The rule of cool doesn’t usually sound as good as it does in Metal: Hellsinger. Ripping, tearing and headbanging your way through different versions of Hell is an exercise in buttery-smooth badassery when Hellsinger… sings. The first-person-shooter-turned-rhythm-game certainly has some very minor hiccups along the way, and it doesn’t go above or beyond some of its boomer shooter brethren, but in adding mechanical innovations on the framework set in place by games like DOOM 2016, Metal: Hellsinger sets itself apart as an outing worth playing—and doubly worth replaying.
At first glance, you’d probably mistake this for some tech demo meant to accompany the newly rebooted DOOM games. After all, blasting your way through the devil’s armies in derelict hellscapes with a shotgun is territory well-tread by Doomguy. Hellsinger blazes a new trail, though. Yes, there are demons. Yes, there is metal. Yes, you’re in hell(s), but Metal: Hellsinger takes so much of what makes those games work and makes them its own, all while leaving a lot of the most frustrating parts of its legacy inspiration behind.
DOOM’s unwieldy movement and padding in-between fights are nowhere to be found while hits like solid environmental design, a bangin’ soundtrack and finishers all show up in their own ways. The environmental design and general art style might be the most deceitfully different. Drawing from hells across different cultures and mythologies, each level represents a different hell. It’s not all fire and brimstone either (though it’s certainly there); in the Hellsinger’s quest, she’ll explore subzero tundras, Egyptian-inspired dungeons and dilapidated industrialist ruins. Each level’s theme does a lot of heavy lifting, too.
Mixing up the environment has a way of keeping the design and general feel of each level unique, though that often feels like it’s in direct contention with Hellsinger’s limited enemy variety. Of course, this is a rhythm game at its core, so the enemy variety, though disappointing, helps keep Metal: Hellsinger a tenable rhythm game at its core.
Hellsinger’s sturdy skeleton props up its metallic flesh and beating heart. Scored with love for the genre it’s named after, each song bangs harder than the last. The songs themselves aren’t just spectacular, but they get why you’re there and actively seek to reward fans of the genre
Being a rhythm game, it only stands to reason that the musical aspects are easily Hellsinger’s’ stand out contribution, but I haven’t played something with music and sound design that bolsters what’s happening in-game this well since 2019’s Wattam. It stands to reason that hitting a shot or a dash on beat feels better than not, but on top of a damage boost and a much more satisfying, crunchy sound effect for your weapon of choice when hitting the beat, Hellsinger makes the deliberate choice to reward you for good play.
In some ways, that makes this deadly ballet feel like a live performance. Like in live music, theater or improv, there’s margin for error. If you miss a beat, you take a measure or two and hop right back into the rhythm. The fact that Hellsinger lets you mess up and encourages you to get back on the horse feels like such a rare, perfect balance between challenge, risk and reward that few games like it—let alone few games in general—have gotten right.
Like any other successful rhythm game, playing within the rigid lines set forth for you by the metallic soundtrack makes for a fantastic carrot at the end of Hellsinger’s stick. This sets it apart in a really fascinating way from games like DOOM or Wolfenstein in that Hellsinger is more inclined to see you succeed if you play by its rules. That can come at the sacrifice of a degree of player freedom—or the opportunity to break things up with moments that highlight stealth, exploration or platforming—but Hellsinger’s relatively short campaign offers something entirely different for the genre: replayability.
That’s not to say its beefier, arrhythmic brethren aren’t replayable (as chance would have it, I’m knee-deep in a second Wolfenstein II run) but Hellsinger scores your dashes, shots and finishers before compiling everything from damage taken to your longest streak of perfectly-timed shots into a final score and then uploading it to a leaderboard for the world to see. Passing a friend on the leaderboard is gratifying, but you also unlock new challenges that help encourage you to revisit older levels. Plus, as you get more comfortable with following a beat, going back to earlier levels is intensely gratifying.
Replaying older levels is a must, especially if you want to experience the full soundtrack. Nailing an active reload or hitting a pitch-perfect headshot helps build up a score multiplier. As the multiplier goes up, Metal: Hellsinger layers more and more elements into its music. At the peak of the multiplier, you’re treated to vocals from the game’s myriad of guest vocalists. Singers from some spectacular metal acts like System of a Down or Lamb of God guest star in these foot-tappingly intense, enthralling tracks. I’m certainly less knowledgeable about music, metal and the intricacies of music theory than I am about games, but even I can tell that Metal: Hellsinger earnestly wears its adoration for all things metal on its sleeve.
I can’t recommend Metal: Hellsinger enough. Its badass presentation, satisfying gunplay and genre-defining soundtrack prop up an otherwise solid rhythm game to new heights. Sure, the cracks that come from a limited budget and small team show here and there, but those cracks are so hair-thin that its ripping score and tight loop cover them up in style.
Metal: Hellsinger was developed by The Outsiders and published by Funcom. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.