Metal music should be synonymous with first-person shooters, considering that the original Doom is perhaps the most impactful FPS game ever made. The frantic demon slaying of that game was accompanied by the famous sounds of a 32-bit heavy band and high-pitched drums, but the marriage between the two was never discovered outside of shooters like Quake, Killing Floor 2 and Mick Gordon’s phenomenal work. In the latest Doom games. Metal: Hellsinger isn’t likely to break that trend, but the rhythm-based FPS from Swedish developer The Outsiders puts metal front and center as the most important aspect of its high-octane gameplay.
At first glance, Metal: Hellsinger might seem like little more than an imitation of 2016’s Doom, from its generic demon slaying and hell-inspired aesthetic all the way to the blistering pace of its work. Doom is an obvious inspiration and an apt comparison, but Metal: Hellsinger adds an extra layer of depth to its portrayal by structuring all of its moving parts around the music. You play as a demon who is fighting through hell on a revenge mission, and do more damage by shooting enemies to the beat of a song. The more accurate you are at keeping the rhythm, the higher your Rage multiplier and the higher your total score and damage output. To help you achieve this, there are pulsating icons on either side of the crosshairs that correspond to the beat of the song. If you are in defeat, you will be rated with either a ‘Good’ or ‘Perfect’ attack, with the latter doing the most damage and adding more to both your rage and your score.
Far from the nitty-gritty of its mechanics, slaying demons in time to the beat of the song is very satisfying. There is an added attraction to the sound of your weapons when you’re on beat, and the increase in your anger has a direct impact on the music as well. With the multiplier ramping up from 1x to 16x, the music builds up to eventually hits a massive escalation as you start singing and unleash the entire arrangement of the song, hitting your eardrums with the kind of looping sounds that perfectly fit the game’s diabolical aesthetic.
You seem to be the driving force pushing the song forward with every kill, and getting to that point and maintaining it requires you to fall into a zen-like flow where shooting the beat becomes almost second nature. BPM: Bullets Per Minute scratches a similar itch, but Metal: Hellsinger refines the concept and is unlike anything you’ve ever played, especially when compared to the momentary gameplay of traditional first-person shooters. Instead of shooting at every possible moment, do it when it makes sense musically. Even smashing and reloading in time with the beat builds Fury, as do Doom style executions that reward you with health. You’re basically rewiring your brain, but it’s so intuitive and responsive that when everything clicks, there are a few satisfying shooters.
It helps, of course, that the soundtrack is completely ripped. All the music in Metal: Hellsinger is composed by duo Elvira Björkman and Niklas Hjertberg of Two Feathers. Björkman and Hjertberg play bass and rhythm guitar on each track, Dino Medanhodzic handles lead guitar and Adam Janzi (of the VOLA band) stands behind the drums. There is also a selection of all-star metal singers bringing their talents to Metal: Hellsinger, including Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy, Matt Heafy from Trivium, and Serj Tankian from System of a Down, Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquility, and my personal favorite, Tatiana Schmelok of Ginger, among others. Getting fresh material from some of the best singers in the genre is fun, especially when it’s so intertwined with the gameplay.
Each level has an original song associated with it, and they run a series of different styles and subgenres of the metal. This adds variety but also feels like a nod to the various singers involved. For example, Burial at Night—the song featuring Tatiana Shmiluk—features some notable slaps reminiscent of many Jinjer songs, while Alissa White-Gluz’s track features consistent vocals (and the most engaging chorus on the soundtrack). However, all the songs are so excellent that I will happily listen to the full soundtrack outside of the game.
The songs are somewhat limited by the thought of the game, so don’t expect any changes in tempo and time from the drums. Changing the consistent tempo running through each track will make Metal: Hellsinger near impossible to play. Your arsenal of weapons changes how often you can shoot, though, giving each firearm its own kind of rhythm. Persephone’s shotgun, for example, has a slower rate of fire, so it can only fire every other pulse, while The Hounds’ double pistols can fire every single pulse until they need to be reloaded. This makes each weapon feel like a tool in its own right, and the sounds they make—whether it’s the bonus crunch that accompanies each perfectly timed shot or the music in each weapon’s reload—only reinforce that feeling. Every aspect of Metal: Hellsinger makes you feel connected to the music.
When you’re in rhythm, you’ll notice a pyro exploding from the ground as if you were in the middle of a Rammstein concert. And some enemies flash an orange glow with the rhythm. These are nice touches that make the game world more interactive with your performance, but the level design itself is kind of an equation. Each level consists of moving from one battlefield to another until you finally face a boss. Deviating from that formula may be problematic, considering the whole game’s rhythmic nature, but it does make your journey through the bowels of hell look somewhat similar. The same can be said for boss fights as well, as each one pits you against the same skeletal bat-like creature, with the only visual twists happening on its head. Each one fills you with projectiles that you need to dodge before summoning a wave of enemies, and while that’s exciting the first time around, it doesn’t take long before each boss battle is more than a nice footnote at the end of each level.
I completed Metal: Hellsinger in four hours, so at least these issues aren’t exacerbated by the concept being so weak. Although short in duration, the scoring system and leaderboard inclusion add a lot of replayability, especially since the game works more like a dedicated rhythm game than a shooter game with musical elements. It’s easy to fall into a rewarding loop based on improving your score and moving up the leaderboards which is not much different than playing something like Guitar Hero. There is also an interesting score breakdown at the end of each level that shows different stats, such as the percentage of level you spent at 16x Fury, the number of kills you made per beat, or the longest hitting streak you got. This shows areas where you’re likely to improve next time, but also factors in Torments, Sigils, and Boons in the game.
There is also a story that is told via fixed scenes between levels. It’s a chilling tale of revenge featuring warring skeletons, fallen angels, and the southern madness of Troy Baker’s novel. The latter gives the narration some life, and the illustrations used throughout make you feel like you’re traveling through the cover of a Dio album. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s just there to add some meaning to all the brutal demon slayings.
You know that rare moment in video games where your actions unintentionally line up with the music you’re listening to, whether it’s the game’s soundtrack or your own soundtrack? Metal: Hellsinger fills in that magical feeling and repeats it over and over again without the satisfaction ever fading away. The interplay between the bustling metal soundtrack and high-octane gameplay is exceptional and unlike anything else I’ve ever played. She falters at times, and these issues keep her from reaching Rob Halford-esque heights, but her implementation of an idea, and the way he turns this momentary action into a rhythmic carnage, backs up any of his faults. If Metal: Hellsinger is a vibrant metal album, I can’t wait for this band’s sophomore effort.