Over the past 15 years, Avenged Sevenfold have developed a reputation as one of America’s darkest RAWK bands, skillfully spinning melodramas chock full of references to cannibalism, the end of days, and skulls with bat wings. In spite of their massive commercial success, the group's hyper-masculine heavy metal (coupled, perhaps, with their unshakeable associations with the Hot Topic crowd) have made them a recurring punching bag among critics. You know that kid in high school who claimed to hate jocks but was always in the weight room, the one who called the nerdy kids “fags” and defended St. Anger as an underrated gem? If that kid were a band, he’d be A7X. But, weirdly, the group still deserves respect, because no matter how much shade gets thrown their way, they keep on selling $40 beanies by the truckload, writing catchy Guns n’ Roses rip-offs, and bathing in the tears of snobby metal heads.
Now Avenged Sevenfold are tapping into a different market: the RPG. Recently, the band disembarked on their first venture into the video game world with Hail to the King: Deathbat, a hack-and-slash RPG designed largely by frontman M. Shadows. The RPG places players in the Avenged Sevenfold universe, with levels inspired by standards like “Bat Country” and “Afterlife.” Ostensibly, the player’s ultimate goal is to collect three parts of a sacred talisman and reclaim the title of Resident Badass; in reality, it’s more of a quest to retain one’s sanity in the face of insurmountable obstacles while resisting the constant threat of selling out.
The only way to guarantee success in a game of Deathbat is through persistence, opportunism, being a sneaky bastard, and spending money: skills which almost certainly facilitated, at least in part, Avenged Sevenfold’s ascension to rock stardom. In this sense, the game is both a literal and figurative portrait of hell, so it's hard to say whether it was masochistic curiosity for the once-in-a-lifetime prospect of butt-rock questing or my lifelong love of RPGs (video games which, next to their stories, exist largely as exercises in learning to love pain) which compelled me hand over five bucks to M. Shadows and company. Perhaps it was faith—if not in the project's success, than in the potential for its shortcomings to provide unintentional humor (glitches, bad voice acting, a corny story), and thus a shot at transcendence. It was worth a shot, so you bet your ass I clicked "download."
There are four main objectives in Deathbat—bypass traps, solve puzzles, behead enemies, and amass loot. If you find yourself being reminded of Diablo II, Castlevania, or God of War, that’s because A7x’s game is, for better or worse, an edgy amalgam of these titles. The characteristically turbid instrumentals (several of which were created specifically for this game) and the plastering of the Avenged Sevenfold logo on menus, switches, and scenery provide fan service—along with the appearance of a misfired, angelic incarnation of former drummer The Rev, who died in 2009. Staring into his pasty face (framed by scene hair that probably hasn’t been styled since 09—now that’s pretty hellish) at the end of the first level, I felt inspired. Surely I could overcome my obstacles and achieve victory, right?
Another way of dying
By now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that you will die a lot in this game. You will die in boss battles. You will die from being mobbed by scorpions and flying goats. You will die by poisonous spikes, guillotines, swinging axes, and falling acid. Hell, you'll even die if you dangle your toes off the lapping banks of the river. One drop of water, and you’re dead. In order to make it deeper into the underworld, you’ll need to cut it out with the dying thing and to do that you’ll need help. And wouldn’t you know it, right behind the item shop are five coffins, each occupied by the undead corpses of an Avenged Sevenfold member! Vocalist M. Shadows lay in his coffin decked out in spiky shoulder armor, a do-rag, and douchey sunglasses, armed with a scythe; in an adjacent tomb, a specter of guitarist Zacky Vengeance (who resembles an undead Tommy Wiseau) offers to bludgeon your foes to a pulp. By coughing up two dollars, you can swap out the pitiful skeleton protagonist for one of these massively buffed (pun intended) characters. But by doing that, you are openly admitting to the fact that you are a pussy and that you are willing to spend potential beer money to have M. Shadows on your side.
Once the band is on your side, though, wiping out scorpions in two hits flat and taking an ax to the face like a champ, the purchase is justified. All of a sudden, I was racing through levels unscathed and practically shitting gold coins, and I felt good. But every so often, a tinny-sounding voice clip would resound as if from thin air, and I realized, with horror, that of course the band members were given corny phrases to utter every 15 seconds, and of course they were drunk and/or high when they recorded them.
“Want a hit?" Zacky Vengeance would chirp, the sophomoric smirk on his face all but telegraphed (get it? weed?). Once, while stepping off a falling platform to his death: “Now that’s what I call a death bat!!” Then there was drummer Arin, rendered as a demon with a glowing, open wound on his chest and quick to giggle “Smells like a demon just pooped his pants!”, even as said demon knocked him unconscious with a fireball. Now this was hell—an incessant, jeering reminder that I paid to win a God of War clone based on a band that sells $40 beanies, and that it didn’t matter if I won or lost because Arin had my money now, and he’d be taking his poop jokes all the way to the bank while I lived and died, insignificant and dispensable.
And so, eight hours in (20 minutes of which were comprised of poop jokes), I realized that the only solution to the existentialist despair of Deathbat, as with life, was to give up. Deathbat’s game over screen laughed at my inadequacy for the thousandth time (“I know its not your time…but bye bye”) and it spoke the truth—albeit with a missing apostrophe—in three regards. No, Avenged Sevenfold, it was not my time to overcome the challenges before me, or to be converted into a fan of the band (then again, was that the mission to begin with? I’m not really sure.). I was not worthy, and in that sense, a lot of us aren’t: as with br00tal RPGs and br00tal bands, paid forays into hell are an acquired taste.
Zoe Camp died a lot while playing this game. Zoe Camp is on Twitter.