Metal: Hellsinger takes Doom Eternal and BPM: Bullets Per Minute and smashes them together into a symphony of violence.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no rhythm. So it’s strange how well I tend to do at rhythm-action games like Kickbeat and all those old plastic peripheral games that now line everyone’s attic. You know the ones. BPM: Bullets Per Minute put a neat spin on the genre by combining it with FPS mechanics where you can only fire, dodge, and reload on the beat. It’s a great concept that works really quite well. Metal: Hellsinger iterates on that, adds an utterly astonishing soundtrack featuring a swathe of modern metal royalty, and brings in the type of action that the recent DOOM reboot did so well.
You play as The Unknown, a demon who has chosen to fight through hell to reclaim her voice taken from her by The Red Judge, who may as well be called Satan. Early on in her journey, she meets Paz, a talking skull that doubles up as a basic weapon, who narrates — via the vocal stylings of one Troy Baker — the tale of her quest to defeat her nemesis and take back her voice. The plot is fine, and it contains a lot more effort than you might expect for a brutally fast-paced shooter, being told through simply animated screens as Paz tells you of the past, present, and potential future of heaven and hell. It’s not complicated, but it deserves some credit for giving a bit more framing for a game like this than you might be expecting.
Much like its forbear, Metal: Hellsinger has you shooting on the beat of the background music to take down swarms of foes. This time though, you can in fact shoot out of time with the music, but at a significant penalty to your damage output. On anything other than the easiest setting you’ll really struggle to get anywhere playing like that, so it’s best to keep on top of the rhythm. Fortunately, you don’t have to hit on every single note, so you’re able to drop in and out of actively attacking and dodging if you need to.
Over the course of the game’s three-or-so hour campaign, you’ll acquire shotguns, pistols, an explosive crossbow, and throwing blades to add to your basic sword and skull blast options. Each weapon really does feel unique, but other than the throwing blade, they’re all pretty much the standard archetypes you’ve seen elsewhere. Luckily, each one has a chargeable special attack to give some variety, from the crossbow’s gravity bomb sucking in enemies, to the pistol’s clone of yourself targeting any nearby foes. These are a neat feature and you’ll quickly find your favourites to take on stages with you. In most instances, you can only take two weapons on a level — one if there’s a new one available to pick up — and before long it’s quite clear that some weapons are far better than others. That pistol special attack gives you a stationary double of The Unknown that attacks anyone nearby for an extended period of time, which is absurdly effective against bosses, while the throwing blades have such a short range that they aren’t useful in most situations. The shotgun is super satisfying to use at least.
Once weakened, you can finish enemies off with a Slaughter Kill, which is essentially a Doom glory kill but with far less elaborate animations. You even get some health back from these which is solid encouragement to do so. These, as well as regular kills, boost your fury metre, which not only gives you a high score multiplier but also changes the song playing in the background. As it rises, so too does the intensity of the track, starting at 1x giving you some of the basic percussion, adding in guitars and bass, before bringing the vocals when you hit the 16x maximum. And this just feels thrilling as the song builds and builds as you pile more pressure on your enemies before the vocals kick in just as another wave of them spawn into the arena. It’s genuinely a fantastic feeling to play Metal: Hellsinger.
This is helped by the phenomenal soundtrack, featuring metal legends like Serj Tankian from System of a Down, Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy, and a number of others. These are all made specifically for this game too, so it’s like Metal:Hellsinger has its own album built just for it. There’s a neat addition here that the developers have ensured that no copyright claims can be made against anyone who streams the game too. If you aren’t a metal fan, you’ll probably get a lot less out of this game, but the mechanics are really tight and satisfying, so there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it all the same.
The visuals constantly look like an album cover too, with numerous different interpretations of hell throughout. From snowy wastelands to industrial nightmares, the environments are suitably varied. There’s a bit of a downside that there is a lot of red and grey in many stages, which tends to make it harder to spot some of the smaller foes. They don’t cause much damage to you, but if you’re trying to keep your fury metre up, you’ll be wanting to hunt them down quickly. A minor gripe, but one that irritated me on a couple of occasions.
Enemies themselves aren’t hugely varied, sadly. Many are reskins of each other, with a fire attack being replaced with a lightning one, or some other variation. Don’t get me wrong, you do need to change up your approach when you’re facing down heaps of opponents and a poison-spewing bug turns up, but many of them look similar and it’s a little disappointing considering how much effort has gone into the environments. This is far more noticeable with each boss you face. These all look pretty much identical, with small tweaks to the models. The battles themselves are all unique enough due to different attack patterns, but the boss’ really could have done with some more variety in design. The final boss looks fantastic by comparison, and evokes that Doom Eternal Icon of Sin fight in some ways.
Short though the game is, Metal: Hellsinger does provide a reasonable challenge. Playing on PC on medium difficulty, I managed to get through without too much trouble once I’d settled on using the pistols regularly. I imagine with a controller this could be a bit trickier, and the hardest setting is really quite brutal. Whichever one you go for though, each stage has a number of challenges to have a go at, each of which unlocks a buff that you can equip for future efforts that might keep your fury counter up for longer, or allow you to fire a shot off-beat without losing your combo. I didn’t really need these bonuses on medium, but I imagine they would be of benefit when going for the hardest difficulty. They’re a nice additional feature to have too.
There’s a lot to love in Metal: Hellsinger, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The brief, thrilling stages backed by outstanding music fly by, and the campaign ends just as you feel the mechanics have given you all they can. You’ll leave satisfied, and maybe keen to give a stage another go just so you can enjoy that soundtrack again — stage 2 was a particular favourite of mine. This is a great little package and will hopefully do a lot to push this admittedly rather niche sub-genre further forward. It’s a hell of a good time.