You’re a demon who has lost her voice. You’ve found a talking skull who wants to help you reclaim it. Now you must descend the depths of Hell in order to challenge the Red Judge to fill your lungs and sing your hellish song. But none of that really matters, because Metal: Hellsinger is all about the journey. This particular road trip has thousands of demons standing in your way and a playlist of original songs by metal legends like Tatiana Shmayluk of Jinjer, Matt Heafy of Trivium, and Serj Tankien of System of a Down. Metal: Hellsinger may not have the strongest story, but that means little when everything else is big, brash, and brilliant fun.
If you haven’t seen the trailers, heard the concerts, or played the demos for Metal: Hellsinger in recent months, then you’re in for a treat. It’s a first-person shooter where your weapons do more damage when you pull the trigger on the beat – and will completely whiff if you’re offbeat. It’s like Doom: Eternal meets Guitar Hero, and it works very, very well. If 2020’s BPM: Bullets Per Minute established the metal rhythm-shooter, Metal: Hellsinger perfects it, adding a thick layer of polish to almost every aspect of the games that preceded it.
It should go without saying, but the music is excellent. The louder you turn your speakers up, the better time you’ll have with this game. Having to match the rhythm of the songs adds another strategic element to the soundtrack, forcing you to listen closely to them and fully appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into matching the tracks to the level design and enemy encounters. As your score multiplier increases from shooting demons to the rhythm, more instruments are added to the song and the more your blood gets pumping. When you finally max out your multiplier at 16x, the vocals come in and take everything to the next level. Suddenly, keeping hold of that multiplier is not only important for maximising your score, but also for maximising the score. Few games reward skill and patience quite like Hellsinger.
A wide variety of demons throw themselves at you as you progress through the depths of Hell, each arena adding larger waves and different enemy types to the fray. It’s a testament to the level design that it never gets boring, as each wave is made up of different combinations of nasty critters, from giants swinging axes, to toxic bloatflies regurgitating toxic vomit, to angels firing beams of heavenly light. Every level – each a new circle of Hell – has its own individual theme and design too, from a frozen mountaintop, to worlds of broken pyramids with their peaks floating in the sky, or an almost-steampunk cog world. All of it feels metal as fuck too.
Each new level is inhabited by familiar swathes of demons for you to mutilate with your shotgun, crossbow, or classic old katana. Every weapon feels distinct, and while I had my preferred loadout, I think people will gravitate to very different guns depending on their playstyle. Barring one occasion that I’ll come to later, every weapon seems viable, even the screaming skull. You can also complete challenges to unlock bonuses, buffs, and powerups, which helps you to glide through later stages. Hellsinger captures that magic feeling when the tough miniboss you faced in the early hours falls easily to your upskilled slashes later on, until you’re taking out waves of multiple cannon-wielding giants with ease.
Bosses are the one letdown when it comes to all the enemies you face. You face a Judge Aspect at the end of each level, which basically consists of dodging increasingly frequent and complex bullet-hell fireballs while fighting off waves of enemies. This is the only point when the regular demons feel arbitrary, when they’re used as a cheap way to increase the difficulty instead of informing the blaring soundtrack and how you approach each new instance of combat.
The final boss battle – which I won’t spoil – is the exception to the rule, and more than makes up for the disappointing bosses before it. The only downside to this finale is that one weapon makes the fight significantly easier than any of the others. I found it exceptionally tricky on medium (‘goat’) difficulty when using a shotgun, but quickly bested the final foe with a different option. Again, I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoiling it for you, but the fight itself is otherwise satisfying, and Serj Tankien’s accompanying vocals come to a perfect crescendo as the game takes its final, and most impressive, form.
As you can probably tell, there’s nothing subtle about Metal: Hellsinger. There’s no deeper message – the story itself is pretty threadbare. The developer just figured out how to make one of the most satisfying shooters of recent times, and added a star-studded soundtrack to make the most of its rhythm-based gameplay. What more could you want? A scoreboard? It’s got that too, which turns the relatively short campaign into a competitive challenge to climb the ranks and beat your friends.
2022 may well go down as the year of the indie shooter, and Metal: Hellsinger deserves to be mentioned alongside the best of them. It’s by no means perfect, and I really wish the bosses were more interesting, but the rough edges match its shouty shooter identity. This is a game that wants you to know it’s here, and wants to make an impact – but doesn’t care what that impact is. In all likelihood, you’ll only buy Metal: Hellsinger if you like metal and you like first-person shooters. If that’s you, you’ll love it, but I doubt it’ll persuade many people who prefer relaxing to a Mozart symphony and don’t really see the point of Doom.
When you hit a streak on the beat, enemies melt before you and you race across the map, racking up eight- or nine-figure scores with ease. Sometimes you fall off a little, though, and start missing every shot as you struggle to find the rhythm. This is frustrating, but it’s meant to be. Once you stop, take a breath, and start shooting again – to the rhythm, this time – you soon find your groove again and everything makes sense. The shooting feels great again, the game flows perfectly again, the toughest enemies are felled again. In these moments, Metal: Hellsinger feels really special.
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