Metal: Hellsinger Review: Hell Has The Beat
The connection between metal music, demonic imagery, and first-person shooters is far from new. Few players will have seen a game where they’re as fully integrated as they are in Metal: Hellsinger, though. Combining classic arena-based shooter gameplay with a rhythm element that feels great when things are going well, some players will fall in love with this trip to the many hells. A lack of variety, however, will turn other players off, and if you don’t connect with the music, this definitely isn’t the game for you.
Long ago, The Unknown was cast into the deepest layers of Hell for daring to challenge the Red Judge. Her voice was stripped from her, and she was powerless to escape. After the passing of ages, though, someone calls to her, offering her a new voice and a chance for vengeance. Now you have the opportunity to show the Red Judge what a mistake they made, but only if you can feel the beat.
Fire At Will
Metal: Hellsinger ultimately is still a first-person shooter. While rhythm elements are essential to it, you’ll find yourself constantly attacked by hordes of demonic foes in tight halls and small arenas where you’ll have to take them out. What stands out compared to other shooters though, is that just shooting at random will limit your ability to do the most damage. If you want to really lay waste to these hordes, you’ll need to time your attacks to the beat of the music.
An indicator at the center of your screen shows the beat, and if you can time your shots to match it, you’ll do more damage. Managing to chain together attacks on beat builds your fury meter, allowing you to do even more damage. It also impacts the music itself, as the music you’re hearing while fighting is layered so that it will fade when you’re low on health and that the vocals will only play if you’re at the top fury level.
A Hellishly Good Soundtrack
You’ll want to maintain that top level as often as possible, not only because it makes you do the most damage possible, but also because the soundtrack to Metal: Hellsinger is fantastic. The development team at The Outsiders brought in an all-star list of talent, including the lead singers of groups like System of a Down, Lamb of God, Arch Enemy, Trivium, and many more. Almost every song here just plain rocks, and I always wanted to hear them as fully as I could.
If only the rest of the presentation were as good as the music. The story and characters never manage to connect, and the game’s narration feels out of place. Delivered in the parlance of a cowboy who sounds like a Sam Elliott impersonator, it isn’t so much a bad performance as it is an out of place one. It feels like it was transported in from an entirely different game, and while the cowboy aesthetic has certainly been mixed with metal music in the past, outside of some of the guns, there’s nothing else to ground it here. It’s a strange choice.
What You See Is What You Get
While the actual core mechanics and the rhythm elements of Metal: Hellsinger feel great as well, what you see in the opening hours of the game are pretty much what you get. The developers never find ways to provide additional depth or let the game evolve in a meaningful way. Oh, you’ll get a few new abilities, like a dash which can certainly be useful. There are also new weapons, new foes, and new boss battles. But I never felt like I had to seriously change up the way I played to handle any of this. Most of the stronger enemies that show up just become damage sponges. The environments you fight your way through are never particularly interesting, either. Lots of similar rooms and passages. This leaves you free to focus on combat, but it also helps make the game even more repetitive.
Additional weapons should provide a lot of additional options, and some of them are useful, but having limited ones to choose from in any level can leave you without the right options, and many of them just don’t feel as good as your default skull gun. The issue is that the skull has unlimited ammo, allowing you to continuously time your attacks to the music and really feel the beat. It allows you to find a flow that can feel fantastic when things are working. The rest of your guns, though, require reloading. You can do so an unlimited number of times, but the reload time makes it so you can’t just keep firing. One gun I loved only has two shots before reloading, there’s no finding a rhythm with that. This meant I often found myself going back to the default weapon. It does far less damage but feels far more right for the game.
There are a few other timing-based elements that do feel good. When using weapons that require reloading, you can time your reload to happen instantly, allowing you to keep firing. There’s also a dashing finisher you can activate when an enemy is near death which will heal you when done right. It’s a great mechanic, but oddly finicky about when it works. Too often, I tried to use it only for it not to work, leaving me needing to find my rhythm again.
Metal: Hellsinger is relatively short, and while there are additional challenges you can complete if you fell in love with it, that’s mostly a good thing. While its core mechanics are strong, and I love its soundtrack, it’s a one-dimensional game where you’ll have seen most everything it has to offer quickly. At that point, it’s just a matter of how much you enjoy the feel of it. While it won’t be for everyone, it’s absolutely a game those with Game Pass should give a chance.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X(Reviewed), Xbox Series S, PS5, PC; Publisher: Funcom; Developer: The Outsiders; Players: 1; Released: September 15th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Metal: Hellsinger.