Back in 2016, Bethesda rebooted the DOOM franchise to spectacular effect with a game that took the series' frantic FPS action and carefully reworked and rebalanced it, adding a delicious layer of strategy and a striking new sense of rhythm to the bloody violence at hand. More than ever before, players were required to think on their feet as they gunned down their demon foes, to keep moving, constantly consider their weapon choices, utilise their environments and find a zen-like flow in battle in order to survive.
Battles in nu-DOOM were tense, sweaty affairs that pushed you to your limit, often corralling you into a small arena and charging you with making best use of everything at your disposal to scrape by without succumbing to the forces of evil. Now, imagine doing all of this whilst also having to shoot your weapons, dodge attacks and reload to the beat of the game's soundtrack in order to succeed. Say hello to Metal: Hellsinger.
The Outsiders' heavy metal rhythm shooter immediately caught our attention when it was originally announced back in 2020, and we've spent plenty of time digging into its excellent demo since it arrived on consoles a few months ago, but we've also remained ever-so-slightly concerned as to whether the full game could actually live up to our expectations. The good news here is that it absolutely has done, and then some. This is a frantic, non-stop beast of a shooter that looks spectacular and feels super-slick and polished as you blast through its various interpretations of the realms of hell on your way to an almighty rock showdown.
In Metal: Hellsinger you assume the role of The Unknown, a vengeance-obsessed demon who must shoot, dodge and jump her way through the underworld on the way to an epic face-off with...well...that would be telling. Things kick off with a tutorial that introduces you to the basic concept; swinging your sword and firing your guns to the beat of the game's raucous heavy metal soundtrack, and using onscreen indicators to guide you as you blast through arenas full of nasty demons. Attacks that connect are rated as either good or perfect, depending on how close to matching the beat they are, and a perfect shot will, obviously, deal more damage than its slightly less accurate counterpart. Fluff your shots entirely and the game's soundtrack will falter as you fail to cause any significant injury until you find the groove of the music once again. Easy!
However, the real magic of Metal: Hellsinger is that it takes this tried and tested core concept and runs with it, adding in lots of discoverable combos for you to get your head around and extending its rhythm-matching action to incorporate our protagonist's dodges, reloads and environmental destruction, leading to a game that gives you the tools to really dig in and experiment in order to max your performance. As you blast through early stages you'll slowly start to get into the groove, swapping your weapons to the beat, taking out a few enemies with a shotgun, reloading in time to the music, dodging in sync and then whipping out a sword to hack away at some more beasties. It's surprisingly strategic and addictive stuff that'll have you sweating and screaming at your screen as you rinse and repeat upon death, always looking for new angles of approach in order to cleanly and stylishly dispatch foes.
As you successfully attack your enemies you'll fill up a Fury meter, a damage/score multiplier that also adds more layers to the killer soundtrack as it rises up to a maximum level of 16, at which point each track's vocal elements kick in fully and all hell breaks loose. It's a brilliant way of raising the tempo - and the tension - as you constantly look for ways to max out your multiplier whilst also gunning to have the full majesty each of the game's excellent tracks blasting away behind the action.
Just as in DOOM, you'll also get the opportunity to finish enemies off with flashy execution attacks here, once you've softened them up with enough damage, and you'll get a nice health refill as a reward for doing so successfully. Each weapon also has a special attack that charges as you kill foes, giving you the opportunity to strategise, charging up your supers and holding onto them until you're in need of an explosive exit from trouble.
The action at hand really does look and feel heavily reminiscent of Bethesda's 2016 shooter every step of the way - no bad thing, let's face it - and it's a real feather in The Outsiders' cap that it's managed to match the intensity of such a renowned FPS whilst also successfully introducing and implementing rhythm game aspects that add a whole new level of skill and intensity to proceedings. This is a game that feels custom-built for repeated experimentation, with a core gameplay loop and narrative campaign that's absolutely entertaining for casuals to engage with, but which also provides a whole other level of repetition and hard-earned perfection for hardened veterans to really sink their teeth into in order to maximise scores and rewards.
Levels are uniformly well designed too, never too complex or fussy and always giving you enough space to attack and then retreat, thinning out hell's hordes with ranged assaults and then getting up close and personal to dish out damage with dual pistols, a shotgun, sword and more besides. There are health-refilling deposits of crystals to blast off walls to keep you going, collectible Fury boosts, power-ups, environmental hazards and huge red floating orbs to explode in order to take out multiple enemies at once. For as crazy as battles can get here, it's always crisp, clean and easy to read stuff that funnels you through its chaos and brings enough fresh elements with each new region to keep the whole thing engaging.
The main campaign is split up into eight realms of hell, each one stuffed full of new demons to get your head around as you blast your way towards a satisfyingly tough final boss battle. Beat a realm and you'll unlock a Hit Streak Boon which you can then equip to automatically kick in, giving you benefits such as a slower rate of fade on your combo meter. You've also got a bunch of Torment trials that unlock for each realm once you beat it and completing these tough challenges rewards you with Sigils to equip in your loadout. There's far more going on here than we expected, in short, making for a surprisingly in-depth experience that gives you lots of opportunity to mess with your loadouts before each battle in order to find a setup that works for you as you attempt to rise up those all-important online leaderboards.
In terms of difficulty, we played on the default Goat mode, which was enough to get us plenty sweaty in the roughly eight hours it took us to see the main game and a bunch of side challenges through, but there's also an easier Lamb and super-tough Beast setting to choose from, depending on how much pain you fancy enduring. Metal Hellsinger also gives you the option to fine-tune your audio and video latency through a handy calibration tool, although we found the default set-up worked a treat, and you can toggle auto-aim on and off to make things that little bit easier to deal with.
With wonderfully atmospheric hellscapes, suitably grotesque enemy designs - which you can pore over in an expansive Bestiary - some excellent boss battles, narration from Troy Baker and a cracking soundtrack featuring the likes of Serj Tankian from System of a Down and Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity, this is one of the slickest, most intense and exciting rhythm games we've played in a long, long time. It's also just a really good FPS at heart, with a ton of attitude, super-smooth performance and a core gameplay loop that gives you the tools to dig in and perfect each area, improving your scores, maximizing your style and swagger and rising up the leaderboards as you go. We can see hardcore players sticking with this one for a long time in order to pull some insane scores out of the bag and, with new content and DLC likely coming down the road, this is another Game Pass gem that we thoroughly recommend you get stuck into.
Metal Hellsinger is a slick and addictive rhythm FPS with style and attitude to spare. With shooter action that's heavily reminiscent of Bethesda's 2016 DOOM reboot mashed together with superbly well-realised rhythm game aspects that enhance the core combat experience, this is a fiendishly satisfying arcade game that sucks you right into its twisted hellscapes and refuses to let you go. Get ready for some super-sweaty Heavy Metal vengeance.