There’s nothing more metal than a first-person shooter. From the ‘90s heyday of Quake’s Trent Reznor-penned soundtrack, to Doom Eternal’s deliciously Djent-y dirge, pulverising pixelated hellspawn just requires riffs. It’s a sentiment that Swedish studio, The Outsiders, clearly share, as it’s reimagined the trusty first person shooter as a Guitar Hero-esque rhythm game. Meet your bullet-totting, blastbeat-belting new obsession – Metal: Hellsinger.
If you’re sat there thinking that this concept sounds eerily familiar, ten metal points to you. During the height of the pandemic, 2020’s BPM (Bullets Per Minute) was the first FPS to attempt fusing Doom-like mayhem with rhythmic riff-led blasting. Sadly, try as its indie creators might, the execution wasn’t quite right. While it nailed a lot of the fundamentals –Rocksmith-esque beatmarks, using dodges and shifts to the rhythm – the feel of the combat didn’t match the frenetic soundtrack. Like all good ideas, the concept has re-appeared in new hands, and it seems like second time’s the charm.
Metal: Hellsinger is essentially Parappa The Rapper meets Doom – and it’s an absolute blast. Where BPM laid down the demonic groove foundations, Hellsinger expands them into an entire festival stage. As you leap, dash and slash your way through frames of ferocious fiends, it’s up to you to use a slew of murder weapons to keep the beat and dispatch the snarling demons. Sending you rampaging from arena to arena, slaying hordes of satanic creatures, it’s not hard to see Doom Eternal’s shadow loom over Hellsinger. Yet, once you and the pounding bass drum become one, the flow is so good that Hellsinger may actually – whisper it – feel better.
Where Doom’s intoxicating blend of frenzied combat and resource management works you up into a glorious ballet of blood, Hellsinger turns you into the conductor of your favourite metal band. Here, it’s not enough to just rack up kills – you’ve got to feel the gory groove. Much like in Guitar Hero, you’re essentially the drummer, with weapons neatly matching up to different drum kit essentials. As you dodge, dash and blast your way around, you quickly adapt the natural rhythm of your mouse clicks, moulding your reactions to that of a murderous metronome.
While you may expect this to take some control away from the player, Hellsinger leaves you in full control of your demonic protagonist. In essence, the game sees you slashing and shooting in time to the beat. Featuring original tracks from Virginia metalheads Lamb Of God, Trivium’s Matt Heafy and even nu metal icon Serj Tankian of System of A Down, The Outsiders has roped in an impressive amount of riff-churning royalty.
As you collect an increasingly groovy arsenal, it suddenly feels like weapons are individual drums in a prog rock stadium kit. From the snare-like ricochet of the shotgun – complete with snappily paced reload noise – to a flaming skull that fires like a splash cymbal, slaying hordes of hell fiends has never felt so musical. Like the best rhythm games, Hellsinger soon lulls you into a satisfying trance-like state, convincing you that your well-timed shotgun blast really is the backbone of Chris Adler’s groove. Of course this is a metal rhythm game, and the double kick is present, represented by the satisfying kick of the dual pistols. Danny Carey, eat your heart out.
Still, what’s a score-based shooter without a good incentive? Here, the reward is in the roars. In a move borrowed from the criminally underrated SSX on Xbox 360, the scope of the song expands around your performance. The higher your multiplier the more instruments weigh in, with a 16x score multiplier rewarding your hard-earned bloodshed by bringing in the guttering growls of the vocal track. As your left mouse clicks sync up to the pummelling rhythm behind the bloodshed, you’ll find yourself getting lost in Hellsinger’s carnage.
In fact, as the levels got harder and slow marionettes were replaced by hulking behemoths, I’d often forget about my multiplier entirely, dodging and firing in tandem with the crushing guitars, head bopping involuntarily. Still, when that vocal track does eventually unlock it feels borderline euphoric – like an excruciatingly teased bass drop in a sweaty rave. As the carnage escalates while your winged protagonist mumbles some husky-voiced exposition, each new ear-rattling arena ups the ante. The only complaint is that for the vast majority of the level, you’re slaying along to the same song.
Still, that all changes for the finale. As my hour-long demo culminates in a bullet-hell inspired boss fight, the track changes to something more thrashy. Instead of the freeform arenas, this satanic showdown sees you trapped on a singular, tight-knit floating platform. As reams of deadly orbs fly towards you, hopping and shooting safely across the floating, burning rock offers a more claustrophobic-feeling challenge. Still, it’s here that Hellsinger lost a bit of my attention. Where last year’s Returnal mastered the blend of rhythm hell and 3D action, this little hurried homage feels far less convincing.
Regardless, a few niggles aside, it says a lot that I found myself compelled to return to Metal: Hellsinger’s single level demo after I’d felled the winged foe in the finale. There’s something about the way this all comes together – the enemy movement, the reload animations, and the slow cacophony of metallic melodies– that makes the experience endlessly satisfying. Will this fiendish flow be enough to carry an entire full-length game? With only one level out in the open, that’s hard to say, but for now, riddling wretches to ribbons has never felt more mosh-worthy.