Video game fans and heavy metal fans feel like kindred spirits. They’re both something you discover at an impressionable age, you’re more than likely to have been bullied in school for your love of them, and the passion that fans feel about them respectively often oversteps the level of obsession into becoming that person’s entire personality.
Heavy metal is also aesthetically linked to the earliest days of video games. The most metal game of all time, Doom, is a cornerstone of the industry, and even its recent re-emergence in 2016. Although until now, the rhythm genre of video games has largely focussed on electronic music, outside of the licensed soundtracks of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games.
Metal: Hellsinger is a first-person shooter rhythm game which sees the player blast their way through several circles of hell, in order to defeat The Judge, the ruler of hell and the reason the protagonist, The Unknown, has lost her voice. The aim is to time your shots to the beat, which is indicated by symbols closing in around the reticle. Shoot and reload on the beat, and you’ll do extra damage, and build towards a special, devastating attack.
Metal: Hellsinger – Serj Tankien trailer
While you can fumble around the earlier levels without any rhythm, soon enough the game introduces beasts that can only be taken down if you’re perfectly on beat, increasing your damage and making sure you nail your reloads, otherwise you’ll be sent back to the start of the level soon enough.
This need for perfection also ties into the score-chasing aspect of the game, which is one of our favourite elements of Metal: Hellsinger. Every level ends with a leaderboard, showing exactly how metal you are compared to your friends. The levels are short enough wherein it doesn’t feel like a chore to jump in and try to get a slightly better score. It also makes us wonder what the optimum runs of this game are going to look like when it gets into the hands of more players.
The first time you go through each of the game’s levels, it feels almost like you’re doing a fact-finding mission. You’re getting used to each of the arenas and how the new weapon introduced in that level can change the game. It’s only on a second playthrough when you really see how much fun Metal: Hellsinger can be when you’re dialled into the music.
Speaking of, the real star of the show is the game’s incredible soundtrack. The developers collaborated with some of the greatest vocalists in alternative music, from Serj Tankian of System of a Down to Matt Heafy of Trivium. Each level has its own song, which builds in intensity as your multiplier gets higher. So it might begin with a simple drum beat, but make it all the way to the 16x multiplier, and the vocals kick in, making the already immersive atmosphere of the game overwhelming.
Each level introduces a new weapon or mechanic, each of which has a unique shooting pattern. It’ll take some time to get used to them all, but despite the fact that combat encounters in each level are usually designed for the weapon that’s introduced in that level, it’s fun to go back through earlier stages with the new weaponry and see how your approach changes.
The rhythm of combat means that your ankle will be in agony after a long playing session, as we found ourselves reflexively tapping our foot to the beat, making sure we kept in time with our perfect reloads for maximum damage.
“Each level has its own song, which builds in intensity as your multiplier gets higher. So it might begin with a simple drum beat, but make it all the way to the 16x multiplier, and the vocals kick in, making the already immersive atmosphere of the game overwhelming.”
There are some structural issues that we’d love to see ironed out, should the game receive a sequel or more content. There are slightly too many areas that feel like you’re dropped into a circle and forced to run around until you find the last tiny enemy. This can really kill momentum, especially when you’ve focussed on the main threat in the arena and managed to take it down, only for the door to stay locked because the basic enemy you missed is hiding at the other end of the combat arena.
There were also a few instances where the larger enemies would get caught on the geometry of a level, leaving them to flounder around. This might seem like a small issue, but when so much of the game is about going back through levels to get a higher score, the consistency of where enemies are and when they spawn becomes very important, especially when optimising runs.
The narrative is, appropriately, about as deep as what you could glean from scanning the cover of an old Iron Maiden or MegaDeath album cover. It’s inoffensive, the voice-over is often funny, and it doesn’t get in the way of blasting demons to bits, which is the whole reason you are here.
Metal: Hellsinger is an incredibly well-realised concept, packed to bursting with excellent music, unique weapons and a gameplay loop that’s instantly addictive. It’s a game that we’ll keep installed for a long time, even beyond the point of completion, as the chase of higher and higher scores against your mates is so engaging.
Some AI issues, and a few less-than-inspired combat arenas persist, but they’re really not a big deal when the gameplay is this fun. The variety of weapons and how they change the approach to each level means that even the fairly small pool of stages feel indefinitely replayable.
We’re extremely excited to see where the team go next, and if they tackle another genre of music, developing the music shooter into a whole subsection of games of its own. Pop: ABBAsinger anyone?