The Top 20 Most Metal Games Ever
Since the dawn of time there has been a close allegiance between heavy metal and videogames. Is it because both deal in fantasy, violence, heroism, defiance and struggle? Or is it because both cater to young men who spend all day alone in their bedrooms with the curtains shut? Probably a bit of both.
Never before has a videogame been as boldly as proudly or as openly metal as Brütal Legend. Even Guilty Gear’s barrage of references and allusions pales next to the iron might of this collaboration between game development legend Tim Schafer and fat, greasy Hollywood icon Jack Black.
Eddie Riggs, who is voiced by Jack Black and seemingly modelled on Tim Schafer, is a heavy metal roadie who is transported to a demonic alternative reality after he accidentally bleeds on his cursed belt buckle. It’s nonsense, yes. But it’s heavy metal nonsense. The best kind.
Frankly, the name Steel Battalion is wasted on a videogame. Steel Battalion should have been a metal band (and Armored Core should have been the name of a metal sub-genre, while we’re at it). A mighty, uncompromising, world-conquering metal band at that. But Steel Battalion is a game and, even disregarding the fact that its name alone makes you want to clench your fist and pledge allegiance to something, it’s a very metal one.
While metal has, on occasion, proven capable of refinement, excess is much more its style. Metal bands write epic, hour-long songs. Metal bands release double live albums. Metal bands have stage sets that turn out to be too big for almost all of the venues on their world tour. Metal bands play guitars with two, or sometimes even more necks. Metal bands collaborate with symphony orchestras. Metal bands let their drummers perform drum solos that can go on for over ten minutes. Yes, ten minutes. Steel Battalion, a game that comes with, er… all that, is the gaming equivalent of a triple-disc symphonic heavy metal concept opera where you have to listen to 20 minutes of Christopher Lee narrating to a background of wolf howls and thunderclaps before you even get to hear an actual bloody song. Fan-f**king -tastic.
Wrestling, like a lot of metal, is loud, theatrical, overthe- top and aggressively violent without any actual intent to cause injury or harm. Although every now and again someone really gets hurt.
Wrestling also shares metal’s burden of being very much a boy’s club, even though it doesn’t necessarily want to be one. If you’ve ever had to explain that just because you like watching sweaty men sporting long hair, tight clothes and eye make-up strut and pose while you yourself are in close proximity to thousands of other sweaty men it doesn’t mean you’re gay, then you either like metal or wrestling. Probably both.
Oh, and wrestling games are all about wrestling so, y’know, you do the math.
Army Of Two
Male bonding is an important part of metal culture, mainly because very few women actually like metal, there’s often no other option. Metallers are just like anyone else – sometimes they just need someone to hold. And in male-only company this is where hand clasping, shoulder bumping and throwing your arms around another man’s neck while growling loudly can all come in very handy. And if it’s really warm, you might even get away with taking your shirt off first.
Anyway, Army Of Two takes a pair of metal-esque male bonders and gives them guns. Together they make a lot of noise, say a lot of unnecessary swears and playfully smack each other at every available opportunity. And rest assured, if there wasn’t someone trying to shoot them, stab them or blow them up every five seconds, they’d be topless too.
Twisted Metal: Black
Fast, reckless driving and mental illness are both common lyrical themes in heavy metal, so any game that brings the two together in one place has to be metal as f**k. As you’ll have guessed from the name, every Twisted Metal game is very metal, but Twisted Metal: Black takes things to a darker, even more metal level. The cartoonish appearance of previous iterations was dropped in favour of a sinister tone, with character profiles presented as patient notes from the asylum detailing their psychological state.
The gameplay itself is essentially like a Slipknot gig but with cars instead of boiler suits. Everyone just smashes into each other and makes loads of noise. Metallers use ‘mental’ as a term of endearment and appreciation – Twisted Metal: Black is an illustration of why.
Viking: Battle For Asgard
All barbarians, no matter what their origin, are, by definition, metal in spirit. But the Viking variety of barbarian has its own unique relationship with metal. Metal is very popular in the Viking lands of Scandinavia, and many metal bands from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland revisit the musical and lyrical traditions of the Viking Age.
The hero of Viking: Battle For Asgard is a young, troubled warrior (a metaller, basically) named Skarin, who is chosen by Freya, the goddess of war, to prevent Hel, Loki’s daughter, from unleashing Ragnarök, Norse mythology’s version of the apocalypse. Skarin does as he is asked and kills Hel, but, when Freya refuses him entry into Valhalla, he unleashes Ragnarök anyway and the gods are destroyed. If single-handedly destroying an entire pantheon of gods isn’t metal, then we don’t know what is.
Heavy metal and gore go hand in dismembered hand. There’s a subdivision of death metal dedicated solely to dreaming up the most disgusting lyrics and upsettingly graphic album covers. The masters of the art are Buffalo’s Cannibal Corpse, whose hits include Hammer Smashed Face and Entrails Ripped From A Virgin’s… you don’t want to know what.
