Long-time readers will know that we're rather partial to roguelikes here at Gamereactor. You'll also know that we're rather fond of Doom too. So when Jupiter Hell first registered as a blip on our radar last year, we were instantly intrigued as ChaosForge has been working away on a game that tries to fuse turn-based tactical gameplay with impactful action themes.
Jupiter Hell is actually an evolution of an idea that started with DoomRL, an unofficial transplant of Doom staples into a roguelike format, but this newly released Early Access game drops the Doom facade and goes its own way with a standalone release that captures the spirit of id Software's iconic shooter, but that at the same time doesn't have to wrestle with the copyright lawyers thanks to the fact that this hellish space base is located on Jupiter and not Mars.
If you can look past the planetary shift, what you've got is a top-down turn-based shooter that takes a fairly traditional roguelike setup and shakes it up with a new-found focus on ranged combat. In a lot of traditional roguelikes the combat is as simple as running into something, but in Jupiter Hell players must use cover and manage their ammo supplies as well as cautiously proceed around the metallic base in search of gear, enemies, and the elevator to the next level.
The words "cautiously proceed" and "Doom" aren't often associated with one another but here they need to be used together a bit more often than usual. Each turn is represented by one movement or action, and you can only move up, down, left, and right, with your vision also somewhat limited (which also suggests that you should take it steady). For the most part, playing it safe is the wisest course, especially as you advance to new areas with more dangerous enemies on patrol, but Jupiter Hell isn't as traditional as it sometimes makes out, and the emphasis is firmly on creating a turn-based experience that feels like an actioner.
For the most part, ChaosForge succeeds in this endeavour, and Jupiter Hell is just about the most intense and immediate turn-based roguelike that we've come across. The crunching, albeit slightly repetitive heavy metal soundtrack casts an illusion of tempo, and while it's always better to play it safe and steady, you'll regularly get the feeling that the developers want you to go harder and faster than you actually should. One example of this is the fact that there's an animation for diagonal movement despite the fact that you can't technically move diagonally - when you're pushing up, left, up, left, up, left in quick succession, the game makes it look like you're moving in a smooth diagonal line.
The different weapons each have positives to weigh against each other, and you can carry up to three at a time. Health packs and grenades can be grabbed from crates, which can be accessed simply by running straight into them and the hoovering up goodies that drop. Then it's a case of managing your inventory, healing up when you take damage, and taking cover as soon as possible whenever you see an enemy, and using that cover to take aim with whatever weapon you're wielding.
The combat could be a bit more expressive, all things considered, and the turn-based setup sometimes takes the wind out of the animations on the screen and you're reminded that you didn't kill that last demon in real-time. It's no biggy though, and for the most part, it's satisfying to move through these corridors and battle the enemies you discover en route to each level's exit. The environments themselves are simple and well designed, but perhaps they would have been more interesting to explore if they had offered greater interactivity (although we did enjoy the exploding barrels).
Lingering on that point, interactivity is something we'd like to see more of as development continues. You can level up your character and boost your stats, and pick up mods for your weapons too, but this feels like an area that's ripe for deeper exploration. We'd love to see more elaborate customisation creep in over time, giving players enhanced options when it comes to dealing with the demons they encounter. Having said that, reading the Early Access roadmap on the game's Steam page indicates that this is exactly what the developer intends to do, and ChaosForge has suggested that there'll be years of support for the game, so we're hopeful that there'll be lots of potential gameplay variety in there by the time the game is in a finished state.
In its current state, however, Jupiter Hell is a fairly straightforward Doom-flavoured turn-based roguelike, although it executes its action-centric gameplay style rather well. From the meaty soundtrack to the Duke Nukem-inspired voice over, there's a lot of love here for '90s shooters, and the turn-based roguelike wrapper works well despite the emphasis on ranged combat. It's in a good place already, and we're really keen to see what depth can be added. Right now it's a fun Doom-inspired curio with a few good ideas, but with more gameplay variance this could end up being an excellent roguelike in its own right.