REVIEW: Let the bodies hit the floor - Prodeus is a bloody good time
When I got into gaming, the "boomer shooter" genre was already starting to be left in the rearview mirror. Defining games — like Doom and Quake — were fading into the background while games like Half-Life and Halo were redefining the first-person shooter.
But in recent years, the industry has resurrected these chaotic, twitchy shooters. With remakes and spiritual indie successors to the classics, the genre has risen back into prominence and I finally have had my chance to give the genre its due.
Even after playing some of the classics of the genre, after playing new entries that attempt to elevate the genre, and after developing an appreciation of the genre as a whole, Bounding Box's debut "boomer shooter" Prodeus could be one of the best I've played.
Just the Facts
Developer: Bounding Box Software Inc.
Publisher: Humble Games
Platform(s): PC*, PS4/5, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2022
Review code provided by publisher.
Bounding Box Software's two-person team took to Kickstarter in 2019 to bring their dream of modernizing the classic FPS to today's gaming audience. These two devs with tons of AAA credentials (Bioshock Infinite, Doom 2016) raised $100K and got to work. After an Early Access period of just over a year, which allowed players the opportunity to test out the campaign and fiddle with the level-building tools, Prodeus is here.
Its story offers your basic setup: space marine at the center of an eternal conflict with an alien force driven by Chaos, is introduced to another alien force who's out to get BOTH of you, and in the end, only one man can stand atop the pile of bodies in triumph. If there was a deeper story being told, I couldn't tell you much about it, but that's fine. Because Prodeus adopts an older school style of storytelling too.
A lot of these older shooters didn't have a lot of time for story, but delivered heavily in environmental storytelling. There were no cutscenes, no dialogue, just vibes. And Prodeus mostly follows suit. Each level has you trekking through some long-abandoned facility or alien landscape, wondering how these spaces worked when not used as a setting for carnage.
Much has been made of environmental storytelling over the years, but seeing a game rely almost entirely on it and leaving most of the heavy lifting to you is nice in its own way. Especially after this stretch where we've reviewed a slate of narrative-heavy games, it's kind of freeing.
But again, story is far from the focus. Prodeus has all its attention (correctly) placed on pure adrenaline-pumping old-school FPS action. If you need to know what you're in for, it's simple. A very traditional corridor shooter that has you spraying, praying, and in a state of constant motion. When it comes to Prodeus, less is more... but that less IS more. Confused? Me too.
Prodeus doesn't try to reinvent the wheel in its re-imagination of the old-school shooter. It plays somewhere between an homage to the past and a wish fulfillment of what developers in the '90s dreamed of one day achieving. Everything you can imagine is here in front of you. You're strafing through corridors, using satisfying shotguns, and poking at every odd-looking wall to see if you can find a level's secrets. All your shooter expectations are met and then some.
The gunplay is strong, with five different gun types with three tiers hidden behind each. You have light arms (pistols, machine guns), shotguns, launchers, energy weapons, and the more unique chaos weapons. My favorites were the shotguns, particularly the quad-barrel shotgun with an alternate fire that blasts all four barrels at once. They're so damn powerful and a well-timed shot fantastically explodes them into gibs.
Prodeus implements modern shooter mechanics like ADS (aim down sights) to great effect, but it doesn't get too wild with intermixing modern and classic. It honestly just focuses on pure fun, with an amazing game feel and chaotic combat encounters at its core. Prodeus has honestly hooked me more than some of the other modern boomer shooters have and I think its purist approach to its gameplay goes a long way toward accomplishing that.
"[Prodeus] plays somewhere between an homage to the past and a wish fulfillment of what developers in the '90s dreamed of one day achieving."
Another shoutout goes to the game's difficulty settings. When reviewing, I default to a game's "medium" or "normal" difficulty and Prodeus covers all ground. There are seven difficulty options — from Ultra Easy to Ultra Hard — and Medium is a more than worthy challenge for a first playthrough. It keeps you from feeling overwhelmed in the opening levels and has you feel like a god once you get your footing toward the middle, then really picks things up as you reach the ending. I appreciate that they've put in the effort to make the game open to all skill levels, something that more genres need to embrace in the modern era.
Level design, beyond its use in storytelling, is extremely solid across the board. Rarely did I ever feel lost, even with the game's somewhat confusing-to-use auto-map system, and my goals were always ahead of me without the need for obtrusive waypoints that modern shooters have come to rely on. Some of the late-game levels, particularly those when the game has a major environment shift, are really incredible.
While you're starting out, blasting through alien monsters and picking up room keys to unlock areas previously locked off to you, one thing will become immediately apparent. Prodeus really is wish fulfillment for what old-school designers always intended to make.
