The rhythmic first-person shooter / hack & slash action game Metal: Hellsinger (Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC) has been billed as a cross between Doom and Guitar Hero, in that you shoot demons to the beat of heavy metal music. But having played the game — and, more importantly, experimented with different ways to play it — trust me when I say that while metalheads with a sense of rhythm will enjoy this the most, so will people who aren’t into heavy music or who have two left feet. Disliking Doom however…
In Metal: Hellsinger,
a demon of unknown origin comes to Hell, but in doing so, loses her voice. And she wants it back. Which is why you, playing as the one they’ve dubbed The Unknown, have to make your way through different sections of Hell, dispatching demons with guns, swords, and a spitting skull named Paz.
Now, as a weapon, Paz ain’t much help. He’s kind of like a pistol in a game where handguns are an afterthought. No, during combat, you’re best served by your sword, Terminus, and some of the other weapons you find, like your shotgun, Persephone. All of which come in handy when you’re being attacked from all sides by rather aggressive demons, and in multilayered sections of Hell, many of which have cliffs you can easily fall off.
You even, after landing a bunch of attacks in a row, get to unleash an Ultimate attack, weapon-specific special powers that can wipe out several enemies with a single charge.
This is especially handy…
since Metal: Hellsinger doesn’t go easy on you. Demons are not only wily, but some can take a lot of punishment. Good thing the game compensates by giving you green crystals that recover your health. And not just big piles of them, either. If you stun an enemy, you can perform a finishing move that’ll give you health crystals for a job well done.
Well, done timely, that is. The thing about Metal: Hellsinger that makes it different (somewhat) from other Hell-ish first-person shooters / hack & slash action games is the aforementioned rhythmic aspect. If you time your attacks to the music being played — which is done by matching the < and > icons as they move towards the middle of the screen — said attacks will deal more damage, while also filling up your Fury meter (i.e. a score multiplier).
Following the music also results in said music being played differently, with the tunes becoming more intense as you do better. Which is saying something, given how the game’s soundtrack boasts such metal singers as System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian, Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe, and Trivium’s Matt Heafy.
Despite how much…
Metal: Hellsinger‘s rhythmic aspects have been emphasized, though, you can largely ignore them if you want (save for when performing a finishing move, which requires you, for once, to hit the beat). Even when I didn’t pay attention to the musical and visual indicators, I still landed on the beat more often than not (and yes, that includes when doing a finish move). This is especially true when you use Persephone, since shotguns don’t fire quickly, and end up having a beat of their own.
Not that it matters since, while it doesn’t hurt as much, shooting someone off the beat still injures them. Which is far less of a problem than it could’ve been, given how you have an endless supply of ammo. It’s not like in Resident Evil Village, where supplies are limited, so you better make every shot count.
In fact, the rhythmic aspects of Metal: Hellsinger are so optional that the game works just as well with the music turned off (and yes, that is actually an option). So well, in fact, that after playing the game this way as an experiment, I just kept going with it. And I say that as someone who’s been a member of Metallica’s official fan club since …And Justice For All came out in 1988.
But while Metal: Hellsinger…
is as engaging for rhythmically challenged people who have shitty taste in music as is it for metalheads who can keep time, it’s not for people who have shitty taste in shooters.
That’s because Metal: Hellsinger owes more to the Doom games than every metal band owes to Black Sabbath. Not only do you slide around the world like Hell has frozen over and you’re wearing brand new skates, but there are times when you’re trapped in an area and can’t move forward until you clear it out. Even more Doom-like, stunned enemies awaiting your finishing moves pulsate and glow in a rather Doom-like way.
Not everything in Metal: Hellsinger is cause for Doom‘s lawyers to file a motion, though. You can also reload to the beat, which causes your gun to reload faster — y’know, like when you do the Active Reload move in Gears 5. You can also tap the left bumper and do a quick dash move, one that has the added advantage of making you temporarily invulnerable (very temporarily). Or, if you prefer, you can dash into enemies and give them a little boo boo (very little).
Now, while being super Doom-y…
may be an issue for people who hate those shooters, people who loved them won’t feel like this is a retread or a rip-off or a waste of money that can be better spent on something more original. As much as this may be a Doom clone, it’s still a compelling shooter. The controls are smooth; the level designs keep things interesting (especially if you have a healthy fear of falling); while the enemies are unrelenting.
That’s not to say Metal: Hellsinger doesn’t have some issues. For starters, Paz the skull is not the only ineffective weapon; so are The Hounds, Cerberus and Orthus, a set of dual pistols that take way too long to reload. A problem, ironically, that doesn’t befall Vulcan, a rather effective crossbow that not only shoots explosive bolts, but also reloads quicker than any crossbow ever made.
It also doesn’t help that switching between weapons is counter-intuitive. If you want to use the skull or your sword, you hit the right bumper to either bring them up or swap between them. But you also load two more weapons into your loadout before starting a level, and then either use the directional pad or (depending on which slot they’re in) the Y/triangle button and the B/circle button to equip them.
It would also help if this had a dedicated melee button like so many other shooters, especially given how much fun it is to bash people with Persephone.
I’m also not a fan of…
how Metal: Hellsinger handles dying. For each level, you have 3 opportunities to be resurrected right where you died. But if you use them all, you go back to the beginning of the level. Not the nearest checkpoint, not the beginning of the section you’re in, all the way back. Which would be fine if it was relegated to the hardest difficulty setting, but playing the game on “easy” (which I also tried), it was a bit much.
You also lose some points when you resurrect, but I haven’t cared about points in a video game since they stopped letting you write A-S-S for everyone to see.
Metal: Hellsinger is also relatively simple compared to Doom, and especially Doom Eternal. For instance, while there are power-ups, they merely impact the scoring. They don’t give your weapons a power boost, or make you move super fast, or drive you into a such a frenzy that you can tear demons in half with your bare hands.
I also might’ve been more inclined to keep the music on if the soundtrack had included such rock gods as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Judas Priest…y’know, the bands that influenced Tankian, Blythe, and Heafy.
The thing is,
even with its issues — the unoriginality, the unnecessary rhythmics, the awkward weapon swapping, the deeply offensive lack of Sabbath — Metal: Hellsinger still manages to be exciting and engaging. The controls are fluid, the enemies are dangerous, the locations are intricate, and the good weapons are as entertaining as they are effective. All of which makes Metal: Hellsinger is a rock solid shooter…no matter how you choose to play it.