Gaming and music is an age-old partnership that rarely fails to deliver. Who can forget the iconic tune of Super Mario Bros. or Sephiroth’s intimidating “One-Winged Angel” theme in Final Fantasy 7? It’s a beautiful combination that gives gamers plenty of memorable moments. Now, with Rock Band, Brütal Legend, and Doom delivering the awe-inspiring soundscape of rock in games, fans can headbang with controller in hand.
If there was a way to mix the rhythm combinations of Guitar Hero while blowing a demon’s head off with a shotgun, even better, right? Enter, Metal: Hellsinger. Developer The Outsiders have created a union between the fast-paced first-person shooter mechanics of Doom Eternal and thrown in the ability to “slay to the beat.” This isn’t the first of its kind, but when there are the iconic voices of Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), along with the excellent voice talent of Troy Baker, blasting in your ears, you can already tell this isn’t your average FPS based in hell.
But does it keep the momentum? After eight hours with the game — completing the main story and finishing all the Torment trials — the best way to describe it is metal fans should come for a good time, not a long time. Like a proper album, rock band Two Feathers have created around 11 original tunes to slay away to, but this can only take gamers so far when enemy variation is limited and levels play out the same way.
The rhythm-based FPS is available on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X, Series S, and Game Pass on September 15, and despite its setbacks, Metal: Hellsinger is a game any FPS and metal fan will want to pick up.
Metal: Hellsinger — Dancing with the devil
I’m a big fan of blaring metallic beats while pumping lead into monsters, and Metal: Hellsinger follows similar beats (metaphorically and literally) as rhythm-based hell shooter BPM: Bullets Per Minute a symphony of intense guitar riffs and thrashing drums with each satisfying pull of our protagonist: The Unknown’s demonic triggers.
To make the most out of each trigger pulled, The Outsiders start things off with an audio and visual calibration test for wireless headphones and displays with high latency, making sure users get that satisfying shot on the beat. It’s the little things like this that show the developers want to make this a thrilling and fair experience.
Gameplay follows the same patterns as Doom (it was heavily inspired by it, after all). Slay every monster in sight with an array of special weapons, whether it's guns, a slick-looking skull sword, or an actual skull that flings fireballs from its mouth. For example, flashing enemies can be “Slaughtered,” a one-hit kill like in Doom, albeit less cinematic. Slaughtered enemies drop health, and Doom players will be familiar with the routine this leads to; slaughtering lesser enemies to gain health fast when taking on a horde of foes. However, this also adds a bonus score.
Throughout Hellsinger, you’re constantly building a score by shooting to the beat. This can build fast if you stick to it long enough, with a multiplier, known as the Fury Meter, up to 16x for maximum score-gaining. This is a great mechanic for those looking to see their names on the leaderboard and for replayability, but for me, it’s the adaptive music. The better you play, the more intense a song will get (16x is when the vocals kick in), and the longer you groove without missing a beat, the longer the vocals stay in the song. And these songs will make you want to play better.
All the music in the Hellsinger is original, featuring the talents of some of the most recognizable voices in metal. Hearing Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz voice in the first level, all while shooting and dodging to the beat so I could keep the vocals going, is a delight. But music by the Two Feathers band is equally as satisfying to slay to.
Everyone will have their particular favorites, from Serj Tankian of System of a Down's "No Tomorrow" to Randy Blythe of Lamb of God's "Acheron." To match the high-octane action in each level, each song sounds relatively similar to one another — which is a double-edged sword. If you're a fan of what you hear, you're getting nine levels (including the tutorial) of songs that slap hard. However, without that much differentiation between tunes, you're getting the same beats over and over again.
It's thrilling to hear icons of metal roar as you blast your way through hordes of enemies, and The Outsiders have done a stellar job of bringing in the right voices. That said, it would have been nice to hear different bands do their own take on each level. Who knows, DLC and future updates could introduce new levels with these different tunes to rock out to.
Apparently, some of the best ways to keep that score is by using The Skull of Paz. This is The Unknown’s fitting skull buddy (voiced brilliantly by Troy Baker), and he acts as the rhythm’s “pulse of the universe” and the game's narrator. He shoots low-damage fireballs, sort of like Doom’s pistol, allowing you to build your Fury meter and get easy Slaughter kills. However, I found the more I progressed, the less I ever used Paz. The arsenal of weapons The Unknown picks up is more than enough to keep that score going, and most of the time I found myself sticking to just one weapon (more on that later).
Each level is split up into big stages where you must defeat all the enemies before passing through blocked gates. Unfortunately, there isn’t too much to these stages, other than random multiplier pickups to raise your Fury gauge. While beautiful to look at, there wasn't much time to take in the different landscapes of hell, from fiery pits to snowy mountainsides. The Fury meter continues to drop even when you beat each section of a level, meaning I was dashing to the next stage (on the beat, as it keeps the Fury meter up) to make sure my multiplier didn't drop.
Metal: Hellsinger — Instruments of destruction
There’s a handful of hell-inspired weaponry I got my hands on throughout the demo, including the aforementioned Paz and skull-clad sword Terminus. This includes Persephone, a combat shotgun of sorts; The Hounds, dual revolvers known as Cerberus and Orthrus; Vulcan, a large crossbow that fires explosive bolts; and Hellcrow, dual scythe-like rods that slay through enemies and return to sender (essentially, boomerangs with blades). These are the main damage dealers, leaving poor Paz left on The Unknown's hip.
Each weapon is picked up as players progress through the game, and, while there is a limited selection, each weapon is exciting to start using — and their design is on point. Each has its pros and cons: the Vulcan is slow with only two rounds but can wipe out a bundle of lesser demons in one shot, while the Hellcrow doesn't need a reload, but has limited range and doesn't pack as big of a wallop.
