It was Chop Suey by System of a Down that got me into all things metal. My first listen was as part of a compilation given to me by a friend that acted as a crash course into metal. So much was I blown away by Chop Suey that I had to tell someone about it there and then. At the time though, I was on a plane and the only person sat next to me was my grandma. I don’t think she was a fan of it when I made her listen to it.
Since then, my tastes have only gotten heavier. Good job then that Metal: Hellsinger gets pretty damn heavy.
Metal: Hellsinger is an FPS merged with a rhythm action game, and not to be confused with BPM: Bullets Per Minute that does a very similar job. In Metal: Hellsinger you play as the Unknown, a winged, horned and generally badass looking being whose voice has been taken from her by the Red Judge. On her quest for vengeance and her voice, she encounters Paz, voiced by the seemingly omnipresent Troy Baker.
Paz is a floating skull that not only acts as a projectile launching weapon but as your narrator through this tale. Much like the heavy metal genre itself, Baker does a pretty good job of not letting the story take itself too seriously. It is very by-the-numbers, but his Southern drawl quips do help progress things nicely.
As a weapon, Paz isn’t the best, and your arsenal isn’t exactly going to leave you over encumbered. But along with the skull, you always have equipped a sword and two other guns. There are only four additional weapons to pick up on your journey, so your choices are limited. There are no ammo pickups; each one has unlimited ammo, but a few extra heavy weapons added in would have allowed for some greater variation.
The obvious comparison to make would be with the recent Doom games. In those, you are shooting the residents of Hell whilst listening to some brilliant heavy metal. In this, you are shooting the residents of Hell whilst listening to some brilliant heavy metal, only you need to shoot and slash in time with the music. Metal: Hellsinger even has flashing enemies that indicate a life-restoring melee kill. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Doom incorporated some kind of bonus for shooting in time with the beats.
Being a rhythm action game as well, it needs to have a killer soundtrack. And Metal: Hellsinger certainly does. Bolstering such vocalists as Matt Heafy from Trivium, Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy, Serj Tankian from System of a Down and Randy Blythe from Lamb of God to name but a few personal favourites, you could rightly argue that it is very heavily weighted towards modern metal. Not an issue for this reviewer but those expecting more classic riffage or ‘80s hair metal will need to look elsewhere.
But the vocalists on offer here really do give it their everything. Even with the musical accompaniments done by Two Feathers, you get the sense you could be listening to the vocalist’s band backing them up. Personal favourite Randy Blythe knocks it out of the park with a song I would gladly listen to alongside other Lamb of God classics. Then you have Alissa White-Gluz offering some clean vocals along with her gender stereotype destroying heavier growls. And Dennis Lyxzén – fresh off his stint as the singing voice of Jonny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 – steps out of his punk comfort zone but still absolutely smashes it.
But it was Serj Tankian that perhaps gave the biggest surprise. Already well-known for some of the most unique vocals in metal back in System of a Down, he proves there is more left in the tank as the final boss music.
Across the game’s eight levels one of these guest vocalists will accompany you on your journey through a realm of hell. How much you hear of their growls and gutturals depends on how in-time you shoot to the beat. Much like Guitar Hero, your multiplier increases as you hit the beat correctly in succession. Each time your multiplier increases, an additional layer of the music is added right up to the final level where the vocals are thrown in.
Don’t worry if you can’t get the timing quite right, as an in-game jukebox has the full song available to play at your leisure once a level is complete.
Each level takes around twenty minutes to complete and will take you through settings such as dilapidated buildings, icy tundra and industrial areas. They are very linear with nothing off the beaten path to distract you as you mosh along to the beats. Every so often an arena shaped area will open up as you fight wave after wave of enemies before being allowed to continue. These are intense settings; ratcheted up by the pumping metal that accompanies them.
These areas are clearly inspired by artwork that features on modern metal album covers. And you can see this in the level select screen. This is delivered almost like a vinyl cover; complete with slight creasing around the vinyl outline within the sleeve itself.
At the end of each level is a boss, but these are disappointingly very similar in design. A reflection of the Red Judge who oversees all the goings on in Hell, these all look like one another, aside from a few aesthetic tweaks. They mainly play the same too, with only a few little differences. One early boss feels like a bullet-hell as you dodge hundreds of projectiles, and later on one mimics itself and you need to be shooting at the right one to cause any damage. That said, any real creativity appears to only be reserved for the enemies that you will be facing hundreds of times over.
Completing a level opens up three Torments to undertake. These are challenge maps that have some fun parameters for you to try and best. Completing each one offers a Sigil that can make your life a little bit easier in the main levels. But these are not required to be completed as you can run through the story without these helpful boosts.
Metal: Hellsinger on Xbox Series X|S isn’t quite the Symphony of Destruction we were hoping for. It feels more akin to a band’s debut EP; a noteworthy introduction but one that is just a snapshot into the potential. It is a fleeting but fun experience that oozes style but has very little substance. It could have done with a bit more in almost every department: levels, enemy types, weapons and songs. That said, modern metalheads and lovers of shooting the denizens of Hell will lap it up. Just don’t expect much in the way of repeat playthroughs.
Mosh your way through Hell in Metal: Hellsinger on the Xbox Store