Like many things throughout human history, video games go in cycles. Trends that were once huge fall to the wayside before eventually returning to the limelight years down the line. The first person genre is a great example of this. Born from the arena-crawling adventures of old-school shooters like Doom and Quake, the world of first-person shooters eventually shifted toward games focused on corridor shoot-outs, tactical cover, regenerating health, and multiplayer warfare.
The health-pickups and tank-life strafing of classic shooters seemed like they were dead and gone, but time keeps circle strafing. the last few years have seen blockbusters like the Doom reboots and smaller titles like Ion Fury or Dusk reviving that original style of shooter action. Now, we’ve got a game that lies somewhere in the middle of indie pixel love-letters and big-budget 3D advancements in the form of Prodeus, the latest and greatest in arena-shooter action.
At a glance, Prodeus looks like a sharply rendered modern 3D shooter, with plenty of gorgeous lighting effects, powerful particles and juicy blood splatters. On closer inspection, though, a second layer to the aesthetic reveals itself. Environments are made up of chunky assets and primitive shapes that would feel right at home on the earliest PC games. While your protagonist’s hands and the weapons held in them look sharp and smooth, distant enemies have a pixelated filter over them that emulates the sprites of old. Even the animations of almost everything in the game move at a chunky pace that replicates the robotic movements of the old-school FPS. If you’re not a fan, you can turn these effects down significantly.
Combining old-school and new-school design elements like this leads to one of the most visually interesting shooters I’ve seen in a while. Prodeus manages to capture the feeling of it’s inspirations flawlessly, but also packs in the sort of visual flair that wouldn’t have been possible back then. Not only that, but the addictive music from now Doom Eternal DLC composer Andrew Hulshult kept me hyped up the entire time I played.
The closed beta for Prodeus presents three brief but impressive levels to dig into. The first is a short and sweet introductory environment, but the second is a massive and sprawling complex requiring you to track down two key cards in order to unlock the exit. This level gives you a thorough tour of the sights and sounds of Prodeus, throwing five different enemy types and five different weapons at you as you navigate a labyrnthian complex that took me just over 20 minutes to get through. There are loads of secrets to find, with one weapon being hidden behind an easily missable jumping challenge.
You’re given an AutoMap to help you navigate the level if you get lost or need to track down items you’ve missed, but of all the well realized design elements of Prodeus, this map is the one sore point. It’s slow to navigate, but more importantly, the way it ends up being rendered makes it hard to read exactly how each room connects together. I tried using it a few times, but between the dark rooms blending together and a lack of a map legend, I simply gave up on it.
Even without a map, though, I had a blast making my way through this level. If you’re coming into this game from a fast-moving shooter like Doom Eternal, don’t expect nearly as many enhanced movement options. You’ve got a single jump and a sprint button… and that’s it. There’s still plenty of speed and fluidity to the movement of the game, but combat encounters end up being focused more on careful strafes and sprinting to dodge attacks or taking advantage of the environment to avoid a swift death. The third map of the closed beta presents you with a short and sweet target-shooting speed trial that illustrates just how fast and relentless you can be in Prodeus if you need to be.
Prodeus is a promising FPS that is packed full of love and respect for the shooters of yore. Plenty of love letters to the classic Doom and Quake lift their art style and make a game that both looks and feels like it could’ve come from that time. Prodeus feels like a game of that era, but it looks far sharper than any of those titles ever could. Feeding a more modern aesthetic into old-school shooter gameplay feels like a killer recipe for success, so I’m hoping the rest of the campaign is just as addictive when the game hits Early Access on November 10th.