In the recent second volume of Brief Looks, a new occasional series I’ll do on this website, I said that my feelings on rhythm games have been mixed. It’s not that I hate the genre or that I hate the existence of music in games. No, in fact I love music in games, and believe when done correctly it can be used to hyphen the tone and themes of a game. For example, Octopath Traveler knows when to push you through tough battles using ferocious battle tracks and soften you up for major story moments using melancholic tunes. Music is great and the people behind music, whether that be in the game industry or not, put a ton of heart and soul into the work they create. I would be devastated to see the unfair treatment of musicians in the game industry, because I see them as a good proportionate reason as to why video games work. My problem isn’t with music, but with games that try to incorporate the music into the gameplay. Most of the rhythm games I’ve played fail to incorporate rhythm based mechanics well or have design decisions that make it fall apart. The well known Crypt of The NecroDancer is a game I respect, but didn’t really love. The basic idea for it was great, but the unforgiving roguelike nature of the game made it turn repetitive a little too quickly. Which is a shame, because roguelikes are built with repetition and reruns in mind. I did get far into NecroDancer, but there was a point where it stopped being fun and the progression I made didn’t feel satisfying compared to a lot of games.
Other major rhythm based action games I’ve played include Sayonara Wild Hearts, Everhood, BPM: Bullets Per Minute, and NecroDancer’s successor Cadence of Hyrule. Some of these titles I’ve really enjoyed, but I wouldn’t say they are perfect when it comes to perfectly encapsulating music into the gameplay. Everhood is probably my favorite one though, because instead of your actions being timed to the beat of a song you instead avoid the notes a song creates. You then try to use those notes to defeat the boss launching them towards you. I could just do a rundown of all these games, but that would eliminate the focus of today. Point is rhythm based games have been up and down for me, but there’s one title recently that has gotten me to really love these games since Everhood. A game that came out of nowhere and surprised many with its release. No, it’s not Hi-fi Rush. Although I will say that Hi-fi Rush looks really cool, I really want to play it, and I do hope it gets nominated for a few awards by the end of 2023 because honestly it deserves the love that it is getting. The game I’m talking about of course is Metal: Hellsinger, a rhythm FPS developed by indie studio The Outsiders.
Hellsinger was not their first project, but originally a stealth action game called Darkborn. You controlled a dark creature who was recently born, the entire race got wiped out, and now feeds on the corpses of many human beings to grow stronger and take revenge. It was a neat little reverse horror game, but then the game got canceled to the budget restrictions. After that the team opted to make what would be Metal: Hellsinger. Instead of using existing metal music they decided to create their own songs for the game. They hired talented singers within the music industry and together they recorded a total fifthteen songs for their game. Combine the length of each one and they are an album of killer metal tracks lasting close to one hour. They announced their game in 2020 and as time went on they released more footage. Hype grew for Hellsinger and eventually it came out during 2022. In between that time another rhythm based shooter came out, that being BPM: Bullets Per Minute. It was the first savory taste of what a rhythm shooter could be, so could Metal: Hellsinger improve on what BPM set up? The answer was “yes” and it beat it by a longshot. Not gonna lie, BPM was a cool concept when I saw it but similar to dear old NecroDancer it had a lot of problems due to its roguelike nature. Metal: Hellsinger is much tighter, well focused, and streamlined experience and I prefer it a lot more. It takes that rhythm based action and combines it with the combat loop of Doom 4. The Outsider made it very clear that Doom 4 was its inspiration and I would even say Metal: Hellsinger is a better successor to it than Doom Eternal. Fight me on that opinion, I dare you! This game is well designed, addicting, and during the tough moments I never got frustrated. It’s just a really good game! Not perfect, but a title I’ll carry forth a lot of respect towards. Today we’ll be talking about why I loved Metal: Hellsinger and why it deserves your attention.
