Rhythm games have cornered a certain niche of the gaming market for decades now but there’s more to the genre than getting you to dance or pretend to play plastic instruments.
Some of the best games do have the most memorable music on loop, which does intentionally or not influence how you play them, so you may already move or perform actions with a rhythm you weren’t aware of. Metal: Hellsinger simply brings that beat to the forefront.
It’s not even the first to play with this idea, with BPM: Bullets Per Minute first released in 2020 also offering a hybrid of FPS and rhythm while also throwing in a roguelite structure. This game is a simpler level-based affair but also packs some serious tunes featuring vocalists from many recognisable metal bands. Without further delay, let’s rock this review!
Given the hellish aesthetic and that you’re spending the game slaying hordes of demons, there’s an obvious comparison to the latest iterations of Doom – heck, there’s even a glory kill mechanic here, albeir one that can be activated even from a distance. Metal: Hellsinger’s levels, each based on a different version of Hell are on a smaller scale, linear in design without the same attention paid to platforming or secrets as you make your way from one arena, clearing it from waves of enemies before moving onto the next until you reach the boss at the end.
One little difference is that you’re also sort of a demon yourself, as depicted in the game’s illustrated cutscenes, who’s only known as The Unknown, on a journey of revenge to fight the Red Judge to get your voice back. Ultimately, the story isn’t the reason you’re playing, even though it’s actually narrated by The Last Of Us’s Troy Baker who delivers his lines with even more of a Texan drawl.
But you know the drill, Metal: Hellsinger’s all about killing demons, and from your initial sword, you’ll soon unlock a recognisable range of weapons, from a shotgun to twin revolvers, each with their own power, need for accuracy, and quite importantly their own rhythm when it comes to firing rate. Rhythm being the key here as you’re being scored by how well you shoot everything according to the beat.
Thanks to the game’s banging soundtrack, when to hit shoot does become rather second nature, especially since weapons aren’t designed for you to mash the trigger or just hold it down, although perfect timing is essential to executing a stunned, which also vitally helps regain your health. Fortunately, those who think they’re lacking rhythm can also rely on a pulsing crosshair.
Sing when you’re winning
As with other rhythm games, keeping in time with the beat allows you to rack up a combo for higher scores, though taking damage will also reduce it. Should you die, you’ll have chances to be resurrected to continue where you fell, but that will also come at a huge cost to your score. But the main thing you want to keep an eye on is the multiplier, which doubles up each time until its maximum of 16x.
Obviously, maintaining 16x is important to get the best possible score, and managing to keep killing demons as they spawn in is key to that, while you can also find icons on the map that will give you a multiplier boost, and other sources of help in the environment such as green crystals to shoot to regain health, or floating rocks that explode like bombs to take out nearby enemies.
But the best reason to stay at the max multiplier is this is when the song’s vocals kick in. With guest vocalists including System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, Trivium’s Matt Heafy, and Refused/INVSN’s Dennis Lyxzén, it’s exactly the kind of encouragement you need to keep doing well, and a boon for metal fans. Even if you’re not a metalhead, it’s hard to deny that the soundtrack doesn’t perfectly match the fast shooter mayhem that ensues.
One thing that did throw us off is having to reload. Sure, at least ammo is infinite, but reload animations for each weapon can take longer than we’re comfortable with, especially when you’re getting in a slaying flow. While there’s a Gears-style active reload system where hitting the button at just the right time (displayed in yellow on the crosshair) does cut down the reload time. Our problem stems more from when your weapon automatically reloads – paying attention to how many rounds you have when being pursued by demons is harder than it sounds after all – so you end up missing the cue. A handy tip is then to be sure to manually reload to avoid getting caught off guard.
Get behind it, Satan
With just eight levels to blast through, albeit lasting longer than a normal length of a song, Metal: Hellsinger can be a fairly short-lived affair, certainly if you compare it to a typical FPS campaign. There are however additional challenges that help to push up its runtime in the form of Torments.
Unlocked after beating each level, these are small-scale challenges where you have to kill a set number of demons in an allotted time, although you’re granted bonus time for each kill. More importantly, completing Torments will grant you Sigils that when equipped in your loadout provide gameplay buffs, such as increased damage when slaying foes on the beat, or being able to charge up your weapon’s ultimate faster.
There are seven Sigils in total, while you can equip up to two at any time that best suits your play style, but each can also be upgraded in further Torment challenges in later levels. As you need to have beaten the previous Sigil’s challenge before you can proceed to the next one, it also means it’s easy to upgrade the Sigils you want too.
The question of how much content the game has is ultimately a moot point as a rhythm game’s staying power comes from competing for glory on the online leaderboards, which in turn means replaying and getting better at each level. Sure, you might be able to breeze through it in one sitting, but can you do it without taking damage or dying, while keeping those vocals running the entire time? Well, get to it. You know what they say about the devil finding work for idle hands.
Metal: Hellsinger verdict
On the surface a streamlined Doom Eternal without the same visual flourish (certainly not as gory), which makes you wonder why it’s not also available on last-gen consoles, Metal: Hellsinger’s hybrid of FPS with rhythm mechanics is gloriously executed and bolstered by a proper rocking metal soundtrack that’s sure to delight fans of the genre.
It may not boast a typical rhythm game’s song library or even the length of a typical FPS campaign, but earning and upgrading Sigils offer good customisation options and the challenge is compelling that you’ll want to come back to improve. It’s also on Xbox Game Pass, so you can do worse than give it a quick blast if you’re a subscriber. Just make sure you’ve got some good headphones, then turn it up to 11.
A metal and shooter fan’s heaven that may be short-lived for some but keep those hooked in to chase those leaderboards
A banging soundtrack elevated by guest metal vocalists
Solid shooter and rhythm mechanics
Optional challenges with rewarding perks to suit playstyle
Not much to the story
Easy to mess up reloading
Over quite soon if you’re not into replaying for high scores