A roguelike set in the Underworld? Sounds like Hades to us. But you can probably ignore the convenient comparison, as Doomed to Hell is more like a different, but still much-loved roguelike. If you played and enjoyed Enter the Gungeon, then you might get a little something out of Doomed to Hell.
We like the set-up. Humanity has become so hateful that Hell is overflowing. There are just too many damned souls for Satan to keep track of, so he’s doing what any malevolent demon would do, and builds a Thunderdome. Thousands of lost souls go in, only one comes out. The winner gets their life back.
You have to wonder what happens to the souls that die in the Doomed to Hell tournament. We’re absolutely, definitely nit-picking here, but if the punishment is ‘oblivion’ then that’s probably better than Hell. And if Satan is only weeding out one soul at a time, then a large-scale tournament probably isn’t the most efficient approach to his problem.
Still, it’s a nifty excuse for some roguelike arena-battling. You play Rose, recently dead and aiming to return to the land of the living. In your hands is a pistol, and in front of you are five biomes, each with five levels containing five waves, and five bosses at the end of the levels. Just a thought: we thought six was the number of the devil?
The waves take place in similar boxy arenas, with gargoyles, demons, bats, spirits and jellyfish(?) streaming out of portals placed in the corners. You’ve been given the powers of Twin-Stick Shooting, so you move with the left-stick, aim with the right, and pump hellspawn with lead using RT. Crates and treasure chests get in the way, but you can make quick work of them with your infinite bullets, spraying moolah in your wake.
As you would hope from an arena-based roguelike, things start off simply and without the whiff of challenge, before latter waves and latter levels turn the screw. Soon, the levels are introducing so many enemies that you have to strafe around the edges of the arena, firing behind you as you go (Brave Sir Robin ran away). Doomed to Hell’s orientation towards portals creates some fun behaviours, as you try to keep on top of a wave early, switching your aim between portals and ensuring the waves don’t become unmanageable. If you’re truly running away, you’ve probably failed.
At the end of each wave is a choice of three temporary rewards. We tended to opt for the outright cash, but you might lean towards a build that is heavy on crit damage, turning your machine gun into something like a shotgun; or you might opt for a tank approach, upping your health and armour. It’s worth remembering that these improvements are temporary, getting you through the five waves before a mega-portal appears that you can leapfrog into and buy the permanent stuff, as well as refresh the life point pools.
The permanent stuff tends to be a mix of guns, swords and permanent boosts, so it’s always worth stockpiling some cash before you arrive. The obvious play is to choose between ranged or melee, and then bolt-on boosts that benefit them. We loved a shotgun with a crazily overclocked fire-rate: that’s the one that got us the furthest through the biomes. But every weapon is a legitimate choice, offering a different method of play.
The bosses are absolute buggers, and they did for us more often than the conventional enemies. Just talking about the minotaur makes us angry. It surges across the screen, ignoring our pathetic attempts to shield or roll out of the way. It took us a good ten runs to bypass it. To the bosses’ credit, though, they are well-designed and challenging – they just make us grumble.
And that’s about the gist of Doomed to Hell, which is not a complicated game at all. It’s simple as Simon, and that simplicity is both a boon and a problem.
By focusing on the important stuff, Doomed to Hell feels great to play. Even without some speed boosters, Rose is reasonably fast, and the targeting is hugely responsive. We were able to snap to enemies with the speed of a Geometry Wars champion. If we could put in some requests, we’d ask for more visible shields, as it was hard to tell when we were armoured up, and the roll-rush move could have been more emphatic – or, again, offered some pick-ups to improve it.
But the punch on the guns is great, and the accuracy pretty good too. We found ourselves quelling waves without much difficulty, and improving with each run to the point that we’d reach a boss every time (defeating the boss, though, is another matter). On the sticks, Doomed to Hell holds its own with the best of them.
It’s the lack of depth and progression that nibbles away at Doomed to Hell’s bones, however. By only offering temporary boosts between waves, we couldn’t help but feel that they were pointless. Sure, they might give us momentary boosts, but nothing would last. So, the joy of getting better with each wave was dampened somewhat. The permanent boosts, too, were quite limited. There are only a few weapons to choose from, and once you have the one that you want, you can disregard them. Which just leaves the permanent boosts, and we’d have liked to get them more often, as they’re potent and great to have.
But it’s on death that Doomed to Hell feels the least satisfying. Because your death doesn’t have a lasting benefit. You’re not unlocking more rooms in your hub like in Hades, or building a library of potential cards like in Slay the Spire. Everything is lost when you finally fall, and it’s an opportunity missed. Without a sense of permanence, there’s less of a tug to play again. No-one is whispering into your ear, saying ‘what would it be like to do a run with that upgrade?’.
With a small assortment of levels and only a few enemies to pick from per biome, a run can feel very much like the last, and it’s the reason why Doomed to Hell can’t reach the heights of the best in its sub-genre. It’s undoubtedly explosive and adrenaline-fuelled, but those are both short-lived feelings. It needed more in the tank, an orientation to longevity and keeping us playing, for it to really earn a recommendation.
Twin-stick shooters and roguelike hybrids aren’t new, and they have been done better elsewhere. But that’s not to say you should ignore Doomed to Hell. It may be simple and concise, but it’s a syringe of adrenaline to the heart, and it managed to perk us up for an evening. It aspires to stick around for longer and ultimately fails, but when the gunplay is this fun, we’ll give it a pass.
You can buy Doomed to Hell from the Xbox Store