Despite the crudeness of their visuals, the early Mortal Kombat games remain easily the goriest of all time. You just don’t get clubbed to death by your own leg, have your face chewed off, get your entire, intact skeleton pulled clean out of your skin or get sliced in two by a broad-brimmed hat anywhere else. Cannibal Corpse’s frontman, Corpsegrinder (Gregor to his mum), would no doubt approve.
The Chaos Engine
16-bit development legends, The Bitmap Brothers (who weren’t named Bitmap and weren’t brothers), have had not one, but two metal bands named after their games. Not only was there a Brutal Deluxe, who were named after a team from Speedball 2, but also The Chaos Engine, who were named after this most metal of run-’n’-gun shoot-’em-ups.
Dark and deeply atmospheric for its day, The Chaos Engine put you in the chunky boots of one of six mercenaries hired to destroy some kind of bizarre steampunk contraption that has been turning the people and animals of rural England into crazed monsters. The relentless and constantly escalating violence is undeniably metal in spirit, as are all of the playable characters, none more so than The Preacher, whose profile described him as ‘perverse’ in nature. Sinister religious figures are a mainstay in metal and, like many a metal band before him, The Preacher caused a bit of a stir among our God-bothering chums across the Atlantic. The US release of the game saw him quietly renamed ‘The Scientist’.
Considering the creation of the character pre-dates the birth of heavy metal by nearly four decades, it’s truly remarkable just how metal Conan The Barbarian is. And considering what a modest, low-key development effort it was, it’s just as remarkable that Nihilistic’s hack-’n’-slash bloodbath managed to capture the essence of the character so successfully.
A lone, long-haired warrior, distrustful of civilised society, valuing only personal freedom, booze, large-breasted women and, most importantly, steel. That’s essentially every metaller’s idealised view of himself in a nutshell and pulp author, Robert E Howard, came up with it 1932 – ten years before Ronnie James Dio (officially the world’s oldest metaller) was even born.
And Conan, like heavy metal, stubbornly refuses to die out, tirelessly reinventing himself, first in novels, then comics, then movies and then games. The last Conan game – despite being a faithful and charming adaptation of the original stories, and a damn good hack-’n’- slash romp in its own right – didn’t sell too well and THQ cut the licence loose. Some have since declared Conan dead, but they said that about metal at the end of the eighties. Then, in 1991, Metallica released a metal album that has since sold 22 million copies. Admittedly, no Conan game is ever going to sell as well as that, but mark our words: he’ll be back. Conan’s just too metal to die.
Gears Of War
While metal certainly can deal in subtlety, it certainly doesn’t have to. It’s often at its best in its crudest, most stripped-down, to-the-point form. It’s for this reason that metal does have a tendency to attract meatheads.
Similarly, it’s likely that only a small percentage of Gears’ 5-million-strong fan base appreciates the intricacy of its art design or the strategic nuances of its tactical, teambased gameplay style. Most of these guys just want to saw some aliens in half. And why not?
While Gears designer Cliff Bleszinski was determined not to have Gears’ female characters “look like some sort of heavy metal movie fantasy”, this description could still be applied to almost everything else in both games. And we mean that as compliment.
“We got totally lied to by our album covers, man,” says Bill S. Preston Esq after having died and experienced Hell firsthand during the metal-themed cinematic masterpiece Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. But had Bill & Ted arrived in the version of Hell depicted in the seminal FPS, Doom, then they would surely not have been disappointed. Demonic monsters, bottomless pits of blood and fire, a formidable array of deadly weapons and, most importantly, Granny Preston absolutely nowhere to be seen (Bill’s version of Hell involves having to kiss her). Not only is Doom’s setting extremely metal, so is its title. Doom is actually a sub-genre of metal – the incredibly slow, down-tuned, bleak yet ever-so-slightly groovy kind. Finally, it’s worth noting that the chainsaw, one of Doom’s most fondly remembered motifs, can actually be used as a heavy metal instrument. The Lumberjack by early-Nineties redneck-metal crew Jackyl actually features a remarkably tuneful chainsaw solo. We’re not making this up.
Guilty Gear’s creator, designer and composer, Daisuke Ishiwatari, is a massive fan of hard rock and heavy metal music, and it shows. Pretty much every character and every special move in every Guilty Gear game is named after a metal song, album, band or band member, and many of the songs in the game sound suspiciously like tweaked versions of well-known metal tracks.
Ky Kiske is perhaps Guilty Gear’s most metal character. His name is a fusion of Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, both from the band Helloween; he has moves called ‘Ride The Lightning’ and ‘Rising Force’, which are named after albums by Metallica and Yngwie Malmsteen respectively, and his theme song, titled Holy Orders (Be Just Or Be Dead), has a definite whiff of Iron Maiden’s Be Quick Or Be Dead about it.
The Warhammer universe is well known to have been a source of inspiration for developers, having spawned around 20 licensed titles and lord knows how many games that have cloned its settings and battle systems. But it’s also been something of a muse for the odd metal band here and there.
