Prodeus is a stylish, gleefully violent retro-FPS with more blood in it than a hospital for vampires. It is not to be confused with Proteus, a lovely musical walking simulator from 2013 that doesn’t have any blood or vampires whatsoever. For what it’s worth, Prodeus doesn’t feature vampires either, although being an Early Access game, who’s to say that it won’t?
What was I talking about? Oh yes. Prodeus follows the trend of other recent, nineties-style shooters such as Dusk and Amid Evil, which eschew graphical realism and scripted set-pieces in favour of mazey levels, fast-paced gunplay, and pre-millennium visual styles. Even in its semi-finished state, Prodeus ranks among the best of these so-called ‘boomer-shooters’, with fantastic-feeling weapons and a substantive campaign featuring lots of well-designed levels. It is slightly lacking in terms of originality, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
For now, let’s discuss the first thing you’ll probably notice about Prodeus – its distinctive aesthetic. Prodeus is essentially a modern take on 2.5D shooters like Doom or Duke Nukem, which combined 3D environments with 2D, sprite-based models for features like enemies and in-game objects. Prodeus takes this style, then carefully infuses it with modern lighting and shading techniques.
The result is an alluring combination of dense, crunchy pixels and dynamic, high-contrast environments. Lights flicker, explosion flare, blood from burst demons glistens on the faceplate of your helmet. Like Amid Evil, Prodeus offers a clever synthesis of old and new tech, but in such a way that results in a completely different style.
It immediately grabs your attention, and if for some reason it doesn’t, the gunplay certainly will. The premise is classic in both form and function; you’re a nondescript space-marine dispatched to investigate strange happenings at some sci-fi facility. Those strange goings-on turn out to be “hordes of furious monsters” and the only thing standing between you and certain death are your fists, your wits, and a large amount of ammunition.
The first weapon you pick up is a silenced pistol, an intriguing choice in a game where stealth is impossible. Nonetheless, it phuts enemies to death in a sufficiently gratifying manner, and it isn’t long before you’ve picked up a nice weighty shotgun and a pair of twin machine guns that can turn enemies into flesh confetti.
Indeed, as I mentioned in the intro, Prodeus is phenomenally violent. There’s a line on the game’s Steam page that reads “Get ready to paint the walls red”, and whoever wrote that wasn’t exaggerating. Blood gushes from enemies in crimson fountains that would flood a football pitch. Enemies also have a tenuous relationship with their limbs, falling apart as you shoot them in some impressively layered sprite work. I won’t say the game is too violent, because, well, I have problems. But there are points where the gore is so thick that it literally gets in the way of the game, obscuring targets and the environment.
Aside from occasionally blinding you in blood, Prodeus is a rock-solid FPS. It’s got it all: good shooting, well-designed enemy encounters, levels that grow increasingly varied and ambitious as you progress through the campaign. It also has an absolutely rocking chaingun that spools up like a jet turbine and is similarly effective at ripping apart biological matter. It’s a game you jump straight into and enjoy, with minimal onboarding or tutoring required.
Prodeus is undoubtedly a quality product, but I don’t get quite the same thrill from playing it as I did from Dusk or Amid Evil. It took me a while to figure out precisely why, but it ultimately comes down to identity. Dusk and Amid Evil. Like Prodeus, both games were based on classic shooters, the former on Quake and the latter on Hexen. Yet while both games start as tributes, they quickly evolve into their own experiences, playing with FPS convention in clever and creative ways.
Prodeus, by comparison, is basically just Doom. A very pretty and gloopy Doom, but Doom nonetheless. The levels closely resemble Doom levels in both layout and aesthetic, while the enemies are all unsubtle facsimiles of classic Doom foes. You’ve got a fireball-tossing imp, a charging pinky-demon, a floating, plasma spewing Cacodemon-alike. It even has floating, fiery heads that rush at you and explode, just like Doom‘s Lost Souls. I understand that there’s only so many ways to make a video game enemy, but Prodeus feels like it’s aping Doom a bit too much, relying on id‘s classic to carry it to glory, rather than carving its own path.
Fortunately, there’s still time for Prodeus to do that. Although already substantial, the campaign isn’t finished, so there’s scope for the devs to take the game in weirder and more surprising directions. Prodeus is a good retro-FPS, make no mistake. But to be a great one, it needs to do more than honour the past. It needs to transcend it.