When the phrase ‘high concept’ is bandied about, most assume it means that a piece of media is particularly ambitious or intelligent. They are wrong. Instead it simply refers to something that can be easily summed up in a simple pitch. Well, Jupiter Hell is about as high concept as it gets, the pitch neatly summed up by the question ‘What if Doom was a turn based strategy?”
Jupiter Hell isn’t the first time that developer Chaos Forge has cooked up a “Doom, but it’s a…” game, having cut their teeth on the popular game D**m the Roguelike, which transformed the classic FPS into a top down dungeon crawler. Jupiter Hell follows in that game’s footsteps, its debt to Doom easily seen in almost all aspects of the game.
You play as a lone soldier fighting off hordes of demonic enemies with a range of weapons, while also searching for keys that unlock doors. Such a description hardly does the game justice as that basic outline could apply to many titles, but here the influence is clear and deliberate. The tactical action is also accompanied by an appropriate thrash metal soundtrack – in the early levels, at least – though where the Doomguy is largely mute, your character here is closer to Duke Nukem in their foul mouthed tirades. While this succeeds in giving them some extra sense of individuality, I found it broke the mood at times.
Unlike many more popular roguelikes, such as Hades where iterative progress is continued across multiple runs, Jupiter Hell goes for a more traditional and unforgiving style of permadeath. Skills, items, experience and progress are completely lost upon death and with each run being procedurally generated you cannot even learn the best paths through. There are seed codes to replay a particular setup, but this prevents achievements so is best used to practice and get a feel for the game. A wide range of difficulty settings are available but even the easiest one is a challenge.
Graphically, Jupiter Hell is effective. It has all the ominous corridors and barely lit corners of the space horror genre. Fog of war is well employed to keep you on your toes and line of sight plays a major role in both discovering enemies and also defeating them safely. Different weapons and skills can improve your range of sight and the accuracy of your shooting, but a cautious approach is almost always the best one. This contrasts with the recent Doom games that encourage you to get up close and personal, so the closest point of comparison is probably Doom 3 with its narrow corridors and enemy spawn points.
Something that isn’t so effective is the default visual settings. When first starting the game up you’ll be greeted with an almost ludicrous excessive CRT filter that emulates an old school monitors right down to a faux screen curvature that distorts everything. I can appreciate games including these options for that retro feel, but here it just makes it difficult to read what is going on, and I can only imagine how this convex bulge looks on modern concave curved screens. I would definitely recommend switching that mode off before making your first run.
There are three different character classes to choose from at the beginning of each run: Marine, Scout and Technician. Each has their own skill trees with various masteries that can lead to very different builds to suit your playstyle. Whether you prefer the brute force and healing abilities of the Marine or the item use and hacking of the Technician all are supposedly viable options to complete the game. I say supposedly, as I haven’t come to the end in any of my runs. Jupiter Hell is a punishing game even on lower difficulties and will kill you pretty damn quick if you get careless. Despite preaching a slow and careful approach just a few paragraphs ago, I’m often guilty of failing to practice that methodology myself.
Jupiter Hell has clearly benefited from a time spent in early access and the result is a pretty polished game with some well differentiated class specialisms and builds. The difficulty does seem to be set too high at present but that may well be a plus point for roguelike fans. Making good use of cover and environmental features is essential, so there is an aspect of RNG at play with the procedural generation. This does obviously mean that each playthrough should feel different, but the unfortunate side effect is that levels sometimes feel like random assortments of rooms rather than fully designed areas.