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Rhythm games are a strange breed as they seem to come in and out of relevance in the most random of times. They also seem to come with a lot of experimentation, and the effort to make rhythm games have some depth and personality has delivered some very interesting and peculiar concoctions. While games like Guitar Hero, Bust a Move, and Rock Band deliver a more traditional rhythm experience, titles such as Beat Saber, PaRappa the Rapper, and Elite Beat Agents show how quirky and creative the rhythm genre can be. As such, sub-genres can be born in the midst of the madness, and that’s where Metal: Hellsinger finds its home.
While not given an official title (perhaps Doombeat would fit the bill?), Metal: Hellsinger fits in the same sub-genre as BPM: Bullets Per Minute, which came nearly two years before. As such, there are many similarities to be found between the two titles, and comparisons are inevitable. However, there are many differences as well that escalate Metal: Hellsinger to something much greater.
In the Doombeat sub-genre (I’m just going with it), you fire guns and dodge enemies to the beat of a soundtrack. BPM did this first, so it gets credit for birthing the sub-genre. But as fine as BPM was, Metal: Hellsinger executes everything to a much higher degree. For one, BPM is a rogue-like, but Metal: Hellsinger is a more focused and handcrafted experience. It has more depth in its gameplay systems as well. And while BPM has some good and catchy music, Metal: Hellsinger makes its music the absolute star of the show, and it integrates that music as something that’s not just a beat to strive for, but an integral part of the experience.
But what if you’ve never played a Doombeat game (like BPM), or even a rhythm game? What exactly is a Metal: Hellsinger, and what does it do so well? Let’s break it down.
Metal: Hellsinger, produced by Funcom and developed by The Outsiders, is a challenging rhythm shooter in which you need to perform all of your actions to the beat of a soundtrack that plays across a number of stages. Every action, from swinging swords, shooting guns, dodging, reloading, and everything else short of pausing the game adheres to a rhythmic system wherein every action is much better when it occurs to the beat. Some actions may even be detrimental if they fall outside of that beat. But, as a rule of thumb, get used to feeling the beat across every single thing you do.
It helps that the soundtrack is one of the most epic and energetic audio feasts that your ears will witness. Using established metal and musical artists in the industry such as Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer), and Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), to name a few, every stage comes equipped with a melody that you will be humming in your head and thumping in your heart. They all have driving and energetic melodies, and they are the lifeblood of the entire Metal: Hellsinger experience.
From the moment you boot up the game, the soundtrack is your welcome companion. The beat warms up as the initial splash screens are presented, and it explodes with a crescendo of energy once the Metal: Hellsinger title is displayed. It’s very much foreshadowing the event to come, and the way the music is integrated in the game is nothing short of a masterpiece.
It starts with the tutorial, where the beat is purposefully loud and evident, like a heartbeat. Because feeling this beat is paramount, everything in the game ensures that you do. The beat is ever present. The UI elements, such as flashing arrows on your targeting reticule and a diamond that forms on weakened foes, constantly pulse in rhythm. And external elements such as fires across the landscape thump to the percussive essentialness of every beat.
The first few enemies allow you to get used to feeling that flow, and then you find an arena-type room where you’ll get your initial taste of 16. Sixteen is the number you’ll be striving for with the rage meter, which is a culmination of how well you’re on beat while dodging enemy attacks. As you stay on beat with your actions, avoiding blows and bullets in the process, your rage meter will increase incrementally from 1, 2, 4, 8, and finally 16 at its max. At each stage your power grows, and more elements are added to the music. As such, not only will your character be stronger due to your skillful play, but you will FEEL more engaged with the elements being added.
Start to miss beats or get beat down, and the rage will decrease. You will hear elements being taken away from the music, which will inspire you to want to add them again with great play. Also, as your health depletes to dangerous levels, the music will dampen and distort, letting you know it’s time to seek health, or perish.
