Good Luck Getting The Metal: Hellsinger Demo Out Of Your Head

Good Luck Getting The Metal: Hellsinger Demo Out Of Your Head
Image: Metal Hellsinger, The Outsiders

I can’t stop playing the Metal: Hellsinger Steam demo.

It’s a rhythm-based shooter about a wrathful demon carving a path through Hell’s upper management. Through it all, our demonic heroine must conduct herself in time with the hellish thrum of heavy metal music blasting in the background. An on-screen indicator shows the song’s BPM and individual shots must be timed to coincide. Each weapon handles differently, giving each a different rhythm. The shotgun barks once per bar. The dual pistols can be fired as quarter notes, or faster. The goal through it all is

It’s a game I’ve been waiting on for some time, ever since I saw the pitch reel two years ago. In the time since the announcement, the concept has been explored by several other games, most notably BPM: Bullets Per Minute. These games, while they mechanically captured the broad strokes of the idea, still felt conceptually adrift. In BPM, it was the decision to use proc-gen dungeons for its levels. This suited its roguelike design but, to me, muddied its connection to music, the thing that should have been the heart of the experience. Music is, by its nature, structured. It has a clear construction and follows a strict, linear sequence to completion*. Each bar is curated. It was hard for me to find a rhythm in dungeons that changed with every run. It felt like trying to play with a drummer that can’t find their tempo.

Even in demo form, it’s easy to see how Metal: Hellsinger has cracked the code.

From a level design perspective, it takes a similar approach to Doom 2016. The Stygia level is made up of arenas of different sizes. These arenas are constructed with a purpose: to be interesting on their own, but also to be the same every single time you play them. The same enemies spawn in the same places. The pick-ups don’t change, and they stay in the same spot. Like practising a song you want to learn, running Stygia over and over will teach you the rhythm of each area. Mastery begets experimentation, giving you the room to try different weapons or change up your enemy focus.

This is where the game’s score chase component enters the picture. The Stygia level features a global leaderboard, and high scores are posted at the end of each run. The score multiplayer can be increased from 2x up to 16x by timing your shots to the on-screen metronome. Shooting weak points gets you more points, and they double again if you shoot them on the beat. Taking down enemies in a sustained, methodical fashion will build your multiplier and keep it high. Certain weapons, like a handheld skull that fires fairly weak pellets, are good for keeping your multiplier high while hunting for the green crystals that grant heals. Gaining multiplier levels adds more complexity to the song. At 2x, you’ll hear the broad rhythmic strokes of the song. At 4x, you’ll hear more background colour. At 8x, the wailing lead guitar appears, and at 16x, the vocals come in and the symphony is complete.

The demo only features one song, but what a song it is. “Stygia” by frequent video game music composers Two Feathers with vocals by Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, a melodic metal opera with about nine different movements. Each phase of the song corresponds to a different arena, with changes in tempo and musical complexity forcing you to change up your play style.

Reaching the demo’s final arena commences a boss fight, with a Souls-like health pool, the mid-battle adds of an MMO dungeon boss and the flying shrapnel of a bullet hell shmup. Defeating the boss means putting the lessons of the previous arenas together, managing your health, and hitting those weak spots on the beat.

I can’t stop playing it, which I think is the highest praise I can give a demo. Like the greatest PC demos of the 90s and early 2000s, the Metal: Hellsinger demo perfectly communicates what the full game is about and what to expect from the full version, while being a hugely replayable, rewarding morsel in its own right. Top shelf gear, I can’t wait for more.

*Unless it’s jazz. No talking about jazz in the metal club.

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