a boss battle. However, there be no cover shooting here, that was just a progression analogy. Here, it’s all about slaying to the beat.
Whilst the HUD seems like usual first-person shooter affair, there’s one glaring difference: a Beatmania-style beat bar lining up by the crosshairs. This is the beat, the song that is playing on each level. The trick, you’ll soon discover, is to slice or shoot when those little lines come together. Like hitting notes in Guitar Hero, you’re scored on how accurate you are.
Of course, it also helps to be accurate outside of the beat, this is still a groovy Doom-like shooter after all. Each of the several levels has platforms, pits to jump over, not to mention lots of enemies in varying flavours of demon. So you’ll need to pay attention, there is a lot going on at here. But fret not, it’s not as manic as it sounds.
Points Up on the Beatdown
Whilst in most frenetic shooters the aim is to kill all the things whilst not staying still, here it’s slightly different. That’s still the overall goal, but it won’t net you the highest of scores. No, the trick here is to do the above, but to the beat. Scoring hits in succession raises your hit streak, which in turns raises the score, but that’s not all.
There’s also a combo multiplier, doubling from twice as much to sixteen times the points it takes from killing enemies. Dashing keeps the rhythm without breaking flow, so soon you’ll be shoot-dodging to the current track like you’re trying to avoid bodily contact in a mosh pit.
But it’s more than just shooting/slashing and dodging, there’s melee finishers too. Also timed to the beat, these kills will relinquish some healing crystals for Unknown should health be running low. Again to reference Doom, it adds a “puzzle” element to working out when’s the best time to pop in for a two-step neck breaker, before skipping away on a downbeat to keep that score rising high.
But it’s not just for the high score that you’ll want to keep the combo up.
Destruction on Symphonic Levels
As is may have been established, music is an integral part to Metal: Hellsinger. But it’s more than just for backing and rhythm purposes, there’s depth and incentive too. Depth in that each track is layered, and incentive to make sure you can hear the whole thing as you play. This is where combo-keeping comes into play.
At basic levels, you’ll only hear the backing instruments, a bit of melody. Hit a X4 multiplier and it gets heavier, further still when that doubles. By now we’re talking Painkiller flashbacks (the game, not the Judas Priest song), but that’s not where it stops.
Double that still, hit that illustrious X16 level of multiplier and that’s when it becomes metal. You want to hear Tatiana of Jinjer belting some vocals out? You need to keep that combo going. Big fan of Arch Enemy, Lamb of God, Trivium and System of a Down? Keep those scores up and you’ll hear White-Gluz, Blythe, Heafy and Tankian on their respective level-based songs. But only if you’re kicking ass.
Sweet, Sweet Torment
You’re not alone on your mission to reclaim Unkown’s voice and revenge quest. As well as a grab-bag of firearms, ranging from shotguns to devil-boomerang-things, there are also perks to unlock. Longer streak bonuses, more damage on reloading, that kind of thing. But as you’d expect in a game about Hell and challenges, they don’t come easy.
Depending on a player’s performance in any of the Hell’s, they’ll unlock Torments. These optional challenge rooms are separate from the main missions, but are fleshed out by Troy Baker’s Paz giving a little exposition about each one. As you enter, it’ll tell you the requirements to pass in each one. Starts off simple enough: kill forty enemies to the beat. Do so, and you’ll unlock a perk to equip in the main mission loadout screen.
But as time and levels go on, the pass requirements get harder. As I say, they’re optional, but the temptation for perks is too great sometimes. They have no bearing on the main game progress, so there’s no harm in testing your luck/skill. Some are easier than you might think, others are absolute ball-busters that will make you question why you’re even bothering. It made me think back to the original Devil May Cry’s challenge rooms: I couldn’t do them either .
Redemption Can Be Hell…
What did surprise me with Metal: Hellsinger is the variety of level and boss design it has in it. Not to the levels of Mario or Sonic, there’s still an overarching “spikes and flame” aesthetic, don’t expect a confectionary-themed level. But each of the nine levels has a different colour palette, which mixes it up a bit.
As are the bosses to each realm, adding a bit of variation on a theme. Each boss is an Aspect of The Red Judge (the overarching ruler of Hell), with each one offering some extra heat at the end of a level. Whilst some enemies do fire projectiles, each Aspect steps it up and turns it into the occasional bullet hell-style battle.
It adds a bit of spice to proceedings, rather than making each level formulaic. There are some tough battles throughout, and that’s me playing it on Goat (medium). For those that want to experience the story, there’s Lamb difficulty. For the masochists, the people who can 100% Through the Fire & Flames on Expert, there’s Beast Mode. It is not for the faint-hearted.
When a game as fun and metal as this comes along, it’s hard to find fault when the core gameplay is this addictive. If a game is generally rubbish, you’ll tear it apart, but when it’s great it feels like nitpicking. As a whole, Metal: Hellsinger didn’t present itself with many issues in my time with it. No glaring bugs, clipping through the floor or forced quits, for example.
Alas, the only major issue I had with it is the hit detection. Not with Unknown’s shooting, that felt competent and punishing if you miss, not the game deliberately missing. No, the issue I have is an enemy swiping at you a few feet away and it ruining the combo you’d racked up.
It got annoying, felt like I was playing House of the Dead and not being able to move out of the way, despite being out of the way. Couple that with no real indicator of where a threat is until it hits you, it can be a momentum killer at times. Could that just be down to skill, or lack of, instead? Well, half a dozen of one, perhaps, but there is some collision issues that do need addressing.
Hell and Back a Few Times
In terms of replayability, Metal: Hellsinger is a one-trick pony in its concept. The goal is to riff and tear through Hell(s), and it does that goal admirably. So don’t be expecting some “Test Your Might” spin offs or car-bashing minigames, to throw some egregious examples out.
But like any good rhythm game, the replay value comes from doing it better, or at least doing it multiple times to get it better. As mentioned earlier, the Torments add boons and perks will help, if you can unlock them. Couple this with being able to use later weapons on earlier Hells, it makes going for those higher scores and harder difficulties more obtainable… maybe.
I haven’t completed the main game yet (I never said I was good at it), but I find myself breaking up main game runs with attempting Torments. Or going back to the first mission with the boomerang things, for example. It may only have one angle to replayability, but it’s just as addictive.
Hell-Bent For Revenge
To conclude, then, Metal: Hellsinger is going to get a hearty recommendation from me. Of course, I shouldn’t have to point out that if metal isn’t your cup of tea, you probably won’t enjoy it as a central mechanic in this game. It’s also not the most original of stories, granted, as it plays out like something that could have been in Heavy Metal or 2000AD back in the day.
However, get past the corniness of “demon battling against Hell” and instead embrace the rhythm shooter concept, and you’ll be toe-tapping to the blasts and beats in no time. I’m loving it, even if I do lose the rhythm from time to time. I stick to Persephone, the shotgun, as I find myself doing a little shoot-dash-shoot-dash beat as I play. Like if Fred Astaire went postal on a Broadway stage.
There’s plenty of hours to put into mastering the levels and Torments, as well as a bundle of trophies/achievements for those that seek such bragging rights. For me, I’ll be happy to just finish it.
If you’ve got a cracking sound setup, you’ll want to turn this up to eleven.
An absolute blast of a rhythm-based shooter, Metal: Hellsinger is a love letter to all those that throw their horns to the sky. Packed with challenge, chugging tunes and a cavalcade of the genre’s finest vocalists, there’s a lot to enjoy. Riff and tear.
Metal: Hellsinger is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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