You can regain health by either attacking green crystals from the walls, or by weakening enemies to a point where you can finish them with a slaughter move that knocks the health crystals right out of them. This, also, can only be done on beat, so while you’re frantically scouring for that health, maintaining the beat is all the more vital.
As you conquer the varied stages, called “hells” due to being various areas from the dark below, you’ll be treated to the semblance of a story. As it turns out, there is a prophecy about a Hellsinger, and you play as a woman simply called the Unknown. The demons of hell are sent out by a figure known as the Red Judge to stop the Unknown because it’s believed that the Unknown may be the one mentioned in the prophecy. Along the way a very interesting story is set up. But, as the credits rolled, the story still seemed more like it was setting something up, as if the entire game is a large prologue for something coming next.
Due to this, the story, though interesting, is not something that will initially bring in the players. It really does set up an interesting story concept, though, and it is obvious that a sequel is in mind based on the yarn spun. And I hope that we’ll see more on it since Troy Baker delivers a fantastic performance as Paz, a friend of sorts to the main character, though any more said could be a spoiler. Also, Jennifer Hale gives a great performance, though her part is rather small.
Once the action gets going and the music pumps adrenaline into your veins, you will likely not care a bit about the story, however. All you’ll need to know is that there are nasty monsters scattered about, and they need to meet the business end of whatever doom device you are wielding. From swords, hand guns, shotguns, and more, most of the armament food groups are accounted for. I wish there was even more variety, but the implements here are satisfying. All are viable, and each has its own ultimate, which is a devastating attack that can be used once your ultimate meter is fully charged.
Assisting you further are sigils that you’ll find while doing “torments,” which are bite-sized challenges you may choose to face after clearing a stage. If you successfully complete a torment, you’ll earn a sigil which can help you in various ways, such as keeping the rage counter from dropping below a certain point or increasing your damage as your health gets low. You may equip two of these at the start of every stage, and choosing what works for you can make all the difference.
Each of the stages comes with leaderboard support for each of its difficulties, and the scoring system can be addictive. As such, gamers are sure to play through these stages repeatedly in an effort to post their highest stage scores. That said, there are only a small selection of stages compared to other games, with only eight being present, along with the tutorial stage. There are three torments per stage as well, which certainly help with the longevity of the game. It also helps that each of the stages is varied with interesting areas and arenas.
Unfortunately, there are only a small selection of enemies across these stages. The enemies function quite differently, and each type of baddie has a few variants within its family, but I would have liked even more variety. Likewise, the bosses of each area, save the final boss, look nearly the same. It’s by design, and they do function differently, but some more variety in appearance would still have gone a long way here as well. Also, the game can feel repetitive at times, but that flaw is alleviated greatly by stages with interesting environments, combinations of enemies that truly change the flow of tactics, and a soundtrack that keeps you wanting to play at the top of your ability so you can hear each track at the full power of 16.
Metal: Hellsinger is a game that is all about its gameplay intermingled with one of the finest soundtracks you’ll hear this year. Even if heavy metal screams and guttural utterances aren’t your particular taste of music, these songs are incredibly catchy with moving melodies and powerful chords. As you unlock each new stage, it comes with the even greater reward of unlocking the song that plays during that stage. I’m not that into heavy metal as a genre because so much of it seems like a showcase of rage screaming the foulest and most offensive lyrics, but that’s not the case here. I cannot overstate just how exceptional the music is in Metal: Hellsinger and what it feels like to play the game when every vein in its systems takes lifeblood from the musical heartbeat fueled by the soundtrack.
To play Metal: Hellsinger is to have an experience. It’s a game that fully engages you while you play. While it does have some shortcomings, most of them amount to me wishing the game had more. Everything that is here is fantastically fun, and it’s a foundation that I hope gets expounded in the inevitable sequel that this game sets up brilliantly. It merges the frenetic gunplay and challenge of Doom with the rhythmic precision of Guitar Hero in a way that feels natural. And when you’re feeling the zone where every dodge and shot is pumping in perfect rhythm, you’ll be singing an epic tune that’s nothing short of pure metal.