A mysterious humanoid demon is banished to the outskirts of hell. She wears nothing but black garbs and carries a sword, but she wishes to get revenge on the being who sent her there. That being The Red Judge, ruler of hell and all the creatures who roam within it. Our main demon is known as The Unknown and she cannot speak because her voice was stolen by The Red Judge. We’ll talk more as to why, but for now she’s slowly making her way through the cold outskirts. Cutting down any other demon that stands in her wake and trying to find new equipment that will help her with her journey. Eventually she finds a skull in the ground and surprisingly it is still alive. That skull begins to emit a blue energy and upon staring into the eyes of the Unknown they are able to communicate. Not verbally, but they realize they have a similar goal. To get far away from the outskirts and reach whatever destination the Unknown is heading. The skull is named Paz and he serves as both a guide and a weapon for which the Unknown can rely on. As they venture further they pick new demon slaying equipment, and at the end of each section of hell they fight an Aspect. One of the higher beings of hell standing in the way of the Outsider and The Red Judge. By venturing further we discover more about the Unknown. Skip ahead if you don’t want any spoilers. Turns out there is a prophecy where a powerful demon will slay the Red Judge and bring an end to hell. That being is dubbed the Hellsinger and the description of this being fits the very presence of the Unknown. The Red Judge is furious with this knowledge and sends her mightiest forces to stop the Unknown. She even enlists the power of the heavens to hunt this prophesied killer. You and Paz must fulfill this prophecy, recover the stolen voice, and bring an end to the realm of torture and punishment. One bullet at a time.
If you want a simple explanation as to how Metal: Hellsinger plays, think Doom 4 except there is a metronome. Every action you perform must be timed to the beat of the music, because if not timed well it will either not be performed or in the case of damage it will be halved. Every jump, dodge, attack, and reload will be determined by the beat and you just have to make sure you are on par. Each level is linearly designed with battle arenas every few steps. You walk into one, the enemies begin to spawn in, and it’s your job to cut them down so you can move on. Before you step into a level you are shown the four weapons you are carrying into a level. Two of which can be chosen by you and there are four choices. The two weapons you’ll always have equipped are a sword for risky close ranged combat, and Paz who can shoot somewhat weak fireballs at a rapid pace. The four weapons you have to choose include a shotgun which can deal heavy damage up close, duel pistols which can rapidly fire away at close or long range, a crossbow which deals heavy damage long range but has a low ammo capacity and long reload time, and these shuriken boomerangs which honestly I never wrapped my head around. Each weapon has their pros and cons, and you have to decide what best fits your playstyle. Each different weapon also has an ultimate which can be charged up by keeping the pressure up in a fight and initiated to perform a deadly ability. For example, the shotgun has a charged shot that blasts through foes.
There are a variety of enemies in this game and they’ll have to be taken care of in different ways. You have the small lesser powered fodder which are a hassle when placed together in groups, but easy to pick apart. You have what are basically Imps as they shoot fireballs from afar, and the variant of them who are equipped with shields that either must be stunned with enough shots or attacked from behind. Then you have some of the more enemies like these slim creatures who spawn in suicidal explosive clones of itself that home in on you. These stalker creatures who can turn invisible, and a variant of it that emits blue shockwaves and shoots fire. These big tall lanky creatures who deal heavy damage up close, and then it’s variant which shoots projectiles. Then you have the angels who fly around and shoot laser beams. You’ll constantly want to be on the move during battles and dodge their attacks at the right time using the dash button. There’s also items around the arenas to help you during battles like green crystals that can be smashed for a pile of healing points, or score boosters which increase your score multiplier. There’s also the alternate way of healing where if you keep the pressure up on an enemy long enough they enter a stunned phase. They glow orange and give you the opportunity to perform a glory kill just like in Doom 4. Run up, perform it, fully restore your health, and even automatically reload your gun without having to do it yourself. The score multiplier is actually really important to combat. By keeping the score multiplier up you increase the percentage of damage you deal, and the game really motivates you to keep it up by having the vocals to a song kick in once you enter 16 times up for the multiplier. It is a blast as you find your next target and move down foes just to keep listening to a bopping song. Reach the end of a stage, fight an Aspect, and if you successfully do so you beat the level. You can die during a stage, but you are offered the ability to resurrect. You can do this two times, otherwise you are offered three lives during a stage. Run out and you are forced to do the entire level all over. You just gotta rip and tear to the groove of the music. Let’s hope you can defeat the Red Judge, slay her in combat, and reclaim your voice.
