Shooter games have always had a sneaking love affair with rhythm. Players of classics such as Halo operate as much by ear as eye, internalising the cadences of fire rates and reload times. Awe Interactive’s BPM: Bullets Per Minute borrows from actual music games by having you perform every action besides movement to a background beat, as indicated by a collapsing diamond reticule. Miss a beat and you’ll misfire, falling behind enemies whose attacks are also synced to the score. It might sound terrifying if, like me, you have all the natural tempo of a tumble dryer, but it’s irresistible in action.
BPM is theoretically about valkyries purging Asgard of demon invaders, but really it’s a cunningly disguised drum kit simulator, drenched in raw, oversaturated colours and set to an easily-grasped 4/4 time signature. Shooting and reloading are your snares and toms. Secondary abilities such as lightning spells are your bass drum and cymbals. To fight is to improvise on top of the electronic rock soundtrack, all the while circling hordes of lava bats and scorpion women. Each gun has its own brutal music: shotguns must be pumped on the off-beat, while Gatling guns start slow and build to an apocalyptic drum roll. The beat-matching element takes some mastering, but it lends serious thrill to what might otherwise be a vivid but unremarkable blaster.
While each of BPM’s 10 levels has a fixed background track, the levels themselves are constantly changing. Rock Band and Norse myth aside, the game takes cues from the “roguelike” genre, with rooms, terrain factors (including gravity levels), enemies and rewards reshuffled each time you play. Besides learning the tempo, success is about understanding the logic behind the semi-randomised elements and making educated gambles: which treasure chest to use a key on, or whether to hoard your battle winnings in the hope of purchasing a grenade launcher in the next level.
That unpredictability often leads to difficulty spikes, and when the crowd turns nasty, you might want to automate the beat-matching in the settings. This latter option is an important concession to accessibility, but it rips out the heart of the game – thankfully, you can toggle it off again without starting afresh. BPM is a brash, earwormy delight, aimed at the heads of Doom fans and lapsed Guitar Heroes alike.
o BPM: Bullets Per Minute is available now on PC, GBP15. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release dates to be confirmed.