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Metal Hellsinger Review "A Seamless Blend Of Rhythm Action And DOOM"

Metal Hellsinger Review "A Seamless Blend Of Rhythm Action And DOOM"
Images via The Outsiders

Written by 

Dave McAdam

Posted 

15th Sep 2022 11:49

A wise man once said, "rock is not the Devil's work, it's magical and rad". There is nothing more metal than a vengeful crusade to kill the Devil herself, and that is exactly what Metal Hellsinger is all about. As someone who looked like Eddie Munson long before Stranger Things was a thing, this game is extremely for me. Is this game truly brutal, or is it just another one-hit wonder?

Shout At The Devil

the player standing on a cliff, overlooking hell while holding a shotgun
Click to enlarge

Metal Hellsinger is one of a rare bunch, a first-person shooter that is also a rhythm game. A few titles in this subgenre have popped up in recent years, like BPM: Bullets Per Minute. These games have their fans, but few have caught as much attention as Metal Hellsinger.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of this game has been the stellar line-up of metal vocalists who have lent their talents to the soundtrack. Names like Serj Tankian from System of a Down, Matt Heafy from Trivium, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, and Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy perform as you play. As a rhythm game, the soundtrack is naturally one of the most crucial elements of the game. This rhythm game has an entirely original soundtrack, which is a pretty massive feat.

(Not Quite) Seasons in the Abyss

Holding two pistols, while enemies approach from the distance
Click to enlarge

This ties us into an aspect of the game I wouldn't normally mention this early in a review, but I want to get it out of the way. From start to finish, the game is a bit on the short side. There are nine levels including the tutorial, like the nine circles of Hell. Each level has bespoke music that adapts as you play so in a way, the game is limited by the number of songs they have to work with. Compared to something like the more recent DOOM games, it is a bit more of a brief experience. That said, I do not feel like it is fair to knock the game for this. To me, saying Metal Hellsinger is too short is like playing all the songs on Guitar Hero once and complaining that the game is over too quickly. Calling this game too short is like calling an album too short, that's just not the intended experience.

Replayability is not just a feature of Metal Hellsinger, it is pretty much the intended way to play. Many games cater to those who will sink dozens of hours into playing a game over and over as well as those who play it only once, but this is one game where not replaying it may leave you feeling a bit like you overpaid. If the idea of replaying levels to improve your skill and your score does not appeal to you at all, this might not be one for you. I would say, I am not usually one for replaying games repeatedly, but I have thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into levels I have already completed to do it all over again.

While the main story doesn't take long to get through, each level has three bonus stages called Torments. These extra challenges unlock Sigils, which are like perks that you can equip. Some of these have gameplay benefits, such as giving you your ultimate abilities sooner. Others are boosts to your score, they can prevent your multiplier from dropping below certain amounts or help you keep your hit combo going. These Torments give the game plenty of content for completionists, and grant useful Sigils for those who like to replay levels to get higher scores.

Luckily, playing levels over and over again is extremely fun. As a first-person shooter, Metal Hellsinger takes many of its cues from classic shooters, and it learned a lot of the right lessons from the recent DOOM games. Levels consist of arenas linked together. You will enter a room, fight waves of demons, move on to the next room, rinse and repeat. Enemy variety is very good, the game consistently throws new challenges at you as you progress through it. In that way, it almost feels like a distilled DOOM Eternal, raging metal soundtrack included.

A Vulgar Display of Firepower

Defeating demons with the shotgun
Click to enlarge

The big difference of course is the rhythm portion of the game's design. I have only tried a handful of these new rhythm FPS games, and when I first played Metal Hellsinger, something immediately stood out to me. Like other rhythm FPS games, the objective here is to time your shots with the beat of the music. Firing with the rhythm does more damage, and increases your score multiplier.

What I found different about this game, and the difference is subtle, is that where other games punish you for missing the beat, Metal Hellsinger rewards you for getting it right. That might sound like the same thing, but it is a subtle difference that makes a huge impact on how the game feels to play. You don't feel bad for missing the beat, you feel accomplished for hitting it right. It is the most basic carrot-or-stick kind of design philosophy, but it is done so very well.

In terms of the tools at your disposal, this is another aspect of the game that feels a bit limited, but intentionally so. You start the game with your sword, smacking demons with every beat of the song. Then you get Paz, a skull that acts both as the narrator and as your first ranged weapon.

