A Hellish Tune

It’s weird how this happens in this industry.  Video games now require an average of 2-5 years of development depending on size, scope, and team of a project.  So what are the odds that we get two first-person rhythmic-based religion-dipped action-shooters within 2 years of each other?  I’ve already taken my licks against BPM: Bullets Per Minute back in 2020 and I had a blast with its inclusions and gameplay style, so I feel obligated to test the mettle of the metal in this FPS beat-shooter from The Outsiders and Funcom.

Hell is not just one eternal spot, for there are thousands of different Hells intersecting between each other housing different styles of demons amongst different biomes.  Among those demons is one we know as The Unknown. She has been left without her voice and the answer to getting it back, and what that ultimately means goes through The Red Judge.  The Red Judge presides over thousands of Hells and will do everything possible to keep the Unknown’s voice away from her.  Your job is to shoot, kill, and ride to the beat to reach the Red Judge and regain your voice.

Like Crypt of the Necrodancer and BPM before it, your main focus is to follow the beat of the music as you traverse through each level.  Performing actions on beat: dashing, shooting, reloading, etc. will provide bonuses to these actions and add to your Fury Meter.  Fury is Hellsinger’s combo rating, which gets to a staggering 16x at maximum and will allow your score to get into the millions with ease.  Gaining successive ranks in your Fury also adds to the intensity of the soundtrack, pulling in pieces of the instrumentation and capping off the 16x with the lyrics to the level’s soundtrack.

Speaking of which, I want to break off for a second here and commend what is probably going to be a contender for Best Soundtrack this year because holy shit this OST is scorching.  The Outsiders pulled frontmen and frontwomen from some prolific metal bands: Lamb of God, Arch Enemy, Jinjer, Refused, Trivium, System of a Down(!?) to name a few, and combined the bells and whistles from Two Feathers and created an absolute statement of a soundtrack.  Each stage I looked up at the song credits and went, “Oh shit, I know that band!” and it just got me even more hyped for the stage ahead.

Bouncing off of that, Hellsinger’s sound direction is pristine.  To accompany the soundtrack’s ever pumping bass, drums, guitars, and vocals, each of The Unknown’s moves accentuate the world around her.  The weapons used are punchy and clean, especially the shotgun as it sounds like a damn Mack Truck when it hits enemies.  Dashes and Soars on beat keep the tempo in check and Ultimates can change the song altogether at times.  Everything works so cohesively into one another that the volume stayed nice and high and really picked the gameplay up.

And the gameplay doesn’t need much help, as it runs fast and furious throughout its campaign.  Once a small tutorial is run you’re given the reins and coaxed into 5th gear immediately.  You’ll soon be acclimated to nailing perfect dashes, timing double jumps with headshots, coordinating your Ultimates for the best use, switching weapons on the fly while nabbing perfect reloads: it’s a masterfully crafted dance of death that is an absolute blast to play.  Hellsinger will stand tall this year as one of the more indulgent gameplay experiences of the year.

But not all is perfect down in Hell.  While there is an attempt to stretch their game as far as possible with their point system baked within each level, it fails to mask that there are only 7 levels within the main campaign.  On average a level can be finished in about 15-20 minutes per level, capping Hellsinger at around a 2-3 hour playthrough.  Small challenges titled Torments provide short detours and also grant The Unknown access to Sigils, small passive boosts that range from keeping combos longer to accessing bonuses easier when playing well.  Each of these Torments are only a couple minutes long, so the whole game can be seen in roughly 6 hours.

The bosses were a real disappointment, as it was visually the same boss with different styles of attacks.  For having a backdrop as thematically open as Hell, its big bosses was a stark dropoff from the diversity of common enemies provided throughout the game and the lack of creativity is really jarring. The ending of Hellsinger, while I won’t get super into it, also felt rushed and incomplete.  I felt like I was just getting into the meat and potatoes of The Unknown’s journey as they cut it right off.  It feels rushed to the point where ideas were definitely fleshed out, and the process would’ve been really fun to play, but then felt like a company decision to test the waters and really push the envelope with a potential sequel.  Which look, I get it, but it’s really unfortunate to see it in motion.

But I can’t sound off on Metal: Hellsinger too much, I mean…I’ve been listening to the soundtrack as I wrote this.  Punchy and chaotic gunplay, a poetically thumping soundtrack, and the crisp and precise sound direction build a solid package of fun even if it lacks length and creativity around some of its sharp corners.  It’s absolutely worth a run through and a gander at how well you can carry your combative tune. Join me in praying to the Hell Below for a sequel that really shows what this studio can accomplish.