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Demon Pit

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Developer: Psychic Software (EU), DoomCube (US)
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2019

About Jared Hall

Jared started playing computer games in the '80s on a Commodore 64, moving over to PC gaming in the era of Wolf3D and Doom. Favorites include Dark Souls, Mass Effect and Civilization.


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PC Review - 'Demon Pit'

by Jared Hall on Feb. 11, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Survive endless waves of hell spawn in Demon Pit, a savage arena-shooter that pays homage to classic FPS games of the '90s.

The retro shooter seems to be a genre on the rise. Perhaps others, like myself, are tired of cut scenes, voice-overs and needless complications that have overtaken shooters in the past two decades. Demon Pit, developed by Psychic Software and DoomCube, clearly aims to bring back the simple, hardcore action fun of older titles such as the original Doom, Quake, and Serious Sam. In one sense, it accomplishes its task remarkably well, but perhaps it has taken the simplicity a touch too far.

The game takes place in a hellish arena, with four walls and a fiery red sky overhead. Why are you fighting for your life in an arena? Don't ask foolish questions, that's why. OK, once upon a time, "you enter the cave of monsters" was a sufficient plot for a game. I mean, it's really about the action, right?

And there is plenty of action. Demon Pit is perpetual combat from start to finish. With the exception of pausing the game, don't plan on taking your hands off the keyboard/mouse for the next 10-30 minutes. The game is paced in waves, like an old arcade game. Each time you've eliminated all of the baddies, the next wave spawns, the arena will change somewhat, and some weapons spawn with your only source of ammo. There are no difficulty settings, aside from the obvious progressively more difficult waves, but the first waves are easy enough that I think anyone should be able to complete at least a few waves.

The weapons are standard fare for older titles. A pistol with infinite ammo is very useful for the early waves or trivial clean-up phases, as ammo becomes a serious constraint as the game progresses. A double-barreled shotgun and an assault rifle serve as your go-to weapons, since you get a good amount of ammo for both. The grenade launcher and flamethrower are good for groups of monsters due to their area of effect, but the damage output of the flamethrower left something to be desired. Finally, the high-tech ultimate weapons are the plasma rifle and rocket launcher. You will never get a satisfactory amount of ammo for either of these, and they need to be reserved for the tougher baddies. Each wave, up to four weapons will spawn on the four weapon spawners near the middle of the arena. It's a good tactic to grab these before too many monsters spawn, and the difficulty depends on how the arena changes.

Yea, the arena changes — sometimes in horrible ways. You will almost certainly die due to this at least once, as there will be no voice-over or countdown alerting you to the fact that the floor is lava in five, four, three …. The other horrible hazard is the moving, sliding, spinning, strafing laser beams of death that can traverse the entire arena, forcing you to go over them.

Jumping over laser beams doesn't sound too tough, you say. Ha. You can't jump over them. Jumping is weird in Demon Pit anyway; you don't jump very high, but the gravity seems low, so you hang for quite a while. There wasn't any strafe-jumping or bunny-hoping as far as I could tell, so it's a minor gripe. No, the ticket to avoiding the laser beams is the grappling hook, which is core to the game, not just a tacked-on frill. There are orbs scattered about the arena, hanging in mid-air, and you can grapple to them at any time, from any range, and at great speed. This provides you with unparalleled mobility as long as you're quick on the draw. You have to generally aim at the orb you want, but it's fairly forgiving. On some versions of the arena, you'll grapple yourself from platform to platform between shots, while avoiding the giant skulls that are mercilessly chasing you.

There's a reasonably good mix of monsters in Demon Pit. It's perhaps a bit heavy on the melee monsters, so get used to backpedaling and circle-strafing around the arena because you're going to do that basically the whole time. There are three versions of floating skulls: the ordinary variety that flies toward you and hits you, a faster variety that does the same but seems to have a poor turn rate so you have some dodging options, and a third that tends to keep some distance and fires bolts of energy at you from above. There are three standard melee monsters: the basic skeleton, a high-hit-point ogre, and a tougher skeleton with a shield.

