Prodeus review

Imagine a world where instead of jumping into three dimensions with 1996’s polygon-packing Quake, id Software instead stuck with 2D one more time, creating something with the rendered visual style seen in Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, and later (appropriately enough) – Midway’s sleeper hit DOOM 64.  

That’s Prodeus in essence. A retro-style FPS with rendered visuals that builds upon the foundations id Software laid during the ‘90s. Only, it takes liberties when it comes to visual clout. Had this released in 1996, it would almost certainly require a 4MB 3dfx Voodo graphics card, minimum.

For its visual style, it takes a striking combination of pixilated rendered textures and sprite-based enemies and melds them with modern lighting, particle effects, and a satisfying dismemberment system that reacts to where enemies are hit. Prodeus’ off-world installations soon lose their metallic sheen – every kill sees gallons of blood coat the floors and walls, leaving a trail of carnage behind.

Not only is the ultra-carnage cathartic, but it also helps greatly with navigating the often complex, looping, environments. Level design is nothing short of exemplary – it genuinely feels as if developer Bounding Box has closely examined every id release and official mod out there.

Maps are large in scale, with most taking around 10-15 minutes to complete, yet you’re constantly ushered forward and nudged back onto the right path via groups of spawning enemies, fresh trails of pick-ups, and the occasional set-piece. Some set pieces are so large that they change entire stage layouts. In places, it still calls upon finding colour-coded key cards, but this concept isn’t overused. And in a modern twist, key cards can also be used to open weapon stashes.

The controls are fluid and responsive, with one later weapon featuring a lock-on that allows you to strafe and shoot. New upgrades, such as a double jump, increase agility further. These aren’t easily gained, however, commonly requiring you to replay stages and mop up collectables.

The weapon assortment begins in a familiar fashion, steadily preparing you for bigger enemies – which range from zombie soldiers to blue-hued alien ‘Prodeans’ with fire and ice attacks. Fisticuffs make way for a pistol, and then come SMGs that can then be dual welded. That’s where the familiarly ends – especially if you were expecting a shotgun to be introduced next. Before gaining one of those, which is soon replaced with a four slug variant, the mini-gun makes an appearance.

Remember how DOOM’s shotgun became synonymous with the series? Prodeus has a menacing mini-gun that rips and tears through enemies like a hot knife through butter. The chamber can be spun in advance, and because ammo for it is common, it quickly becomes a ‘go-to’ when clearing out rooms full of demons.

Instead of a sniper rife – something that wasn’t commonplace in FPS until as late as 1997’s GoldenEye – there’s the Arc Rifle, which not only has a zoom feature (complete with generous auto-aim, just to reinforce that this is a modern retro FPS) but emits electric bolts that harm all nearby enemies. The only thing that prevents the weapon assortment from feeling carefully curated is that the grenade launcher (with a sticky bomb attachment) and the rocket launcher are rather samey.

Adding replay value, it’s likely that you won’t unlock every weapon on your first playthrough. This is due to the presence of a shop – accessible between stages from the world map screen – where precious collectable ore can be traded for superior firepower. Loadouts can then be altered before jumping into battle, although we didn’t find ourselves spending too much time tinkering here. Or indeed any time at all.

A few bonus trial missions also feature, mostly based around using a single weapon while shooting targets within a linear stage. At first, these feel remarkably like padding, but it soon emerges that there are enough regular stages for Prodeus to feel substantial without them. Our runtime stood at 9 hours. It’s worth noting that we played on one of the easier difficulties, which made for a mostly smooth and frustration-free experience.

Indeed, Prodeus won’t drag you to hell and back – it just wants you to have a good time. The breakneck pace, buckets of gore, visual clout, and sneaky environmental hazard kills – which are always a delight to witness – make for a vastly entertaining experience. Proving that the genre still has a few tricks left, Prodeus sets the bar high for future ‘modern retro’ FPSs.

After leaving early access on 22nd September, Prodeus is available now on PC and consoles – albeit as a Game Preview release on Xbox. Published by Humble Bundle.