Title: Jupiter Hell
Release Date: August 5, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
For me to write this review and not mention the development of Doom RL would be a disservice. The open-source rouge-like might carry Doom in its title, now legally titled DRL, but it’s an entirely different beast in terms of marrying hardcore turn-based action with roguelike mechanics. Jupiter Hell is a much prettier version of DRL and is dubbed a spiritual successor. The game features many elements about the DRL experience and presents it to modern players for one of the most action-packed turn-based experiences you’ll ever have.
I’m sure Jupiter Hell has a narrative, but it doesn’t matter. A story would not make this game any more enjoyable, and I didn’t care about why I was on Jupiter; I just wanted to blow shit up. Players can choose between three character classes from the start. While they each have a passive skill, it doesn’t really matter who you play as because they largely control the same. Through combat, characters gain levels, which allows them upgrades to various stats. Reaching a certain level with prerequisite skills unlocked can even allow purchasing a master skill, which only makes late-game levels more enjoyable, but there’s still a high amount of challenge to contend with.
Before getting into the combat systems, it is imperative to point out how fundamental to the experience navigation is; it’s a factor you won’t understand until you’ve died a few times. The floors branch out into other areas, but it’s possible to stay in one area and just climb the floors. However, if that process is pursued, you can just as quickly go to another area since you’re told where you’re going at the opening of the elevator. Runs become easier to navigate over time because it’s less likely you enter one of the more challenging rooms when you aren’t prepared. These rooms generally contain more powerful gear or needed resources, though.
For a roguelike that heavily focuses on ranged weapon combat, the auto controls are very well implemented. I rarely had to switch between enemies manually, but you can easily do it with the press of a button. The players’ vision is limited to their character’s sight, though, and this facet can be further limited in specific areas. The game encourages players to be thoughtful and strategic about their moves, but I sometimes forgot it was a turn-based game because the action is so fluid. However, not paying attention to your resource and turns will quickly result in death.
Weapons in the game consist of a large variety of pistols, shotguns, and machine guns. You can hold three at a time, and they each require unique ammo depending on their type. Sadly, the developer seemed to tie weapon types to the floor you’re on, so you won’t usually find a machine gun on the first level. As a result of this design choice, you’ll be hard-pressed to find ammo for weapons found early in the run. This typically wouldn’t be an inherent fault, as upgrading to the newest weapons sounds like a satisfactory idea. Still, this game allows you to mod your weapons with special items, which sucks when ammo is harder to find for specific weapons in later parts of the game.
Many of the pain points you’ll have with the game are par for the course of a roguelike. The first few hours of gameplay are generally spent pushing the mechanics to see what it’ll allow you to get away with. Here, keeping cover in mind is always the best option. Resource space is limited, so always check what you need or don’t need and take some time to read what the upgrades do. Using the game’s turn-based nature to your advantage is great, but the difficulty comes into play when you have to use a turn to reload your weapons and a shotgun-wielding enemy is walking your way.
Enemy types are mostly grunts that you’ll see over and over again. Some variants can induce status effects, but events become silly when you enter a room full of humans and mutants who all look the same. However, you’re able to utilize the environment during combat, either for cover or to blow up a tank and take out a group of enemies. Your marine character is a powerhouse, but you’ll have to understand those limits to survive. Luckily, you begin the game as a powerhouse, so dying doesn’t really come with too many downsides because it just means you get to explore other procedurally generated paths and find more powerful loot.
What works for Jupiter Hell is just how approachable it is. There are multiple difficulty levels for players and various ways to approach gameplay that make it a blast. Following a death, I was never upset or felt like I wasted any time; I just wanted to jump back in. I would say that the soundtrack was a playing factor in this as the metal riffs had me completely enthralled. Furthermore, for an isometric shooter, it sure is pretty. Environments are basic, but fun to explore, and blood paints the floors after every death leaving behind valuable loot. Added modes provide new challenge levels and ways to experience the title, immensely enhancing the replay value.
Jupiter Hell doesn’t need the word Doom in the title to make an impact, but it’s commendable how well it presents DRL through modern design. At its heart, it’s a turn-based dungeon-crawler RPG, but that doesn’t calm my nerves when I’m blasting through a hallway of enemies from around the corner with more approaching from behind. This game’s launch version is serviceable, but the lack of enemy variety will leave your first hours of gameplay feeling repetitive in some areas. Still, it’s clear that there’s more on the way for this standout roguelike experience, and I’m all here for it.
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