There are also swarms of fast-moving maggots that nearly necessitate the flamethrower, since it's difficult to hit them with the single-target weapons, and they often close the distance too quickly to use the grenade launcher safely. These guys are mostly trivial if you're able to keep moving. Your character runs really fast, and the skillful grappling can propel you, so the melee monsters and the relatively passive, floating skulls should rarely pose a threat unless they spawn right on top of you for a cheap shot. (Yeah, that happens occasionally.)

The real threats are the few ground-level monsters with ranged weapons. There's a cyborg that steadily plinks away at you with an energy weapon, but this guy has such a tiny frame that he's difficult to hit, especially with the shotgun, and he has more health than most. There's a skull-mech who's almost a miniboss with very high hit points and a rapid-fire plasma weapon that's reminiscent of the arachnotron from Doom 2. Fortunately, both of these enemies can't turn very quickly, so it's possible to get behind them and blast away, if the other enemies on the map allow such a strategy. There's also a "boss" monster — I won't spoil the details, but you'll have to get pretty far into the game to see it. There are no hitscan enemies in the game, and that's a great design choice for a game where health restoration is extremely limited. The continuous health drain of hitscan monsters in this game would've been frustrating.

Demon Pit goes at least to 60 waves; there is an achievement for 60, but maybe it goes further. I had noticed that the top leaderboard scores were all conspicuously at wave 58, and after some research, it seems that at the time of writing, there is a bug preventing anyone from passing wave 58. Wave 59 refuses to spawn. The leaderboard is the only gameplay driver. Every kill gives you points, and successive kills stack up a multiplier. If you don't get kills quickly enough, your multiplier begins to fall off, which further enforces the frenetic nature of the game. It does make for some interesting decisions. For example, do you clean up the riffraff at the end of the wave with your pistol? You would conserve ammo, but there's a good chance your multiplier will drop off.

All of this gunplay and mayhem is presented very well. To my eyes, the graphics most closely resemble Quake 1, with grainy textures, brown brick walls, and low-polygon-count monsters. You can't go in expecting Doom 2016, but the visuals are clear, and everything feels impactful. The sound helps a lot, as all of the gun sounds (barring the flame thrower) are well done. There are no low-quality sounds intermixed that become annoying over time, and to top it off, there's a killer heavy metal soundtrack just as relentless as the game itself.

While the gameplay itself is fast, fun, and adrenaline-packed, Demon Pit is just begging for more content or some reason to play aside from the leaderboard. The replayability is lacking unless you are super competitive about the score. The Steam description states a "constantly changing arena," which seems to imply a random nature, but that is not the case. The arena changes with each wave, but each specific wave is the same. Wave 6 will always be wave 6, with the same arena, same guns and same monsters. This is arguably good for competing on a scoreboard, as you can't chalk a top score up to luck, but at the same time, it wears thin really fast.

I have to mention that the plasma rifle is strange. I'm not sure if the projectiles gain your momentum or what's going on, but this gun does not aim straight. For example, if you're strafing left (which you will be doing a lot) and your crosshair is directly on a monster, you will miss to the left by a mile. You have to lead your shots by 20-45 degrees, depending on your range. It seemed better to just not strafe while firing or to fire at point-blank range to be sure you hit. I've played my fair share of shooters and have not seen anything like this. Since the damage of the plasma is absurdly high, it's still one of your best weapons, but the aim is pretty frustrating.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. It's a pretty inexpensive offering that gives some good thrills for a short time. If the developer released Demon Pit 2 that featured a campaign and some co-op action, I'd definitely check it out, as they have a solid foundation here. The current offering is extremely niche, so if competing on a scoreboard doesn't strike you as terribly appealing, there may be better places to spend your money.

Score: 6.7/10

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