The best first-person shooters have a natural groove in their gunplay; in metal: Hellsinger, the groove is the shooting.
This odd hybrid of game making comes at the moment of accidental synchronicity when indie developer David Goldfarb gleefully realized that the heavy metal song he was listening to while playing Doom had slipped into rhythmic time with its gunfire .
Whether or not you agree that the sensation can last an entire game depends on your tolerance for both unrelenting bass drum blastbeats and equally repetitive score-attack gameplay loops.
In truth, there’s not all that much more to contend with here – certainly not Metal: Hellsinger’s pick-thin tale, which casts you as a demon with the unimaginatively named The Unknown rampaging through the underworld in a graphically generic circle of hell at a time to regain her stolen voice.
All of the innovation comes from the game’s clever core mechanics instead. Each of the game’s eight levels is accompanied by an original composition by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Two Feathers, whose tempo is represented visually by pulsing lines that converge on your crosshairs in a manner reminiscent of the classic Guitar Hero games.
Shots that land on the beat, as well as finishing moves, sprints, and well-timed reloads all factor into your Fury Multiplier, which not only increases your score bonuses and damage output, but also increases the intensity of the song. Each successive level adds more instruments into the sound mix, with the highest-triggering vocals from an impressive roster of leather-lung guests, including System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian, Trivium’s Matt Heafy and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe.
It’s a neat trick designed to induce a trance-like flow state where the sound and recording are in perfect sync. This may take time, however, because for all of its rhythm-action styles, Metal: Hellsinger is still a shooter at heart, and ignoring years of muscle memory itching to shoot baddies the moment they show up is at least half of it battle.
The other half overcomes the more outrageous difficulty spikes. The level design largely consists of surviving waves of different attackers in a series of self-contained battle arenas before defeating a multi-stage battle with a bullet sponge boss. Inevitably, the developers’ idea of increasing the challenge largely corresponds to an increase in the number of enemies and harmful projectiles flying at you.
When you slip into Metal: Hellsinger’s, er, groove, it can be an intoxicatingly transcendent experience, an immersive, interactive musical extravaganza where shotgun and kick drum blasts meet soaring melodies in a viscerally chaotic, gory cacophony.
On the downside, running out of time can be deadly, and the shooter fan’s instinct to spray and pray his way out of trouble only makes matters worse. You get a few continues per level, and some of the bottlenecks in later levels can really kill the mood.
There’s a small arsenal of weapons to juggle, and a number of additional challenges that award boons and perks to keep your multipliers up, but ultimately Metal: Hellsinger is a simple game that pulls a surprising amount of miles from a single good idea that exceptionally well implemented.
And yet this monomaniac approach is both a blessing and a curse. Devotees will no doubt spend pleasant hours perfecting their runs, but those not so enamored with Metal: Hellsinger’s Central Imagination might find the whole thing a little…a touch.
Metal: Hellsinger will be released on September 15th on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S (verified) and X, and PC.