|August 5, 2021
Back in the 90’s, “Doom Clone” was considered to be an invective. Games like Blood, Hexen, and Duke Nukem 3D were able to surmount the connotations of a cheap asset-flip, while games like PO’ed, Alien vs Predator (Jaguar), Forbes Corporate Warrior, and Super 3D Noah’s Ark were punchlines. Nevertheless, Doom‘s influence in the video games industry transcends genre; a third-person classic like Dead Space, that will soon benefit from a remaster, can pinpoin its origins with Doom and Resident Evil.
Then there are “clones’ to consider such as DOOM the Roguelike, AKA DRL, that unambiguously embraces its Doom and Rogue heritage. Initially released in 2002 and established as finished in 2013, the game is as its title describes: procedurally-generated maps, random enemy placement, unpredictable item spawns, and permadeath. Upon finishing the game, proactive programmer Kornel Kisielewicz began a Kickstarter campaign for DOOM the Roguelike‘s spiritual successor Jupiter Hell, before the cease-and-desist letters for what was re-named simply DRL, arrived. Jupiter Hell symbolizes an evolution of DRL‘s formula, though it would be my first time experiencing Kisielewicz’s vision, now carried out by his team, ChaosForge.
Violence: Again, as Jupiter Hell is inspired by Doom, players should reasonably expect blood and gore. As this game maintains a top-down perspective view, the details are less gruesome. Gibbing enemies with the shotgun at close range, or rockets at any range, is common. Even so, I do not believe that the game exceeds an MA-13.
Language: On the other hand, the main character cusses so much that ChaosForge offers a profanity filter. The settings range from a middle school-aged internet troll who discovers that God will not strike them with a bolt of lightning for imitating The Wolf of Wall Street‘s 500+ f-bombs, to about as crude as the Goonies. It is in this category that the game rightfully earns its M-rating.
Spirituality: In the lategame, players will use large demonic runes to teleport onto new levels. Likewise, enemies can spawn from these symbols. Lategame levels begin to appear more “hellish,” with terrain surrounded by lakes of fire. Get it? Hell, on Jupiter! #RollCredits
Throughout my tenure at GeeksUnderGrace.com, I have maintained a bellicose comportment through my insistence to call games like The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, and Hades, roguelites. Jupiter Hell’s existence affirms my zealotry. Finally, we have a roguelike that does not look as though someone made a video game out of a GameFAQs ASCII logo. In that regard, Jupiter Hell‘s graphics are functional, no more, no less. In fact, Jupiter Hell deploys a hybrid blend of MS-DOS style text and iconography for items with an aesthetic that reminds me of infinite run games on an iPad or Galaxy Tab. Environments are distinguishable, yet repetitive because of procedurally-generated levels. Basic functionality does not sound flattering, but the purpose of the graphics engine is to provide gameplay legibility rather than impress with grandeur.
Compliments to the OST, however, for it establishes an appropriate mood with a nineties-style industrial metal sound, channeling Frank Klepacki of Command & Conquer fame. Though ChaosForge had “budget Mick Gordon” in mind, the product is convincing. Sometimes at work, one of the tunes gets stuck in my head as I mentally navigate a randomized layout.
Speaking of layouts, I have visited three moons, each hosting a half-dozen specialized locales. Though there are at least eighteen different environments, each offering different kinds of loot and enemy types, the way in which the Jupiter Hell should be played does not change. The fundamentals practiced in the first areas should sustain players through their entire runs.
ChaosForge claims that Jupiter Hell‘s thematically reprises a 90’s feel; however, I detect only traces of Duke Nukem fused into Doomguy (not to be confused with the modern Doom Slayer). He crash-lands on the moon Callisto, bellyaching about payback for shooting down his ride. He then noticed the brutally mutilated human corpses. With sangfroid, he arms himself with a pistol, and heads into the installation looking for answers. Gamers who are genuinely interested as to what went down on a series of Jupiter moons may find terminals and read emails in order to piece together the plot.
Jupiter Hell, being based on DOOM is disinterested in grand narratives, but rather, in delivering quality gameplay. I believe that it succeeds in this endeavor, though I also feel that the average gamer will not come to realize this until they have played the game and have died a few dozen times. Underneath its simple veneer lies RPG-like depth. The turn-based movement system where everything moves one square tile at a time (two with the dash skill), sounds simple until one finds themselves in an open space with no cover for protection, or one opens a door and ends up face-to-face with a fiend or reaver. This is the kind of game that rewards strategy and planning—RNJesus only helps those who help themselves.
Jupiter Hell benefits greatly as the spiritual successor for a community-driven indie creation like DRL; the game boasts robust customization in the options menu. Likewise, the depth of the gameplay is RPG-like. Upon leveling up, players are offered a dizzying number of skills from which to pick, most of which their functionality will be unclear or seemingly ineffective without trial and error. Such is the way of a roguelike—one must git gud before the game feels good to play.