Paz shoots fireballs, never needs to be reloaded, but does very little damage. Initially, this seems like your standard backup weapon, but there is more reason to Paz than that. As you never need to reload, using Paz is a great way to keep yourself on beat. Essentially he is your own personal metronome, many other weapons will have you interacting with the beat at different timings but Paz is always consistent, can always fire on every beat. Furthermore, outside of combat you can fire Paz on-beat to keep your multiplier topped up. Paz is a training tool, like a drum pad for a drummer, one you should get in the habit of constantly switching to when you are not presently fighting demons.

You get four more weapons throughout the game. First is a shotgun, because you cannot make an old-school-inspired FPS without a shotgun, it's against the law. Next, you get dual pistols which are the workhorse weapons of the game. Much like Paz, you can fire these perfectly with the beat, stopping only to reload.

The other two weapons are a crossbow that fires exploding projectiles, and a pair of boomerang/axe/bird things that you throw out and come back, damaging enemies in both directions. These weapons all have differences that make them better or worse in certain situations. The normal differences, like damage and range, as with most shooters.

However, another difference is the cadence with which they fire. Each weapon is different, and only the dual revolvers can fire perfectly on the beat. The shotgun can fire every second beat, the crossbow fires in a ¾ rhythm, and the boomerangs can be thrown on beats one and two, returning on beats three and four. The game has an active reload system akin to Gears of War, which when successfully timed can get you back to firing a beat or two earlier, creating a consistent rhythm.

This isn't just a rhythm game, this is a rhythm tutor and a damn good one. Metal Hellsinger will teach you the fundamentals of rhythm, how to stay on beat, how to deal with slightly unusual rhythms, how to use pauses (or in this case, reloads), and how to count out rhythms in your head. Seriously, I have not had to count rhythms like this since my days as a metal drummer. Admittedly, these rhythms are quite straightforward, but the added pressure of slaying demons while keeping a steady half-time in your head is harder than you might think.

On The Highway To Hell

Defeating the boss Aspect in one of the first levels
Click to enlarge

The game sounds good, the game plays well, and the presentation is nothing to be sniffed at either. Each level of the game is a different circle of Hell, and each one is unique. You will go from destroyed cityscapes to snowy mountains, spooky castles to ancient ruins. The Unknown must traverse all the circles of Hell to find the Devil and get her revenge. This story is told mostly by the narrator Paz, voiced by Troy Baker. His performance here does a lot to elevate the material. The plot here is about as deep as a metal album cover, but Baker's enjoyable delivery gives the story some weight, while also bringing some levity. There should always be room for some jokes in a trip through the depths of Hell, and Metal Hellsinger hasn't forgotten that.

There isn't much variation in terms of objectives per level, your goal is forever the same. Move forward and kill everything that stands in your way. As mentioned, there is plenty of enemy variety which continuously refreshes the encounters as you progress through the game. Each level ends in a boss fight, and a curious choice on the part of the developers was to have each level end with the same boss. The Devil has Aspects, fragments of herself through which she fights you. They appear like large skeletal bats, they are identical and I am not exaggerating when I say almost every level ends with a battle with one of these Aspects.

The similarities are purely the boss' character design, however, as there are massive functionality differences between each fight. In one level, you fight the boss in an arena, then another will have you on a platform that the boss moves around the outside of. One will have a massive column appear in the middle of the room, which rotates and spews fire. Another will have the boss create a shield that is impenetrable from all angles but below. These are absolutely the kinds of differences you would expect to give boss fights variety, if the boss wasn't visually the same in each fight you would never call them similar.

Kill 'Em All

The Unknown holding a demon by the throat
Click to enlarge

More than anything, this game is a vibe. I have already seen many compare it to Brutal Legend, and the comparison jumped to my mind too, but in terms of gameplay, they could not be any more different. The link comes from their unabashed love of heavy metal. It's indulgent, it's absolutely silly, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Like many others, I may have "grown out" of my metal-or-die phase years ago, but games like Metal Hellsinger are a welcome reminder that nothing can kill the metal. The game reviewer in me says Metal Hellsinger is a moderately brief but wild ride that seamlessly blends rhythm action with DOOM-style first-person shooting. The metalhead kid in me says this game f**king rules.

9/10

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by publisher.

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