The first early access stage of Prodeus begins with a sequence of neon lights that flashed along a long corridor. “BOOMERS. ARE. YOU. READY.” I warily continued, worried the lean-in to community goodwill and memes was a front for a half-baked effort to jump on the retro-FPS wave. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you thought Brutal DOOM was a little too corny but still appreciated the gibs, Prodeus is here to fill the void.
Enemies are sprite-based, and textures are merely suggestions in this dark sci-fi shooter born from the best of the late ’90s classics. Demons explode into viscous globs of jammy blood that paints the walls, floor, and ceiling. Guns provide an audial feast as they light the room with each pull of the trigger. Vistas and setpieces start coming, and they do not, in fact, stop coming.
There’s no denying that Prodeus leans hard on the likes of DOOM for inspiration, but is so well-designed and fun to play that I can hardly criticize it for that. I play a Frankenstein’s monster version of classic DOOM, loaded up with all sorts of mods that make it punchier, grosser, and smoother. Prodeus towers above that experience with more satisfying weapons (including one of the best chain guns I’ve seen in a shooter), great level design, and some eye-popping art.
Things start slow, with some standard fireball-shooting demons and zombies that lurch about, but more interesting and challenging foes are sprinkled in throughout the campaign. Enemy designs might be my one gripe with Prodeus, because while varied, they lack surprise. There are pinky equivalents, cacodemon equivalents, imp equivalents, pain elemental equivalents, and archvile equivalents. I do wish the team had strayed just a little further from their influence, but they come together to make such interesting fights that it’s easy to see why innovation may have proven unnecessary.
Prodeus has some of the most inspired FPS level design since DOOM. I mean the DOOM. 1993 DOOM. Take, for example, “Marksman.” This level begins overlooking a chasm of acid pits, in the distance a broad spire looms. The spire cracks open in puffs of smoke, and its face opens, revealing energy shields and two railgun snipers perched within. I navigate along the chasm opposite the spire, hiding behind cover as the gunners take aim. I duck into side rooms, arenas, and corridors as I make my way closer to their vantage point.
The cliff opens onto a trail-yard where the snipers’ tower is a mere stone’s throw away. I fight through the trainyard, up the tower, and dispatch the gunmen. Next, I fight my way through a narrow train, using the high-powered railgun that was beaming down on me moments ago to slaughter lines of enemies. The train leads me back to the start of the level, and with a new keycard, I open the way to the exit.
Not once during my time in these labyrinthian levels did I feel lost or confused. They elegantly guide the player like the banks of a river from locale to locale, looping back on themselves effortlessly. The masterful combination of geometry, lighting, and enemy and item placements come together to expertly pace the action while simultaneously moving things forward. It’s hard to put into words, but while playing it feels like magic. The keycard hunts from DOOM have been transformed into natural breadcrumb progression without sacrificing any of the sophistication that made those levels so great.
On top of the nearly four hours of excellent early access levels is a mind-bogglingly robust level creator baked into the game. The small but eager community has already produced some spectacular stages, including E1M1 of DOOM. Some of these levels are even more intricate and detailed than those included, and with so much quality content before the game has even launched, I’m confident there will be plenty to come.
All told, Prodeus is clearly a work of love for the genre. It may wear its influences on its sleeve, but when a game is this well-crafted, innovation becomes secondary to execution. With more on the way and a plethora of community-made levels to enjoy, this is an easy recommendation to fans and newcomers to the genre alike.
Prodeus is available on Steam Early Access.
Prodeus may be inspired by classics, but it is by no means derivative. Outstanding level design and a near-perfect refinement of 90s FPS combat make this a must-play.