That entails learning how not to get caught walking in the center when enemies are nearby, finding cover and defending that position, occasionally shooting a door open instead of surrendering cover by walking into it, using the wait command to hunker or simply bide time in case an enemy is waiting in the fog of war, reloading after every encounter, and most importantly, practicing the art of tactical retreats. After mastering these basics, then one can begin to worry about managing limited inventory space.
The most efficient manner I can explain the possibilities for builds is to disclose that which I have utilized in my runs. With the first, default class, the marine, I try to tank up with Ironman (+20 HP per level) and Skilled (+5% heal per level). I then take Tough as Nails (+1 armor per level). To take his “ultimate,” or class mastery, Survivor (cannot die in turn unless below 25 HP at turn start plus HP regen while out of combat), I have to take Hellrunner (+10% dodge, move cost -10% per turn, per level) and Angry Mother**** (yes, that is the name of the skill; increased damage based upon missing HP). Because the marine can hold three weapons, I run with a 9mm pistol, usually my favorite bread & butter, the 9mm auto rifle, and a specialty weapon like a minigun or rocket launcher, because sniper rifles are underwhelming, while shotguns can hit large AOE but often have to be reloaded after every salvo. His class skill, Fury, feels underwhelming compared to other class’ specialties.
I build my scouts like ninjas, for their class skill is stealth (150% evasion, +100% crit on first attack). On my way to taking his mastery of Ghost (reduces the energy cost of stealth, and can detect enemies through walls), I have to take two points into Skilled (stealth lasts longer and reveals locations of branching level exits) and Eagle Eye (upgrades weapon ranges for all weapons). For additional offense, I select Son of a Gun (gain crit and range to pistols and SMGs), and since I commit to pistols because SMGs devour ammunition, I go with Gunslinger (dual-wield pistols) and Wizkid (increase max number of mods attached to weapons) for additional firepower.
Lastly, there is the technician, probably my favorite class because of its utility. With the resource of power, this class has the ability to use a smokescreen for eluding enemies when things get dicey. One of its masteries, Wizard, replaces smokescreen’s power cost with a twenty-turn cooldown; the tech can also summon a drone. Upgrading this upgrades the type of bot summoned. In other words, this class can become a “technomancer.” Wizard’s prerequisites includ Skilled (more power capacity and extends the duration of smokescreen) and two levels of Hacker (use less multitools for hacking tasks). Because the tech begins with three multitools for use at terminals where one can reveal the map, enemy positions, or shut down bots, I consider Hacker an indispensible skill that transforms the player into a map dominator. Remote hacker is useful for when an enemy bot appears out of nowhere, I turn it into my
slave ally. Sys-Op (more uses from computers and reveals them on the mini-map) synergizes with these hacking skills because they give players targets to hack. With all of this finesse, I have yet to determine offensive perks that I strongly recommend; this class is about creating mechanized chaos on the map!
As exciting as all of this variety sounds, after losing a batch of runs, the game can become tedious. Remember, this is a true roguelike, so there are no consolation prizes that unlock after a run to make the next theoretically easier. ChaosForge must have anticipated this critique, because the game ships with specialized modes that change up the gameplay substantially. First there are the challenge modes, thirteen as of this writing, but players can only unlock them through an achievement system. Surviving to the third biome, Io, begins the process of unlocking them.
The first, rated Angel of Light Travel, is rated “easy” but feels hard due to having only four inventory slots; I have yet to beat it. The second, Angel of Carnage, is a rocket launcher-only mode that will put a smile on the faces of those who loved Quake III Arena. Angel of Confidence starts the player on the second biome, Europa, but with a character level 0; I have yet to beat this too. Finally, among the challenges I have tried, is Angel of Marksmanship, or pistols only.
While challenges offer special wrinkles that are mostly player-focused, trials, another set of game modes are more world-focused: Purity, Haste, Endless, Arena, and Royal. Purity eliminates the randomness of sequential level generation for a “straight” playthrough. Haste is a turbo, half-exp is required to level up, less stages are necessary to conquer mode. Endless is self-explanatory, while Arena is a horde mode where one fights against waves in custom levels. Because I have yet to attain enough achievements, I have yet to unlock Royal, the big daddy game mode of all, where one must conquer every moon, stage, and biome in the game in a single run. I am not bugging about it because:
I have to admit that without these additional modes, the thrill of Jupiter Hell began to wane after about ten hours. The counterpoint of making a true roguelike is the risk of gamers failing to evolve, or getting good enough to make progress, and becoming frustrated or bored. rank-style achievement system presents attainable goals for struggling players, including those like me who balk at only four inventory slots. Combined with ChaosForge’s roadmap promising additional features, I believe that the secondary modes make Jupiter Hell an accessible game even for roguelike newcomers. And yes, there are hard and nightmare modes for the sadists, as well.
The Bottom Line
Jupiter Hell is the first roguelike I have played that manages to trick the player into a false sense of security.