Bolt Thrower took their name from an Elven war machine used in the Warhammer universe and wrote numerous songs about it. Games Workshop was so flattered by the attention that it offered to provide Warhammer artwork for one of their albums, Realm Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness. Games Workshop had enjoyed this flirtation with metal so much that it set up its own metal record label. But only a few, largely unsuccessful releases were made and the division was closed after just a few years.
Metallers are pretty much always angry about something, and quite often about everything. Now and again you’ll see one striding through your local town centre with loud metal in his ears, a scowl on his lips and a thousand-yard stare in his eyes. Behind that stare lies a tortured soul that just had a really bad day at work and is now thinking of nothing else but tearing this stupid, pathetic High Street to pieces with his bare hands. Don’t worry, though, he won’t do it. He might get in trouble. Instead he’ll simply play out this cathartic fantasy through the aggressive, violent majesty of metal.
Rampage is all about playing out that very same fantasy. It’s about destroying everything that’s ‘normal’ and everything that’s established for no good reason other than that it makes you feel better about being such a massive freak.
It’s not the fact that it includes numerous metal songs in its various track lists that qualifies Guitar Hero for inclusion among the most metal games of all time. No, Guitar Hero is here because, regardless of what genre of song you’re actually playing, Guitar Hero remains deeply metal in its essence. Why? Because Guitar Hero is a natural successor to playing air guitar. And air guitar is as fundamentally metal as, say, never washing your pants.
It’s also worth noting that metal is the only genre of music in which playing guitar can be considered a competitive sport. The most celebrated guitarists in metal are revered not for the aesthetic, emotive, evocative qualities of their melodies and riffs, but for their ability to play stupidly difficult solos at a stupidly high tempo. This makes Guitar Hero’s elitist high score leaderboards and adversarial game modes as metal as f**k. Rock Band’s inclusive attitude, co-operative play and emphasis on shared experience; much less so.
Metallers like black, that’s plain to see. They wear black because it’s dark, mysterious and it represents rebellion. But mainly they wear it because it hides most common household stains pretty well. Black doesn’t have a particularly metal story or setting – it’s all CIA this, Spec- Ops that, secret bunker the other – but it is called Black. This alone is very metal indeed.
However, Black’s metalness is manifest not just in its name, but in its aesthetics. It takes an almost theatrical approach to noise and violence, just like metal. The pyrotechnics, the exaggerated physics, the gunfire that’s supposed to sound harmonious somehow… if you’ve ever seen Metallica perform One live, with its pyrotechnic introduction and relentless, bombastic climax, then you’ll understand why Black is so very, very metal.
While medieval fantasy is more traditionally associated with heavy metal, the last ten to fifteen years has seen growth in the popularity of the sci-fi-oriented sub-genre of ‘cyber metal’. Cyber metal takes the questions metallers often ask themselves – why do I feel alienated? Why am I different to everyone else? Why does everything seem so unnatural? – and provides a catch-all answer: because you’re actually a robot and none of this is real.
Metal is often about drawing power from the things that frighten you the most, and Deus Ex is very much an exploration of this same dynamic. The things that JC Denton has reason to be fearful of and paranoid about – technology and artifice – are the very same things that grant him his extraordinary power. Denton, like any other metaller, has what it takes to become a god among men. All he needs is a lucky break.
While researching this piece, we discovered Rainbow Arts’ classic shoot-’em-up described by one internet forumite as, ‘The finest Western game designers ever turned Metroid into an Iron Maiden video.’ We couldn’t really have put it better ourselves, so we won’t try.
But it’s still worth mentioning Turrican’s infamous loading screen. The game’s artist simply traced the cover art of one of the most metal albums of all time, Manowar’s Kings Of Metal, and just drew Turrican over the top of it in the exact same pose. You could either call that really cheap or really cheeky. We call it metal.
FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage
Speed, danger, breaking stuff – all things that metalheads, gamers and metalgamers are drawn to, yet generally too chicken to try out for real. Much better to evoke the feeling of going so dangerously fast that something gets broken via the medium of music and/or good ol’ interactive digital entertainment. It’s why we have games about crashing cars and why there are so metal songs that open with the sound of an engine roaring to life and close with the sound of a violent collision. To err is human; to accelerate into oncoming traffic is metal.
Three words for you: Brotherhood. Of. Steel. It’s a very metal name for a very metal organisation. The Brotherhood’s religious pursuit of technology is essentially a post-apocalyptic version of the religious pursuit of steel referenced in Conan The Barbarian and in pretty much every single Manowar song. Manowar, incidentally, are also very much into the idea of brotherhood. It is, after all, a very metal concept. Many metallers, bless ’em, find a common bond and strong unity in heavy metal culture that is otherwise absent from their lives at home, school, work or prison.
And we haven’t even mentioned the nuclear apocalypse yet. The threat of nuclear annihilation makes perfect lyrical fodder for metal bands who find the fire, brimstone and sodomy of traditional ideas of Hell a little old-fashioned. Fallout’s view that war is inevitable and that people will never learn to just get along is one shared by thousands of metal bands, particularly in the thrash metal sub-genre.