Review: Jupiter Hell – Running To Your Doom

Jupiter Hell is a fast-paced, top-down shooter roguelike developed by ChaosForge and published by Hyperstrange. It’s a sequel to the classic roguelike DoomRL made by the same developers, and it’s full of Doom-inspired monsters, weapons, curse words, and aesthetics. If you are a fan of classic roguelikes but don’t really enjoy the modern interpretation of the genre, then this might just be what you are looking for.

Jupiter Hell was a weird game to review. There is a lot to love about the game, and at the same time, there are some issues and bad design elements that I had to get used to. My first hour or two playing the game was full of frustration, but the tens of hours that I put in after that was exciting, challenging, and fun. I’m gonna discuss the issues first because these are the things that we face early on while playing the game. But stick around, both in this review and in the game itself. It’s gonna get good!

Jupiter Hell Screenshot, top-down view of a cavern, with a ritual circle drawn on the ground
One of the more ominous locations in Jupiter Hell, like demons shooting fire at you in a space station, isn’t ominous enough!

When I started Jupiter Hell and went through the tutorial, each time the game told me how to move, shoot my gun, take cover, or interact with the environment and I kept wondering why. The default keybindings for the game seem so random and spread apart, and it didn’t make sense to me at all. First of all, Jupiter Hell doesn’t support a mouse and it’s only played via keyboard or a controller. It’s obvious from the gameplay and the style of combat, that a controller is gonna be the best option, and I could tell that the game would feel great with one.

But for those of us who are stuck with the keyboard, going through the tutorial is not pleasant. We have to use arrow keys to move around, use a combination of the F, G, T, and R keys for combat, 1 through 8 keys for selecting weapons and activating special abilities, some other menu keys (which can be important in the middle of a fight if we need to use an item like a grenade from the inventory) and for some reason, use the period (.) key to take cover! Playing Jupiter Hell with the default keybinding either requires three hands or long pauses between each turn as we look around the keyboard to see what we want.

But thankfully, we can change the keybindings after we realize what a mess the default settings are. With the traditional W, A, S, D movement keys, and changing some other hotkeys around, I could easily play the game with one hand. I still couldn’t assign the SHIFT, CTRL, and ALT keys to any of the actions, but after I got used to my new keybindings, the game felt so much better.

Jupiter Hell Screenshot, inside of the space station, weapons and ammo spread around the room
The UI is simple and minimalistic, but it could’ve been so much better.

The other thing that I found missing from Jupiter Hell, is an indicator of what we can do in one turn. In most traditional turn-based games, there is an action bar or something similar in the UI that lets you know how much you can do in one turn. The game aims to keep the combat and gameplay fast, and because of it, moving one tile, using an item, taking cover, shooting your gun, or reloading it will all take one turn. After you take your turn, the enemies will immediately take their action (which is usually to shoot you) and then it’s your turn again.

This seems easy to get at first, but it gets more complicated as you level up and see the abilities that you can unlock. There are abilities that let you move, reload your guns, or use items and grenades faster. But this doesn’t make sense in the one action per turn system that we get used to at first. If we move 50% faster, does it mean we can move 1.5 tiles per turn? But it doesn’t work like that. And to be honest, after almost fifteen hours in the game, I still don’t know exactly how it works. After getting the maximum levels of faster reloading ability, I could reload and shoot my shotgun in one turn, but I wasn’t sure what the first few levels did for me. sometimes I could shoot my gun after reloading it in one turn, and other times my turn was over after I reloaded the gun. The same goes for movement and item speed abilities that are present in the game.

If these percentages indicate that there is a chance that you can do more than one action in one turn, I believe this is a poor design choice for a turn-based combat system that relies on planning and calculating your every move. And if there is a precise system (like with 50% increased speed, every other turn you can reload and shoot, or move an extra tile) the game doesn’t communicate this system with the player. The quick turn-based combat feels really good while playing, but not knowing how some abilities work in the system was one of the weaknesses of the game.

A well lit section in Jupiter Hell
It’s not always dark. Some sections are actually very bright and full of robots, conveying a different feel from the darker sections with zombie-like demons jumping at you.

Once you get used to some of the game’s weaknesses, Jupiter Hell starts to feel really good. First of all, the game looks and sounds amazing. Watching the enemies and objects thrown around the room as you shoot them with a shotgun while listening to the heavy metal soundtrack is epic. The ASCII rendering looks impressive, the environment and character designs are pleasantly nostalgic for fans of the Doom series, and the constant cursing and one-liners of the character as you kill enemies is really satisfying.

There are three main zones and many different sections with distinct designs, unique enemies, and weapons to find during each run, and it helps each run feel fresh with a change of scenery. In each run, you come upon terminals that will tell you what special threats or rewards you can find in certain sections of different levels. This helps you plan your path in advance to get the best gear possible. There isn’t any straight storytelling in the game, but these terminal entries offer small and funny backgrounds about the space stations and locations that we explore during the game.

The layout, encounters, and rewards of different levels are all procedurally generated to give a fresh and unique feel to each playthrough. After hours of gameplay, I would still be surprised by new rooms and special encounters that I hadn’t seen before. There are also unique and powerful weapons that you can come across in each run.

Jupiter Hell Screenshot, showing the terminal entries
In addition to adding a little lore to the game, these terminal entries can actually make you lean towards certain builds by letting you know about appropriate gear for it in the higher levels.

The gameplay of Jupiter Hell is highly replayable. With a lot of difficulties, achievements, game modes, different classes and builds, this is a roguelike that you can come back to time and time again. There are three main classes, the Marine, the Scout, and the Technician. Each of them has unique starting abilities and builds that you can try out in each run, and after finishing a run with certain scores in each difficulty, you will unlock higher difficulties and challenge modes.

You can even make the game more challenging by trying out builds that are harder to play such as melee or utility-focused builds. Fans of the Doom series, especially DoomRL, love the challenging gameplay of the franchise, and Jupiter Hell provides harder and harder challenges the more you play.

Reaching the later stages of the game, and unlocking master traits as you level up, make the combat so satisfying that you want to come back and play just to experience the same rush with other classes and builds. Running and gunning down enemies as the Scout with the Gun Kata trait, blowing up everything as the Marine with the Army of Darkness trait, or having an army of hacked robots following you as the Technician is really exhilarating.

The mazelike layout of a section in Jupiter Hell
The procedural generation sometimes creates multiple adjacent empty rooms, which was disappointing.

Nima reviewed Jupiter Hell on PC with a code provided by the publisher.

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