Metal: Hellsinger is one of the best rhythm games I’ve ever played and sits alongside Everhood for being my favorite. I cannot stress enough how much the gameplay loop slaps and while there are a fair share of problems I can easily ignore them for how well Hellsinger handles its combat. The combat truly is the highlight of this game and it mixes Doom 4’s combat well with rhythm based mechanics. Shoot wave upon wave of enemies, find the opportunity to perform glory kills to refill on health, keep up the pressure, and know who to take down first during a fight. More of that push forward combat I love and without any punishment of using specific weapons for too long. Enemies are all distinct from each other and you easily tell what they are from a mile away. For an indie studio they made a game that could rival Triple A behemoths, because Hellsinger feels like it has the budget of one. The environments are stunning, there is a lot of polish, the game runs really well, and there’s no glitches in the slightest. I played this game on a PlayStation 5 and let me tell you my enjoyment was pushed further with the Dualsense controller. Feeling the weight of my attacks both in game and in the controller. Feeling the beat of the music as it pulsed in my hands. The game is extremely fair, and while you only have three lives per level at least each of the stages aren’t too long. Even during the frustrating moments I wasn’t angry, because the combat loop and music is what pushed me forward. In fact, Hellsinger has a killer soundtrack which is needed for this time of game. The musicians they hired are incredible and deliver some of the most killer tracks I’ve heard from the metal industry. It’s all so good! The game takes four to five hours to beat, but that’s a perfect runtime.
The score multiplier system actually motivates you to keep up the multiplier as it affects damage, and that’s something I always found other games struggle with. There’s either no reward for you keeping the multiplier up or there’s no mechanical effect. Metal: Hellsinger has one and that’s awesome. You are shown a leaderboard at the end of each stage and this encourages you to go replay levels and inch slowly towards the top. Maybe even play the game on a harder difficulty to see if you’ll do better. The story I found to be really good and I thought the major plot twists were compelling. Finding out who you are, the prophecy that will be fulfilled, and the people you were once surrounded with. It’s epic. Not confusing and all over the place like Doom Eternal. Just a straightforward plot that knows what it wants to do! I also really like the artstyle for story cutscenes. Well stylized, beautiful to look at, and give the game more personality. Metal: Hellsinger is one rock concert of a video game and even though it usually goes for forty bucks I can see a lot of people getting their money's worth. I do think a couple of people will struggle with the game if they have no rhythm or are hard of hearing, but the game has a couple of accessibility options to help players get in which is great. Now I do have a few complaints with the game and we’re going to address them now. Between the four weapons you are offered to choose from before starting a new level only two of them I found to be good. The pistols and the shotgun, because the crossbow feels awkward to control as you have to reload every two shots and the shuriken boomerangs just take awhile to come back to you and can't be thrown that fast. Why go for something that is off putting when you can use a tool that is efficient.
Beside the final boss, every single boss you fight at the end of each level are all the same. A flying skull with wings that teleports around and shoots projectiles at you. Maybe the arena will be different or there will be a unique mechanic like distinguishing which one is the fake, but it’s the same boss idea each time. I can understand there being budget restrictions or trying to keep a specific theme, but honestly it does feel a bit creatively lacking. My final complaint will depend on how you see it, but shielded enemies are some of the worst ones to fight in the game. They are not hard to deal with, but often halt the flow of combat just so you can focus on them. I think what you are supposed to do is get behind them and shoot, but that’s hard as they turn quickly and it can be made more stressful if there are other foes surrounding you. So usually I just whip out Paz, fire away, wait for their defense to be broken, and then whip out a firearm and blast away. Hope you can kill them within that time frame, because if they recover and start putting their defenses back up then you’ll have to do it all over again. Despite these complaints, I think this is an amazing game. I strongly recommend it and it’s one of the best indie shooters I have played alongside Neon White and Dusk. Let’s hope sometime in the future I get to play the ever so resounding Hi-fi Rush. In the end I am going to give Metal: Hellsinger a 9/10 for excellence at best.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!