“Metal: Hellsinger” is heavy metal theatrics at its best

Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S

Developer: Aliens | Editor: Funcom

Think music games, and series like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Beatmania are usually the first titles that come to mind. These sought to reproduce an idea of ​​what one feels on stage; players press buttons on plastic instruments or controllers to display notes cascading across the screen, and are rewarded for breaking the correct notes as close to the tempo as possible. But while maintaining tempo is arguably important for musicians to play in sync, these games lacked a crucial aspect of live music: spontaneity, improvisation, and melodic dialogue between musicians.

That’s not to say that these games don’t require dexterity and skill, but they don’t really let you ramble around on your instrument, compose riffs on the fly, or feel the buzz and dread of a live jam session. You can get booed in Rock Band if you don’t play the right notes all the time, which rarely happens in real life. Something I learned playing drums in local amateur bands years ago is that the drummer plays a key role in promoting this spontaneity: they are the ones who set the tempo and the rhythm songs. If I inadvertently speeded up or slowed down, the rest of the band would have to align their notes with my fluctuating rhythms. But playing music is more than keeping a steady tempo; too strict, even slavish adherence to rhythm can make a performance feel a little too mechanical.

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“Metal: Hellsinger,” a rhythmic first-person shooter, understands this, and in doing so, veers surprisingly close to the heart-pounding feel of live performance, steeped in the kind of out-of-this-world improvisation not usually not captured. in rhythm games. You play as the Unknown, a fallen archangel and feared enemy of the hellish pits, rampaging through the eight levels of hell with a sword and some nifty demonic weapons in your arsenal. Like an unholy version of “The Little Mermaid,” you roam the underworld in search of your lost voice, your revenge waged on the tense and brutal assault of heavy metal music.

At the same time, you’re encouraged to line up your kills with the songs’ underlying rhythms, while you’re guided by the hard-hitting grooves of the soundtrack’s heavily pounded drums. The more in sync you are with this beat, the more damage you can inflict and the more intense the music will become. What begins as an instrumental daydream will eventually turn into a full-fledged barrage of melodic, aggressive metal, complete with chilling roars and passionate vocals – that’s as long as you can slay demons to the beat.

First of all, the ancestor of “Metal: Hellsinger” is almost definitely “Doom”, given the latter’s heavy metal style and the way it popularized the concept of Glory Kills – the act of squeezing health and ammunition from demons on the verge of death. “Metal: Hellsinger” borrows a lot of concepts from “Doom,” but adds a twist with its rhythm-based mechanic, which only makes these kills even more dizzying and adrenaline-soaked.

Yet “Metal: Hellsinger” isn’t just about keeping time while slaying bloodthirsty demons; it also offers room for improvisation thanks to its panoply of weapons. Take Paz, a fire-breathing talking skull that essentially functions like your pistol – a pistol that lets you fire shots consistently and quickly, but deals minimal damage per shot. Unlike other guns in your arsenal, Paz doesn’t need to be reloaded, making it a perfect weapon to learn how to shoot demons to the beat of the game’s heavy metal accompaniment. weapons, such as Persephone, the game’s version of a shotgun, and Vulcan, a heavy, slow crossbow that fires bolts that deal area damage, devastating enemies where the bolts land. Persephone deals infinitely more damage, but is slightly harder to wield as it takes a while to reload, and its lower rate of fire means you can, at best, only fire the gun once every two beats ; Vulcan has an even lower rate of fire.

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It changes your experience of “Metal: Hellsinger”. Do you stick with Paz throughout the level, or change how you deal with waves of invading enemies with a slower but more powerful weapon? While this dilemma might not be such a foreign concept to FPS veterans, when combined with the need to stay on the beat – no matter what – it can throw a wrench in the works. You’re going from one shot every beat to every other beat, and it’s not a change that everyone can adapt to quickly. That said, if you switch gears and shift, you’ll have to improvise and adapt – much like a musician who has made a small blunder on stage and needs to recover quickly so as not to derail the performance – in a way that feels like a stark contrast to most rhythm games.

In a way, “Metal: Hellsinger” expects virtuosity from its players, which means you’ll likely end up failing and resetting your run multiple times. After all, any solid performance is backed by hours of practice. That’s not to say “Metal: Hellsinger” is a completely unforgiving getaway – you don’t always have to kill everything perfectly timed – but this practice can help you discover your own rhythm and playing style.

My gait, for example, was to alternate quickly between Paz and the Hounds, a pair of guns; both guns have similar rates of fire, which helps, as I’d rather not complicate things by using another gun with a much slower rate of fire, even though it has the potential to do more damage. Along the same lines, not all drummers enjoy laying down relentless tides of cymbals over explosive machine-gun beats; some would prefer to pirouette around the tom drums to keep the tempo. “Metal: Hellsinger” values ​​interpretation and improvisation. It’s exhilarating, the game recognizes it, to play music or perform hellspawns Your way.

And when you manage to pick up enough hits and Fury sequences, a meter that fills up the longer you stay on the beat, the sounds of guttural barking and soaring vocals gradually blending in with the rest of the instruments are particularly euphoric. This is the part of the performance where you sink into your groove, as you feed off the blissful energy of every part of the music finally coming together, from nailing kill after kill to the singular pulsing soundtrack. . Then there’s the intensely physical aspect of “Metal: Hellsinger,” as your fingers quickly roam the controller and you try to get to grips with the cadence of the game’s frenetic, delirious energy. those satanic zombies resounding overwhelmingly.

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Of course, you really shouldn’t go into “Metal: Hellsinger” expecting a lesson in musicality; it’s an FPS after all, and you’re mostly here to rip demon flesh and smash hellish skulls with the smoldering butt of a big gun. But what the game revealed about the good old shooter was its friendly ties to rhythm games – that there’s a common thread that ties the unlikely genres together. It tells us there’s a rhythm to the cacophony of death and violence in FPS games, and when such games are channeled through the rumbling logic of heavy metal, they can make for a deeply theatrical performance.

In a way, it’s the FPS genre that grants gamers a kind of agency that rhythm games don’t have – the freedom and exhilaration of performance. You can perform kills to the rhythm of your internal pulse, the act of shooting bodies and popping heads forming a pleasant rhythm. That’s why playing “Metal: Hellsinger” can almost feel like you’re holding the drumsticks yourself, as you cut through hordes of demons with your own percussive flow.

Khee Hoon Chan is a freelance writer who lives on the internet. You can read more of their plays hereor ask them about the weather on Twitter @crapstacular.

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