Hurtle through the hellmouth in this occult retro FPS

into the pit
(Image credit: Nullpointer Games)

I’m just going to say it: magic is only cool when it’s coming out of your hands. Every moment I’m forced to use a wand while pretending to be a great and powerful wizard is an insult. As an unbridled font of arcane power, I don’t want to wave a silly little stick around. I want to point at something and have it unmade, preferably by some kind of energy bolt or unfathomable beam. Thankfully, Into the Pit is a boomer shooter roguelite that understands me. When I’m sprinting at Olympic speeds through its shifting hellscape in a blur of demonic carnage, I’m trusted with only two fistfuls of magic and a firm belief that I can kill whatever dark god is waiting a couple floors down, no wavy twig required. This is what respect looks like.

You’ve followed your cousin’s letters to a village that, in previous generations, has managed to be very chill about the yawning demonic Pit in its midst. Unfortunately, its latest Alderman is less “let’s keep the abyss quietly sealed” and more “I would like a legion of demons actually,” and quickly plunged the township into unholy ruin. To rescue your cousin and prevent an eldritch apocalypse, you’ll have to descend through repeated runs in the randomized domains of the Pit, freeing villagers and strengthening your magic through old-school, fast-paced FPS combat.

Runs in Into the Pit all follow the same structure: four randomized floors of four chambers each, followed by a boss fight. You begin by choosing a set of support runes that provide passive bonuses and let you tweak the odds for some of its randomized elements. Then, you choose which domain to descend into. There’s a neat mix-and-match element here: you can select a single region, or you can have the Pit blend two that you’ve previously visited, combining their aesthetics and enemy pools. You can introduce the crab-demons of the Corroded Docks to the ash skeletons of the Obsidian Fortress, by melding their home planes into the Obsidian Docks. It’s a fun crossover episode, but in hell.

When the run starts, you equip a spell in each hand from a randomized pool. Into the Pit's selection of short-range spark showers, mid-range scattergun blasts, long-distance witch bolts and explosive orbs draws magical parallels to a standard FPS arsenal of rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers.

They’re all well-suited to the speedy throwback pace of the combat, where your best strategy in most situations is to keep moving (and compulsively bunny-hopping), constantly, forever. The only limit to your spell-slinging is a recharge rate that’s very brief, even for the slowest spell types. It’s nice not to have an ammo count to worry about, but the only visual indicator that your spell is ready is how bright your hand is glowing. I found this glowiness hard to judge while I'm focusing on kiting around enemies, and there were enough moments of dry-firing my spells where I’d have appreciated a proper meter.

It plays like a shooter of yore, but Into the Pit shares a lot of DNA with contemporary roguelikes. Like in Hades, you’re choosing which chamber you’d like to enter next based on the reward it’ll offer. In this case, that most often means choosing which variety of motes—collectibles that act as currency in the village, or offer in-run benefits like opportunities to cheat death—that you’ll find in the room ahead.  Clearing each chamber offers a choice between three upgrades to your stats or spells. These can be as simple as a flat damage boost, or they might give your spells a chance to plant a cursed seed in an enemy that explodes when they die.

So far, there’s enough interplay for some fun combos to develop in a run. With one of my favorites, the scattergun spell in my left hand would tag a bunch of enemies at once with a curse that’d cause bonus damage whenever they attack me and I’d clean up with the long-range burst spell in my right hand that deals extra damage to enemies with afflictions or low health.

Compared to modern hardcore roguelikes like Spelunky 2 or Enter the Gungeon, Into the Pit isn’t as mechanically intricate or deep in its progression, and it’s not particularly difficult in the way you might expect from the old-school presentation. That might turn off some people, but I found it refreshing to casually burn through a couple of runs without once wanting to pull my hair out. And it’s nice to avoid the kind of decision fatigue that roguelikes can generate when you’re constantly having to fret over what your optimal build is. You’re not going to tank an Into the Pit run with one bad upgrade choice, and deciding which motes to prioritize is straightforward. And because chambers without combat encounters still reward you with a new perk or stat boost, you can opt for a breather at a healing shrine without feeling like you’re missing out on upgrades.

Visually, Into the Pit has a great style, with a suitably dark palette that still manages a lot of color. A pixelated downsampling filter adds a lot of flavor to the throwback vibe, but for a setting that’s enabled by default it can muddy the game’s readability—I’d recommend turning off bloom if you’re sticking with the pixels. And as much as I enjoyed the quick pace of combat, I wanted a bit more visual flair from my spells. There are some blood splatters and gibs from enemies once they're dead, but individual hits don't have enough impact to distract from the awareness that you’re really just whittling down health bars.

I enjoyed my time in the Pit enough that I plan on diving back in, at least until I can bully the Alderman for all the times he appears and delivers a nerdy monologue after you kill a boss. I think my chances are pretty good. The man does magic with a staff. Absolutely unforgivable.

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.