FeaturesNovember 6, 20221,741 views

Metal: Hellsinger is a rhythm FPS that hits nearly all the right notes

Metal Hellslinger

By D. Rodriguez

We’ve come a long way since Brütal Legend, one of the most popular games that had metal music, culture, and imagery at the forefront of its design and plot. Before then of course we had games like the original DOOM or early NES Mega Man games whose soundtracks were heavily influenced and indebted to rock and metal using MIDI protocol with a Little Engine That Could mentality. Nowadays though? Things have gotten more detailed and discerning across all of gaming.

Enter Norwegian video game developer Funcom and their subsidiary team The Outsiders with their newest title, Metal: Hellsinger. This is a rhythm first-person shooter - not the first of its kind, but distinct in the sense that it has original music featuring prominent and popular (you know, by metal’s standards) vocalists. You got Matt Heafy, Serj Tankian, Alissa White-Gluz, and more all contributing to an overarching story of revenge.

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You are The Unknown, a soul looking to reclaim her voice taken by the Red Judge - basically Satan. She’s voiced by Jennifer Hale, a veteran voice actor who has voiced cherished characters like female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series, Ashe from Overwatch, and most recently Bayonetta in the upcoming Bayonetta 3. The Unknown works toward her goal by ransacking eight different levels called Hells, defeating various, mostly diverse demons and aspects of the Red Judge as bosses of the Hells. Early on, you meet/obtain Paz, a talking skull that you can use as a fire-spitting weapon who also narrates the story with a rugged Southern drawl. He’s voiced by the talented and prolific Troy Baker, who you may know as Booker DeWitt of Bioshock Infinite, Erron Black and Shinnok of Mortal Kombat X/11, and Joel from The Last of Us series. He has all the lore of the Hells, demons, archdemons, the Red Judge, and yes, The Unknown herself, slowly unraveling the connections between them all and providing nice flavor and world-building. Funny - dude has no brainmeat, but all that knowledge.

It’s all presented in sleek, painted cutscenes with minimal animations. Some may see it as a decision to reduce costs for the indie studio behind Metal: Hellsinger, and you’d be right, but their highly stylized aesthetic and detail don’t make for a downgrade. In fact, it’s kind of a welcomed change in an industry where graphics and bullshots sell disappointing final products.

Good action-oriented games will talk up how when you get the hang of the way it plays, there’s a rhythm to it. Metal: Hellsinger takes that approach to its logical extreme, literally making the rhythm of the music the core element of play, and success, for this shooter. The more you shoot your diabolical weapons, reload them, and dodge infernal attacks, all on beat, the better you’ll do, and the better you do, the more music you’ll hear.

At the start of a level, you’ll only hear the most base, atmospheric elements of a song, usually drums, light bass, and some atmospheric guitar for example. Engage in fights on your path to vengeance though, and the music gets heavier with interpolated guitar leads, more intense percussion, and, finally, vocals come in provided by marquee performers. As a metal fan, it’s in your best interest to master the rhythm - that’s the only way you’ll hear the full breadth of the music.

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It goes without saying that Metal: Hellsinger is a very arcade-like experience - Escape from Tarkov this is not. Score numbers explode out of vanquished enemies like a piñata filled with calculators, you’re encouraged to stay on the move with standard but welcomed mobility options like a multi-directional dodge and double jump (jump at the tail-end of a dash for a far-flinging traversal tool that’ll come in handy).

Ammo doesn’t exist either - you’ll stylishly reload your revolvers known as The Hounds or break away your shotgun, Persephone, to slot in more hell shells to blast demons away, but you don’t have a finite ammo pool for any armaments. You can also time a button press to reload faster - think Gears of War’s active reload mechanic, but no damage bonus for doing so.

You can only bring two of the four gradually unlocked firearms with you into each level, but you always have a sleek demon falx called Terminus for close-range engagements and Paz for longer range fireball volleys. This limitation allows you to focus more on living and slaying to the beat rather than managing a weapon wheel or complicated inventory system - it’s fine. Each weapon also has an ultimate attack you can unleash after charging it with normal kills. Save those for particularly hairy situations, but don’t forget you have them.

Living and slaying will be varying degrees of hard depending on how far into the eight Hells you are and what difficulty you’re playing on, which even includes a cute, unintended Lambgoat reference: the easy difficulty is called Lamb and the default intended difficulty is Goat, with a harder Beast difficulty to test your metal mettle.

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Even on Goat, the game proves to be formidable with increasingly harder (and more annoying) enemies revealing themselves from Hell to Hell. You have Marionettes which are the cannon fodder of the game, there for easy kills to extend your Fury score multiplier (the lifeblood of the game and what determines the density of the music). Behemoths are hulking heavy-hitters that are easy enough to dodge and work over, just don’t turn your back on them and keep a finger on that dodge button. Stalkers on the other hand are quick as hell, able to cloak and warp to lash at you to deal some heavy damage - quick dispersal is key.

