Prodeus Early Access Review
I like Doom 3. Despite not being a traditional follow-up to the legendary franchise in the way many fans anticipated, I enjoyed the game greatly as its own atmospheric and intelligently-paced campaign. It’s quite lovely, then, that we get to experience the best of both worlds with the outstandingly shameless spiritual successor to the original Doom in Prodeus. Developed by bounding box software and released on steam for early access on Nov. 9, Prodeus is an astounding taste of what’s sure to be a favorite among retro shooter aficionados.
The best thing about Prodeus is it’s disinterest in elevating the shooter genre, despite how uninteresting that may sound. There are nearly no novel mechanics or ideas presented here; rather, much like Ion Fury did back in 2018 — it merely presents a smoothly polished and competently designed shooter that truly understands it’s audience. The most immediately recognizable change is Prodeus’s innovative art style that combines classic sprites with complex 3D lighting, particle, and blood effects to create a palpable and intricate mural upon which the player can engage in boundless acts of demon violence. The dynamic heavy metal soundtrack also deserves a heap of praise as possibly some of the best music to ever be included in a video game. Each track hits harder than the last, and the way in which they react to the player’s actions is chilling to experience.
Prodeus is fast and mean, with intense action, speedy movement, and endlessly satisfying gunplay. Each time I fire even the starting pistol feels like the first, and a smart sprite dismemberment system reminiscent of Hotline Miami ensures that the enemies properly react to getting peppered full of holes. The enemies themselves are a tad too similar to Doom’s bestiary for my taste, however. Zombie soldiers, impish fireball-tossing monsters, and lost soul-adjacent spirits fill the early hours of the game. Even the pinky demon and cacodemon clones refuse to stray away from their obvious inspirations. The upshot of this unfortunate design choice, however, is that these tried-and true archetypes work great in practice. Fights are hectic as hell itself, and I often find myself sprinting around a room at lightning speed, desperately switching weapons as I fire at seemingly endless waves of bloody monsters and evil beings.
The weapon choice is incomplete in early access but superb all the same. The game cribs the alternate fire mechanic of Doom 2016, allowing for extended depth in each arm, of which there are roughly ten right now. The armory is quite generic, but fitting with the game’s theme, each gun feels excellently weighty and satisfying to handle. The balance feels slightly off, as I found little reason to use a handful of the guns after better options were unlocked. (Namely the pistol, grenade launcher, and standard shotgun). It also would have been nice for some kind of restrictions on the armory that can be taken into each stage. Ten weapons is just too many to try and swap between when they don’t all quite feel useful. This is compounded by the fact that each gun shares their ammunition type with two others, eliminating any reason to use the two weaker variants. The twin rifles feel useful right up until I get the more powerful minigun that drains their ammo pool at a higher damage rate. But with that being said, the incredible attention to detail with the gun sprites and animations are beyond anything I’ve seen before. Even if not every gun makes sense from a tactical sense, they’re all inherently fun to use, and that counts for a lot.
The level design is absolutely top-notch. It once again opts for more traditional influences instead of modern behemoths like Dusk. Stages are intricately created and considered, with countless looping paths and secret cubbies hidden among endless hallways of various shapes and sizes. The best levels coil around a massive open room that offers quick return to any section of the level without compromising readability. In fact, despite the addition of a helpful 3D map, I almost never got lost solely due to competent path signing and landmark placements. At this point in the game’s development there’s only one world to explore, and therefore the levels each share a similar industrial moon-base aesthetic. I would perhaps have gotten sick of said art style if the game didn’t look so goddamn incredible overall. There’s something spectacular about the way the evening sun shines on the blood and viscera of slaughtered monsters.
The map screen feels neat, if entirely unnecessary. Between stages the player travels along a 3D map whose art style clashes with the rest of the game. Portals allow the player to skip along the stage progression and finish challenges out of order, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much reason to. The only interesting potential is the possible inclusion of secret exits to stages that unlock bonus content, Super Mario World style. But it remains to be seen how much the developer will capitalize on the map’s potential. Personally I wouldn’t cry any tears if it was removed in favor of standard level-by-level progression.
There are currently six difficulty levels, and at first glance the default normal seems to be perfectly acceptable, if a little too easy. But upon further playing I made an unfortunate discovery: similar to the original Bioshock, Produces lacks a standard respawn system, instead opting to revive the player at designated areas with zero gameplay penalties other than a reduced score. Enemies (of which there are a set and scripted number in each level) don’t respawn with the player, meaning no progress is actually lost. At first, I loved the switch to respawn locations. Almost every other retro-inspired shooter uses the decidedly archaic quicksave system in order to save progress and I was happy to see a more modern implementation. Save stations are quick to use and common to come across. But having no punishment for death takes nearly all the bite out of gameplay, completely ruining my fun. Scores are meaningless for the average player, and being able to whittle away at tough spots in the game sucks out all the tension and satisfaction of playing a challenging game. Why does it even matter that I killed a tough boss when I was essentially immortal doing so? Better options are certainly available, with even the dreaded quicksave being preferable to this. But the game is still in early access, and hopefully in time a better system will be introduced.
And so the question: should you purchase Prodeus in its current state? Playing through the available content took me approximately 4 hours, though I’m confident it would have been longer if I had been allowed to fail in the traditional sense. But the depth of content is more important than it’s length, and I fully enjoyed every second spent with Prodeus. And with the developer’s plans to increase the price of the game as more is added, twenty dollars feels perfectly reasonable for an entry point into a wonderfully reverent and sensibly designed action shooter.