Metal: Hellsinger Review — One Helluva Tune
Metal: Hellsinger has one mission: deliver Doom-quality FPS action to a heavy metal soundtrack featuring some of the biggest names in the genre. I'm happy to report that it succeeds with flying colors.
This is the complete package, with satisfying gameplay, fantastic music, non-stop action, and a story that hits familiar beats but is both well-told and well-acted. There's also no filler — Metal: Hellsinger knows exactly how much game it needs to get its point across and adds nothing extra to take away from the experience.
Metal: Hellsinger Review — One Helluva' Tune
You can't talk about Metal: Hellsinger's gameplay without talking about its music. The two are inseparable. As a rhythm shooter, your performance and combat effectiveness are directly tied to how well you shoot to the beat of each level's unique track. Thankfully, none of the early songs are particularly fast or challenging to sync your shots to, with the tutorial level being particularly forgiving.
That doesn't mean the tutorial soundtrack is lacking, though it is one of the shortest songs in the game, befitting the level's brevity. Everything you learn in that first easy experience carries over into the rest of Metal: Hellsinger. Slaying to the beat, as the game's marketing calls it, is essential, and there are both audio and visual cues to assist you in shooting along with the music.
The percussion is more pronounced to rise above the noise of gunshots and exploding demons. The aiming reticle takes up a good portion of the center of the screen as well, ensuring the beat markers are easy to see even in the most hectic of scenarios.
As you make your way through the game, the HUD becomes less and less of a factor as you become more and more accustomed to the combination of gunplay and music.
Difficulty in Metal: Hellsinger ramps up quickly and follows how music gets harder: it gets faster. The first two levels — the tutorial and Voke — are relatively casual songs compared to the high-tempo shred-fests of the mid and late game.
Every level has a short learning curve as you get used to the new beat, but because of the precise controls and enjoyable shooting mechanics, you'll want to engage with the music. The shift in soundtrack when you reach a boss can be a little jarring after 20 or so minutes of learning a new rhythm, but never enough to cost you anything.
All of these factors come together when you're in the thick of things, exploding and dismembering demons with the weaponry on offer. You start with nothing more than a sword and a particularly talkative, flame-spewing skull. Throughout the first four levels, you'll add a shotgun, dual revolvers, a rocket-launching crossbow, and a pair of infernal boomerangs, which are more deadly than you'd think.
Every weapon on offer is incredibly effective if properly used. Still, the dual revolvers are by far the most consistent because of their damage over long ranges and their Ultimate ability, which summons a second instance of the player character to do damage on your behalf. Paired with the shotgun as a backup, I rarely found a need to use the crossbow or boomerangs except to add some variety to my loadout.
What was never in question was my desire to be at the highest bonus tier. Metal: Hellsinger is, after all, more than just a shooter. It's an arcade-style shooter with scores and multipliers and buffs. The higher your score multiplier (called Fury), the more of the music you'll be able to hear, and at maximum Fury (16x), not only will you be raking in the points, you'll be able to hear the vocals as well. Every enemy you shoot and kill to the beat raises your Fury, but taking hits reduces it, so staying aggressive, accurate, and deadly is paramount.
The dynamic music usually works as intended, with the melody increasing in complexity and intensity the better you do. If you swap between Fury tiers, however, the music can get a little muddled, and it goes from kickass to mildly bungled quickly. This can frequently happen in boss fights, especially on a first encounter, taking what are otherwise amazing fights and transforming them into garbled messes. Not unlike the encounter at that point, really, but off-putting all the same.
There are also challenge rooms called Torments that provide selectable and increasingly powerful buffs that make getting high scores even easier. These Torment levels won't add more than a few more hours to your playtime, but they do get quite challenging and don't give much room for error.
Hell is a Sequence of Arenas
Metal: Hellsinger's story is primarily told through hand-drawn cutscenes with plenty of exposition from your friend Paz, the talkative skull. The levels themselves add little to the narrative, existing primarily as a well-realized and aesthetically interesting series of arenas for you and the demons to fight in. Free of Paz's dialog, expertly voiced by Troy Baker, each level could be a featureless collection of rooms filled with demons and accomplish the same purpose.
That's not to say the setting isn't appreciated. Hell has been associated with metal music for a long time, and having a long series of generic arenas set to this game's fantastic soundtrack would be confusing in the extreme. In other words, while the levels themselves are uninteresting from a layout perspective, combined with the rest of the game's aesthetic and tone, they function exactly as they're meant to.
The story follows much the same throughline. You are the Unknown, a particularly angry and tenacious damned soul in Hell who had her voice stolen from her by the Red Judge (voiced by Jennifer Hale) eons ago.
Following an extended stay in an extradimensional prison, she forces her way out with the help of Paz, who calls himself the Pulse of the Universe. You then spend the next four or so hours of in-game time carving a path of destruction through increasingly more hostile levels of Hell, taking down Aspects of the Judge on your way to killing the Devil herself.
The story is done well, but the overarching narrative relies on more than a few cliches and is content to tell you what happens rather than let you experience it. There are a few twists and turns, but you, as the player, have almost no say in what goes on in the cutscenes, and they serve primarily as window dressing that connects each level. There are some plot holes as well, which the game tries to handwave these away, but they are all the more noticeable for it.
All that said, there is nothing offensive about the story of Metal: Hellsinger, and there are a few cool surprises along the way. While it was frustrating to see it lean on old tropes as much as it does, I was invested enough in the Unknown's plight primarily because she's such a cool character, reminiscent of Doom 2016's Doom Slayer. She's more a force of nature than character sometimes but has enough emotive presence to be engaging in a way that made me want to see her succeed.
Metal: Hellsinger Review — The Bottom Line
- One of the best soundtracks of the decade.
- Fantastic gunplay and music integration.
- Satisfying fights no matter what you're killing.
- A trope-y story more told than shown.
- A small selection of weapons, some of which are more fun than effective.
Metal: Hellsinger doesn't overstay its welcome. It knows exactly what it wants to be and gets it done in the space of no more than five or so hours. It is the perfect length, its music is just this side of perfect, the gunplay is terrific despite the limited weapon selection, and every level is enjoyable enough to play again and again.
The enemy variety is surprisingly large for such a tightly-built experience, with every mob needing a different approach and each boss taking a new spin on established mechanics. The later game enemies are some of the toughest challenges, but by the time you face them, you'll have enough mastery that they won't take long to overcome.
Metal: Hellsinger's only real failing is technically its narrative, but that isn't even a failing so much as it is a secondary concern for the game it wants to be. I'd have liked it to take a few more risks and be a little more engaging, but like the rest of the game, it does exactly what it means to and then gets out of the demon-slaying.
All in all, Metal: Hellsinger is a short, sweet, and immensely enjoyable experience worth every second of your time. It more than earns its purchase price. I cannot wait to see what the team at The Outsiders makes next because if this outing is anything to go by, they have one Hell of a future ahead of them.
[Note: Funcom provided the copy of Metal: Hellsinger used for this review.]