Weapons pack a satisfying, punchy blast, which is significant in a game filled with heavy metal. Even more so when you unleash their “Ultimate” ability with a right-click. For example, Persephone unleashes a blast that annihilates anything in its path, while The Hounds create a static copy of The Unknown to deal damage. Ultimates can be used once enough energy is charged up from killing foes, but builds up relatively fast. I found they were handy in a bind, but I was using them more to build up my overall score.
But there wasn't much point in choosing specific weapons in different scenarios, and Hellsinger knows this, too. Each time you start a level, you can select your loadout by choosing two weapons, along with the always-equipped Paz and blade. No matter what loadout I chose, it didn't change how I progressed through the level, as I was still demolishing enemies the same way. In fact, I found The Hounds to be my favorite, and there was no reason to switch from using them when encountering the legions of demons.
This is due to limited enemy variation. While there are a few new demons introduced as you progress to each level, their movesets don't bring much to the table. There are a few to look out for, such as the speedy Void Stalker that can teleport around shooting fast electric attacks and emit an area-of-effect (AOE), and the hulking Siege Behemoth that fires massive ranged attacks and an exploding AOE. Still, they go down the same way without the need to switch weapons; just keep firing on the beat and you'll destroy them in no time.
The only times I changed weapons was when dealing with the Shield Cambion that's impervious to projectiles, meaning I switched to using The Unknown's blade to get upfront and personal, and quickly annihilating a group of weak Marionettes with the Vulcan. More enemies with different strengths and weaknesses would make weapon swapping more desirable, but at the end of the day, the satisfaction to "slay to the beat" trumps all else.
It doesn’t take long to get used to the tempo and start shooting with a groove, as Hellsinger isn’t too punishing. It’s a game about gaining points through blasting enemies and keeping up a combo rather than difficulty, even when playing on the harder "Beast" difficulty. That said, the “Aspect” final bosses of each stage have a few tricks up their sleeves. These can take a while to defeat, but I was disappointed that these Aspects were the only final bosses. Sure, they look slightly different and have a few new moves, but it's still the same boss you're up against (except for the Red Judge, the main antagonist, in the final level).
Metal: Hellsinger — Short and sweet
Speaking of, The Unknown travel across these "Hells" to reach the Red Judge, the one who stole your voice. Our protagonist's journey isn't very long, lasting eight levels along with a short tutorial. What's more, the first few levels don't take that long to finish, either. At first, I was hoping more levels would eventually reveal themselves, but Hellsinger can get repetitive after a while. Without the variation in level design or enemy types, along with the handful of weapons received, I realized it's a game that's short and sweet for a reason.
To expand its gameplay, though, Hellsinger has "Torments" for players to complete. These act as timed trials that were created by the Dead Seven Archdevils, and completing them offers Sigils that give The Unknown different benefits. For example, acing the "Weapon Trickey" torment grants the Ghost Rounds Sigil so you can gain extra ammo when switching weapons, while the "Slaughter Mastery" Torment delivers The Perfectionist Sigil to gain bonus Fury when you get perfect hits.
These were a fun challenge to complete, as the trials presented different quirks such as swapping weapons whenever you kill an enemy or killing 99 demons without receiving any health. There are three stages to each of the seven trials, and the later ones were a difficult-but-fair challenge to conquer.
The awarded Sigils aren't necessary to beat the main missions, only offering slight benefits to destroy enemies. Certain Sigils, like The Perfectionist, aided in boosting my final score in each level, but they aren't essential in mastering the rhythm of Hellsinger. Still, I enjoyed the challenges, and it expands the game's longevity.
Metal: Hellsinger PC and Steam Deck Performance
Recommended specs for Metal: Hellsinger include an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, GeForce GTX 1060 GPU and 8GB of RAM. In real-world testing, one thing is obvious: The Outsiders has done a great job in optimizing this game to work across a wide variety of different-specced systems.
I played Hellsinger on PC, with my Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (2021) sporting an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU, 32GB of RAM, and dual 1TB PCI m.2 SSDs. This is more than enough to handle the game’s requirements.
Below is Jason England's performance testing, including on Steam Deck:
If you’re running an RTX 3060 like I am in the Asus TUF Gaming F15, you can max out the graphical settings and comfortably hit a 60-70 fps average. Carting out my old, Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 with 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen 5 and a GTX 1650 produced decent results, too — turn it down to medium and you can still hit 60 fps at 1080p.
And finally, the promised land. How does the Steam Deck handle it? Actually, really well! On the default settings, which is a mix of medium and high graphical settings, you’re going to get 30 FPS at the full 1280 x 800 resolution.
But a game that requires perfectly-timed button presses like this requires speed, which is easy to do by turning down the graphics preset to low. Once you do that, you’re peaking at a stable 60 fps and everything is golden when it comes to fluid gameplay. Plus, on a smaller screen like this, that lower detail still results in a good-looking game.
Metal: Hellsinger — Bottom line
Metal: Hellsinger is the rhythmic heavy metal shooter I've always wanted, and I can't get enough of tunes like "Stygia" featuring Arch Enemy's lead vocalist and "No Tomorrow" with Serj Tanikan's vocals not only playing in the background while I leave gruesome demons full of holes but also becoming more intense the better I play.
The thrills of Hellsinger may be too short-lived, and the limited enemy variation, along with repetitious levels, means that once you get into the rhythm of blasting your way through the legions of hell, there isn't much else to delve into. That said, there's no doubt this has been made by fans of metal and FPS shooters, and The Outsiders have created a beautiful rock ballad through hell that's worth your time.
If you're looking to conduct your way through a demonic, metal symphony, with hellish guns as your baton, Metal: Hellsinger needs to be in your library of games.