The main complaint I have with Metal: Hellsinger is the bosses are all quite underwhelming. You fight aspects of the Red Judge, animated specters who differ slightly in appearance, attacks, and arena environment, but not enough to be individually compelling. They all boil down to dodging very similar projectile attacks, taking down summoned grunt enemies in waves, and firing your weapons at their visages. Only with the final boss do you see anything resembling a departure from the formula, and even then there’s elements of the aspect bosses that are still prevalent during that fight. Greater diversity in the boss pool would have taken the game further for sure, especially with all the lore that’s built up throughout the game’s story.

If you ever tire of the slog through Hells, you can participate in Torments, bite-sized levels that challenge you to kill under special conditions. Some force you to switch your weapon after each kill to keep things fresh, others may lock you from healing during the Torment’s duration with the caveat that you gain attack strength the less health you have. This is where the game can really kick your ass - some Torments are truly difficult even on lower difficulties due to their strict parameters and time limits, but they always reward you with Sigils — passive perks that help you out during the main levels of the game — when conquered.

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This is a music website, so… how’s the music? Quite serviceable, if a bit safe. The instrumentation providing support to the vocals is done by Two Feathers, a composition team made up of Nicklas Hjertberg and Elvira Bjorkman doing guitars and keyboards, with drums provided by Adam Janzi of VOLA.

These three consummate musicians providing the backbone of the music is just like any other established band sitting into their own sound. You’ll hear the same tones, tunings, and approaches in writing across all the music, creating cohesion in all tracks of what is essentially an album by them. This is good and bad — ultimately, you want a soundtrack that matches the game’s aesthetic on a moment-to-moment basis, and this does, but that in turn makes it lack the diversity you might expect aside from the vocalists. You’ll hear subtle leanings into subgenres based on the vocalist that’s leading the track though.

The apparent favorite pick of the bunch is Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity, The Halo Effect, and Grand Cadaver. He’s on six of the game’s 15 tracks, but he earns it. Stanne is a great vocalist, tried and true with the melodic death metal style the game’s music finds itself tapping into often. He sings on all but one boss theme, making a good companion for the game’s more demanding moments, though I would have loved to hear other vocalists try their hand at pulse-pounding performances to match the potency required for such moments.

Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy and The Agonist lends a cleaner touch, but incenses with her deep growls as well during her one-song stint; a melodeath tune through and through. Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer) features as well in a similar capacity, though her song is indebted to more proggy/djent leanings to complement her approach more. Shmayluk’s soaring chorus is among the best in the game (Björn “Speed” Strid from Soilwork laid down the best one). Other modern metal stalwarts like Matt Heafy (Trivium, most recently Ibaraki) and Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) do their thing on tracks tailored to their particular breed of metal, convincingly of course.

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The best addition is without a doubt Serj Tankian (System Of A Down, but y’all knew that, right?), whose inclusion is just odd enough to warrant mentioning, and the song on which he features happens during the climax of the game which also heightens the intensity and enjoyment of his contribution. Tankian hasn’t missed a beat and still continues to be one of the most unique voices in heavy music as he gracefully ages and retains what makes him one of the best of his era. It’s chill-inducing to hear him harmonize the motif that provides the backbone of the game’s theme song.

To be honest, you don’t even have to be fans of these people or their bands to be sold on their presence in Metal: Hellsinger. Diehards may lament the fact that their favorite vocalist from a death metal band from middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin with 67 likes on Facebook weren’t chosen, but it makes sense the developers wanted to aim high for more recognizable talent that would potentially intrigue people who may not play FPS games or games period! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re big names for a reason, but there’s no laurel-resting or jaded paycheck cashing here — they take the opportunity to sing and contribute, not just phone something in. It does call forth the curiosity of who else the devs reached out to, or maybe even demoed songs with, who didn’t make the final cut for whatever reason. And hey, even if you don’t like the music that’s there, you can mod in other supported music with official tools offered by the devs.

Is this a game worth your time and support? Hell yeah — especially if you have Xbox Game Pass where the game is available for play on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and even on mobile devices via the cloud at no additional charge. Despite my moderate criticisms, this is still a treat on many levels and shows that the intersection of metal and video games can still be iterated on in cool ways. I hope it inspires others to dream bigger, to take their passion for metal music and gaming to the lab and create their own projects. I hope it inspires Funcom and The Outsiders to double down on what they’ve created with this game on their next project, especially as the story leaves things open-ended and primed for a potential sequel or expansion. Metal: Hellsinger is a damn good time.


8 comments

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anonymous 29 days ago

Oh ok


anonymous 27 days ago

So it's DOOM. Literally either DOOM 2016 or DOOM Eternal. This game even ripped off the glory kills. Mick Gordon is not stoked.


anonymous 27 days ago

No Fortnite No Care


PoultryInMotion 26 days ago

anyone remember Rise Of The Triad for pc?


anonymous 26 days ago

It's also on GamePass if any of you dinguses have that.


anonymous 23 days ago

Lol Nerd horseshit


lake_flaccid 23 days ago

I like metal, I play a decent amount of video games, and yet I somehow can still tell that this is lame as fuuuuuuuuuuck


anonymous 22 days ago

Generation full of grown men who can't leave behind their childhood