Metal: Hellsinger (2022)

There has been an abundance of first person shooters that revel in the dark catacombs of hell, and the soundtrack always features a more metal tone to it. So that’s what the developers of Meta: Hellsinger created, a perfect marriage of metal and first person shooting in hell.

The main character is named “Unknown” and her job is to get out of hell, and reclaim her voice in the process. She is aided by a skull known as Paz, who also acts as the narrator and together they try to take down the devil. It all is a very “by the book” type of modern first person shooter that uses the same motif of hell as its backdrop, which has become very popular the last six to seven years. However, this game tries something a bit different. While it is a first person shooter at its core, it also is a rhythm game, requiring the press of the attack button in time with its soundtrack’s beat.

I’ll be the first to admit that I suck at keeping a beat, clapping my hands in time with a drum beat and keeping it in sync is difficult for me. And that’s where my first and major frustration with the game lies. The game was originally given a demo a couple months before the games full release, but I missed playing it, thanks to it and every game now featuring a very limited timed exclusive (being a couple days to a single week window). But luckily the game was released on Xbox PC GamePass on launch day. When I initially booted up the game, I picked the normal mode and off I went to the depths of hell to slay demons.

The levels are all very linear with not much in the way of deviation, and I was a bit surprised. I thought there surely would be hidden objectives or collectables, or even different paths on how to traverse the level, but sadly, it’s just mostly hallways. Until I came to the arenas; a large open area that has multiple sections or pathways that help gain the advantage against the waves of enemies that will soon spawn in that section. Each arena closed itself off until I completed and took down all the enemies. It reminded me of games like Bayonetta or even Bioshock Infinite. Some of the battle arenas felt very closed off, with a single path or a box shape, not leaving much room to be creative with the way I played. And some felt much more intricate with hidden caves or corridors that wrapped around allowing me to flank the onslaught of enemies.

The beginning enemies, called marriotts are presented as the fodder types, and show up throughout the entire game, and create the need to constantly be moving. I never felt like I was able to stand still, which is one of the bigger issues for me in the game as well. I always was pressed to keep moving and never was able to line up shots the way I wanted. The battle area sections really are the only thing I did in the game, and there isn’t much to it other than running around and shooting demons. And it does excel in that aspect but I would have liked some more platforming sections to break up the hallway, arena, hallway, arena, hallway, boss fight of the level design.

The enemies for the most part are fun to shoot, there was one that single handedly made me almost quit playing as I lost multiple lives to them. The shield carrying enemy called Shield Cambion. This jerk hides behind his full bodied shield and trying to dash around him to get in a shot from behind doesn’t work, since he just rotated around me as I tried to flank him. I couldn’t kill these guys for so long, even though they have a single arm that pulsates red, indicating that is his weak spot. Whenever these dudes would show up, I frequently had to take out everyone else in the arena until I had him left. Then spent several minutes trying everything I could to kill him. Someone I was able to, but it was arduous and very un-fun.

The level design is clearly the after thought of the game, as the real focal point is that Rhythm mechanic I was talking about earlier. There is a really unique backing soundtrack with multiple layers going on throughout every level. As combo multipliers are built up, the soundtrack adds on layers to it, bringing in more and more of the full song as the multiplier doubles. 2x gave me the backing beat, then getting all the way up to 16x multiplier brings in the vocals, which each level has a different well known metal singer providing the vocals. Vocalists from Arch Enemy, Jinjer and System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian are all given credit and really are the main draw of the game (with Serj being the big name and providing the final track for the big boss fight).

However, while the mechanic of making a shooter with rhythm game elements sounds neat in theory, I found it a much more difficult task and really ruined my initial enjoyment of the game. I originally started out with the game set on medium, knowing that these games, especially ones with metal and hell often pride themselves on being hardcore in their difficulty. But I even found the first level to be too difficult to keep the beat while trying to aim, dodge, shoot and reload as well.

Aiming in a first person shooter is already a task that can be hard given the frantic nature of the game, along with the more twitchy like insanely fast paced speed of everything. Piling on the fact that I had to keep the beat to shoot and also keep that beat when reloading, it made me get frustrated extremely quickly when I would miss the beat by a fraction of a second. Missing the beat will still attack, but the attack is basically worthless and barely does any damage. But it did give some knockback to the enemy that let me keep the distance as I tried to regain my rhythm and sync back up to the beat.

It really is a cool mechanic that gives off a very satisfying feeling when done right. Syncing up shot and beat result in a much more pronounced boom of an attack and the damage splash on screen also helps the multiplier, which in turn beefs up the music and also enveloped me into the game more. It’s a ladder of succession in feedback the game gives that made me feel really crappy when I would continue to wiff the beat. Like the fumbling of drumsticks when missing a note when playing Rock Band, it immediately brought me out of the moment the game tries to keep going.

I would suggest that a better way to do the rhythm based shooting would be to not require it at all. Instead allow me to shoot at my own pace, and since the soundtrack is synced up already throughout the level, if I do happen to sync up my shot with the beat, having it boom outward, display a much larger kill graphic and showcase why it’s better to wait and sync up shots to the beat… it would result in much more satisfying gameplay and make me want to shoot to the beat more often, without forcing me to do so.