If you were to cut me open, I would bleed metal and cheap Aldi wine in near equal volumes. While I mainly gravitate towards prog and metalcore, if it djents, chugs or screams, it’s likely to be my jam. Also, I like wine and I’m on a budget. Not too long ago I reviewed (quite favourably) a roguelike by the name of BPM: Bullets Per Minute, and given the success of that rhythm-based FPS it was never going to be long before someone else had a crack at this genre mish-mash. Enter Metal: Hellsinger, a game that borrows liberally from the riff book of BPM, but fails to hit some of its high notes.
The night is a dark time for me
Hellsinger puts you in the cloven hoofs of a demon, affectionately called the Unknown, who has had her voice taken by none other than the lord of hell – the Red Judge. Together with a talking skull named Paz (who sounds like he is doing a voiceover for an American whiskey ad), the Unknown must venture through the various realms of hell and take it to the Red Judge in order to reclaim her voice and perhaps fulfil a prophecy or two in the process. It’s a simple tale that is nonetheless slightly garbled in the telling, but the sequel-bait ending does sprinkle in a slight amount of intrigue. At the end of the day, you’re a demon with guns and a can-do attitude, and that’s all that matters.
Hellsinger’s core gameplay is overwhelmingly similar to BPM, but it unfortunately does not imitate that title’s most clever innovations. Each level of hell features a specific upbeat metal track, and firing and reloading your weapon on the beat is the way to do the most damage and also achieve a higher score. This is a key distinction from BPM, where you could only fire and reload on the beat, highlighting its paramount importance and allowing your actions to integrate seamlessly with the tracks themselves. Hellsinger never really manages to truly connect your weapon usage with the tracks themselves, and I even had to go into the sound menu to turn the effects volume down as initially it was drowning out the song itself. Furthermore, aside from a sword and trusty old Paz (who only shoots weak projectiles), there are only four weapons to acquire, and none of them except the dual pistols fired at a rate that felt satisfying when paired with the backing track. In BPM I felt like I was making my own rhythms of firing and reloading based on the tracks in a deeply synergistic way, here I felt I was stuck with simply firing on the on beat in a relatively monotonous pattern. Weapon switching also doesn’t feel natural, and the game is positively crying out for a specific melee button so you can mix things up without completely swapping out weapons using the d-pad or a series of presses on the right shoulder button.
Only God can Red Judge me
The visuals are not exactly the most original or imaginative representations of hell, but they are crisp and clean, and enemies’ heads explode with appropriate fanfare while you’re laying waste to the demon hordes
Comparisons to the brilliant BPM aside, it’s certainly not all bad, and the gameplay is certainly quite serviceable. The visuals are not exactly the most original or imaginative representations of hell, but they are crisp and clean, and enemies’ heads explode with appropriate fanfare while you’re laying waste to the demon hordes. If you weaken an enemy enough they also become susceptible to an up-close-and-personal Slaughter kill, which is torn straight out of the DOOM playbook, but is satisfying when integrated with the chaos. Some more varied execution animations wouldn’t have gone astray, but the fact that a Slaughter kill refills your health makes them essential and fun to get involved in. There’s also a decent feeling of locomotion, with a double jump and dash at your disposal to have you zipping around while conducting your symphony of suffering. Environments and enemies do become a little repetitive as the game wears on, and the fact you’re moving through them so quickly means there’s no point in stopping to admire the scenery or explore. Also a little criminal is the recycled boss that features at the end of every level. Sure, it’s explained via the narrative and they do have slightly different mechanics, but it makes each level even less memorable. The final boss is also a larger recycled version of the ones you’ve faced previously, and with several additional cheap attacks thrown into the mix, not even the urgent bleating of Serj Tankian can redeem it.
It’s a little strange that we’ve gotten this far without really mentioning the soundtrack, and given it features some heavy hitters from bands like Arch Enemy, Trivium, Lamb of God and Ginjer, it certainly has some substance to it. I don’t feel like the compositions are quite as unique as in games like DOOM and BPM that clearly inspired Hellsinger, but when the gameplay manages to find its flow with the music it’s a good time. There’s a larger issue with the soundtrack that’s baked into the DNA of the gameplay, and it ends up being the result of an idea which was perhaps good on paper, but manifests itself in unsatisfying ways in the execution. Hellsinger is at its heart a scorechaser, and by defeating enemies, dodging, and jumping on the beat you fill a multiplier gauge that increases the score gained for killing the multitudinous things around you. Each multiple of four reached will render the backing track more and more epic, climaxing at a 16x multiplier where the vocals kick in. In theory this is a cool idea, but in practice it can make the music awkwardly modulate between having vocals and no vocals, as maintaining a 16x multiplier can sometimes be easier said than done. I certainly became better at maintaining the full integrity of the metal at 16x, but when you can’t, the compositions suffer and it’s almost a slight on the artists themselves.
Random bullshit, go!
Metal and video games are a match made in heaven, which as it turns out is perfect for games set in hell. Metal: Hellsinger wants to channel the vibes of the mighty DOOM while shoehorning it into the spirit of BPM, but is only partially successful. Having amazing metal artists like Matt Heafy lend their chops to a game of this ilk is a stroke of brilliance, but the way the gunplay integrates itself with the music doesn’t quite do it justice. There’s certainly something here, but it just doesn’t quite ignite the fire in this particular djentleman.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X // Review code supplied by publisher
- The Outsiders
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / PC
- September 15, 2022