Jean-Paul Sartre famously said “Hell is other people.” For gamers, hell can be a lot of fun — especially when it's full of bullets.
Procedurally generated roguelite games and the bullet hell genre (imagine a very extreme version of Space Invaders) share a unique allure to completionist sadists. Now, you have the opportunity to add a masterpiece of both genres to your game library. It boasts fuzzy retro aesthetics, furious pacing, and enough lethal projectiles to cause an acute existential crisis in even the most French of fancy philosophers.
We’re talking about Devolver Digital’s ode to shooting: 2016’s Enter The Gungeon. It’s free for PS4 and PS5 owners as part of PlayStation’s Play at Home Program until April 22. It’s also included with an Xbox Games Pass subscription (including PC only!) so you have next-to-zero excuses to white-knuckle your way through an intensely satisfying good time. It’s also available to purchase on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
Don’t be fooled by the sprites that it’s got, this dungeon crawler is tougher than a two-dollar steak. It starts out innocently enough, with a tutorial designed to lull you into a false sense of security. But the difficulty ramps up quickly. It’s got a clever story about a legendary fortress that houses a GUN THAT CAN KILL THE PAST, which makes it easy to see the game as a delightful satirization of America’s outrageous gun culture. Almost everything is guns from enemies called “Bulletkin” that look like anthropomorphic ammunition to your UI with its shotgun shell-themed healthbar to teleporters shaped like six-gun wheels. Of course, what is a gun if it’s not being shot? Fear not: there is a lot of shooting in Enter the Gungeon. There are more than 500 weapons and items at your disposal, many of which are themed with delightful pop culture references. You take your pick from one of five starting characters, each with different backstories, loadouts and perks (The Hunter is best for beginners and has a doggo companion) head into the legendary Gungeon and get the treasure or die trying.
Spoiler: you will die trying.
The gameplay loop for Enter the Gungeon is what you’d expect from a roguelite. The dungeons are procedurally generated and choc-a-bloc with secret rooms, helpful merchants and smashable containers. The frequently placed teleporters help eliminate the backtracking that plagues other dungeon crawls and the soundtrack is an absolute banger, especially when you’re facing down the many epic boss fights. You’re largely getting a clean slate each time you die, although a few guns will level up if you find them often and use them enough. (It is a roguelite after all.)
The key to combat lies in learning different enemies' bullet patterns so you can time your all-important dodge rolls. Beyond that, you’ll eventually learn the importance of special items like blanks, which clear all the bullets in a room (among other things) and how to use each character's special abilities in crucial ways. It’s a great game that you can knock about in for a quick session or strap in and grind away until the sun comes up. An average playthrough is in the 20-30 hour range, but if you want to find all the little Easter eggy goodies along the way, you can easily log 50+.
Enter the Gungeon has local co-op but nothing online, an odd but endearing feature. But it makes this a fun one to bust out when you have some friends over. If hell is other people, after all, then let bullet hells provide redemption.