With the help of modern technology, Bounding Box has finally realized the truly gory potential of those bygone shooters while maintaining their aesthetic. The moment that really clicked for me was the first time I shot down a tight hallway at a grouping of enemies with a minigun. Amidst the gibs, the gushing of blood, and the bullets flying from my gun... I couldn't make out a thing. And... I don't know what this says about me, but I loved it.
When it was over, blood literally dripped from the ceiling and it finally hit me. Just a few levels in, I realized that the blood had dynamically coated the room with fairly realistic physics. It sounds morbid, but when you're playing a Doom-like boomer shooter, a proper blood coating can actually be weirdly beautiful. Bounding Box's blood tech is something else — almost overwhelmingly so. And it's just one of the visual tricks the studio employs here.
The old-school texture work, pixel-crunched but semi-3D, is beautiful. At any point, you can simulate much lower resolutions if you want the crunchiest experience possible, but you can also make it crisp with all the modern bells and whistles. With its beautiful modern lighting engine, real-time reflections, and even the ability to turn enemies from flat sprites into their full 3D models on the fly, Bounding Box appeals to all. It's a delight to look at no matter how you choose to look at it.
"Prodeus is everything classic shooter fans could ask for. It's gory, it's heavy (and I mean HEAVY) rock and roll, it's pure fun, and all wrapped up in a package with the best old-school aesthetics amplified by the power of modern technology."
Bounding Box's soundtrack is as you'd expect. It flips dynamically between ambient, ominous, droning synths when you're exploring a level and heavy rock with glorious bass riffs and thumping drums when combat encounters spring up. As your fighting reaches a climax, so does the soundtrack in glorious ways.
Audio design in general deserves a mention here. Prodeus uses sound to great effect, from the guns each having their own unique identities and sound profiles to the ability to dynamically pick up on an enemy's presence thanks to their notable groans and swipes. Play through a level with headphones on and feel just as overwhelmed as the character must be running through the environment. It's nuts.
Much like its predecessors, Prodeus features a fairly comprehensive level editor. Seeking to be the modern Doom in all ways, it's certainly exciting to see a game that's firing on all levels take up the mantle of fun user-generated content that Doom's WAD creation left behind.
The tools are supremely complex and there is little by way of in-game tutorial to help guide you through it. Building levels is certainly not something in my future, but I'll leave it to other gurus to deliver some cool custom levels. And while limited so far, some are already working hard at it. There's a Half-Life 1 Unforeseen Consequences level recreation, a dark resource-limited semi-horror level, and truck surfing. The potential is here, but it needs an audience.
After my 12 hours with Prodeus's main campaign (which will see DLC additions down the line), I only came away with a few major negatives. For one, I was incapable of trying out its multiplayer functionality, as the player base, just one month from launch, wasn't there at all. This was a disappointment, because I remember how fun the multiplayer modes for games like Doom and Quake were. There does seem to be co-op play for the campaign as well, so if you can rope a friend in to play with you, I have no doubts that'd be just as fun.
Generally, Prodeus is best played in shorter bursts. For the purposes of review, I had much longer sessions than I normally would have while playing casually, and it's just not the kind of thing that persists over long stretches. The overwhelming chaos. The cacophony of noise and destruction. The blood. Even for someone not so squeamish, I found myself longing for moments to put the game down.
And while it's really nice to just turn off your brain and shoot, it eventually gets to a place where I kind of wished for a little more. It's all good fun and it doesn't have to be more than it is, but the few times Prodeus surprised me by attempting something other than just blasting waves and waves of enemies, I was impressed.
The pacing was an issue, too. Meaningful changes to the overall gameplay formula dry up in the middle third of the game, making for a less enjoyable rush to the finish. It all served as a reminder that we moved past this era for a reason. A stop back into this world is definitely welcome, but not a long stay.
Lastly — and this is a personal gripe more than anything — there are no legitimate boss fights. It felt like a game that could really build some killer 1v1 fight experiences, thinking back to classics like Robo-Hitler in Wolfenstein and The Icon of Sin in Doom. All game long, I waited for that big final fight, and instead... it just kinda ends? One last big fight with waves and waves of enemies but no proper final showdown leaves the campaign ending with a thud.
That all being said, Prodeus is everything classic shooter fans could ask for. It's gory, it's heavy (and I mean HEAVY) rock and roll, it's pure fun, and all wrapped up in a package with the best old-school aesthetics amplified by the power of modern technology. I don't regret a single minute spent strafing through Bounding Box's alien halls, and if you're looking for a vacation back to the '90s, Prodeus is calling. (It's on Game Pass too!)
Video Games Are Good and Prodeus is . . . GREAT. (8.5/10)
+ pure adrenaline-pumping boomer shooter action, incredible tech blended with an old-school approach, and the potential to be a modern Doom, especially with its versatile level editor
- embodies too much of a good thing at times, lacking boss fights to punctuate chunks of gameplay, uneven pacing and an already dead multiplayer scene
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