I didn’t expect to like Jupiter Hell as much as I did with a good mix of nostalgia and fun, yet challenging gun-play.
Jupiter Hell is a turn-based shooter by ChaosForge and published by Hyperstrange on Steam, GOG and Humble. The game first released in early access in August 2019 and now, after 2 years of hefty updates, v1.0 released on August 5, 2021. I didn’t expect to enjoy this game as much as I have and the roguelike natures makes you want to do better each run. The newly released cinematic trailer got me attracted to this game. I don’t normally like roguelikes but the mix of nostalgia and the gun-play has kept me coming back for more each run. The tagline of the game is “Like chess. With shotguns.”
Jupiter Hell is an unofficial sequel to ChaosForge’s 2002 game called Doom, the Roguelike (rebranded as DRL in 2016) which was a top-down grid-based roguelike that had character levelling and traits. Set on the moons of Jupiter, Jupiter Hell retains all the key elements from DRL and dials the notch up to 10 with better graphics and sounds, great gunplay as well as stealth and cover mechanics. I particularly like the traits system as it shows a clear pathway to mastery level by highlighting the pre-requisite skills to target first. I recommend working out which mastery you want to go after and then go straight for those pre-requisite skills. You never know which level may be your last.
Another thing that attracted me to Jupiter Hell was the fact the main character voice actor is none other than Commander Shepard himself, Mark Veer. Only this time he’s has bad ass as Duke Nukem with his well-timed comments. You can adjust the profanity in the game’s options. Ever wanted to hear Commander Shepard get angry and mouth off at the Reapers? Play Jupiter Hell and turn the profanity to max – it’s hilarious. The user interface has also been designed such that it looks like you’re playing on a small CRT screen. I love this throwback to the forgotten era of those huge bulky monitors we all had in the 80’s and 90’s.
It would be easy to be turned off the game if you only give it 5 minutes but I urge you to give it a decent run before judging. There’s no mouse control, only keyboard or controller. It’s turn-based and isometric grid-based movement and you need to move in the four axis of movement, there’s no diagonal walking. It reminded me of the old King’s Quest and Police Quest days where to go diagonal, you had to press down/left quickly. As you make a move, whether it be moving forward one square, reloading your weapon or using a medkit, the enemy also moves. Thankfully the tutorial does a great job of teaching you the game mechanics, how to pick up weapons and ammo, and most importantly the limits of inventory space.
You’ll see weapons and ammo dropping from enemies a lot, and my first tendency was to pick up everything like I do in RPGs. However you simply stand over a weapon and hold down shift to compare it to your current weapon. There’s no currency in Jupiter Hell so no need to horde items to sell them later. A pistol is a pistol, until later when the colour of the pistols, armour and other items indicate a higher grade of that item. A red pistol may be better than your standard one, but it may just have more ammo in the clip as opposed to doing more damage. Or a blue piece of armour may just have more durability but less protection. Reloading isn’t automatic so be sure to reload after each fight.
This is a roguelike and perma-death looms over every run you do. I played the game on easy and my first run ended after 24 minutes 19 seconds. You are shown a summary of your run where ‘Inferno Darkness, level 4 Scout, killed on Strongroom by a exalted soldier’ (grammar straight from the game). I survived for 1035 turns and killed 44 enemies. I can’t play Inferno Darkness again, so it’s best to use names you’re not so attached to when playing a new run. My second character, Sgt Feathersword, is still alive after clearing the Callisto and Europa zones completely and is raring to go tonight for the games release where I’ll take on the moon of Io.
Although you can just rush through to find the next elevator and progress to the next level, I enjoyed exploring every corner of each procedurally-generated level and clearing all bad guys and monsters. You’ll also come across loot crates where some will contain ammo, others have weapons/armour and there are also green health crates. There are occasionally interface contraptions that will allow you to unlock vaults on that level, and if you have some multitools on hand, you can do things like purge all visible enemies, or disable poisonous gas, amongst other options.
These interfaces often have email messages that you can read to possibly gain insight into the story and characters that were here beforehand. More importantly, the colourised message headers usually contain hints for where to find special armour/weapon. They might also tell you that if you fix the elevator on level 3, it will take you to another part of that zone, usually for more loot. Unless you’re meticulous and willing to backtrack, you likely won’t get to see every level in every zone in a single run. So these pointers are helpful to guide your path.
The heavy metal soundtrack perfectly suits the gunplay and exploration you’ll experience in Jupiter Hell. Guns range from pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, to rocket launchers and chainguns. There are melee weapons too with a combat knife and trust chainsaw for good rip and tear measure. I liked the different look and feel of the various moons you visit keeping exploring each moon fresh. You can certainly see and feel the Doom influences but also how they’ve set out to create their own universe and beastiary to go with it.
There are other games modes outside of the story mode if you want to change up the gameplay loop. Trials let you customise and mod your own challenges to beat and Arena has you defending against wave-based attacks. Endless mode lets you explore fully randomised levels without episodes or branches to see how deep you can get, and Classic mode removes the story and special levels from the game. Whilst I’m just happy playing story mode, I’m glad there’s options for all roguelike fans.
Overall, I didn’t expect to like Jupiter Hell as much as I did with a good mix of nostalgia and fun, yet challenging gun-play. Being a roguelike with permadeath, planning your moves was key and I enjoyed exploring the procedurally generated levels, clearing as much as I could before eventually being overwhelmed. I liked the trait progression system which helped you decide the order to learn them. The permadeath was an opportunity to learn for the next run and it’s a game I can come back to with alternate modes to change up the gameplay.
This review utilised a key provided by Evolve PR and Jupiter Hell is available now on Steam, GOG and Humble.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis