Prodeus — In With the Old, In With the New
I remember my excitement surrounding DOOM’s return in 2016. Tearing into the Walmart next to my apartment, getting it on day one, walking out, and probably not working for the next couple days. My home became a den of destruction, blood, and a constant state of flow. And when I finished, I watched as the world of gaming took note. Cover, regenerating health & shields, and two-weapon limits were out. Open arenas, the blend of feral charging and smart maneuvering, and walking arsenals with walls and wheels of weapons were in. Prodeus, developed by Bounding Box Software, Inc., is one of those realizations: simultaneously a love letter to its spiritual predecessor and an unabashed amplification of its most powerful elements.
Aesthetically, Prodeus toes the line between the old and new. It prides itself on older-style, pixelated sprites and levels, but launches it to the same level as a triple-A title with how much it does with them. The world is crisp, smooth, and holds to its aesthetic throughout. The monsters are vicious, unique, and full of blood. It is genuinely so hard to get mid-combat screenshots that the aftermath blood splatter will have to do in the meantime. Prodeus doesn’t adhere to laws of science or biology, it adheres to the rules of cool. And what’s cool is all that blood, just going everywhere. The levels and set design are beautiful. The monsters are fearsome and well-realized. The only thing better is painting the former with the latter’s guts.
The sound design clinches the aesthetic together. The booming of your arsenal, the screaming of the horde, the crunch and splat as steel and fire rips through mass, it punches hard in a rhythm of your own making. All to say nothing of the actual music, composed by Andrew Hulshult. As much as Hulshult seems to have a vice grip around the booming, fast-paced metal that defines DOOM-inspired indie games, it is with good reason. The music goes hard, from the amping up on the menu, the low hums on the map, to the levels themselves where it shines brightest. From level’s start to end, the music blasts out, nonstop. There’s no sense of peaks and valleys, no drop-off as you move to the next arena. When the entire level is the arena, the music runs and pounds alongside you the entire time. Most amusingly for me is that it doesn’t even stop for death. If (or when) players are defeated, the music keeps going without missing a beat. Jump right back in, there’s almost no load-time, and the music keeps going as though you never stopped. Prodeus knows why you’re here. It’s not about to stop you in your tracks for anything.
Prodeus’s strongest element, bar none, is its design. It is nothing revolutionary, but where others try to change the game and evolve, Prodeus knows what works and jams the maximum amount right into its players’ brains. The maps and enemy placement are so beautifully and intentionally designed that everything flows together. There’s so little pause to find where to go next; just see where the bad guys are coming from, create your new trail of blood. By the time you’ve wasted all of the enemies in one space, they call out from the next. There is no rest, no valley between the peaks, there is only exactly what you came to do: kill monsters spectacularly.
I love DOOM’s combat. But with its reliance on Glory Kills for survival, after so many Glory Kills, my favorite upgrade became the one that sped up Glory Kill animations. Prodeus takes what was great about the forerunners and breaks the dial past maximum: big armaments, big blasts, big walls of red as I unload a chain gun down a narrow hallway. Conversely, I love the thrill of hunting for all of DOOM’s little secrets and collectibles. But the low-stakes hunt often dropped my DOOM-high to a minimum, making the low points between combat just a bit too low. Prodeus has reminded me how much I love the fights that seem unending in a level, like I don’t exhale until I reach the exit, like I don’t have time to stop and explore.
Prodeus gives you guns, minimal (if any) plot details, and bad guys trying to deplete your health. You are always in control. No prerendered brutality animations, no purely collectible hunts, just guns, bad guys, and exquisite design. Simplicity is its greatest asset.
This is a game that demands to be played in bursts. Too much of a good thing spoils the joy it brings. But throughout those bursts, you are tuned in to something riveting and unlike anything the forerunners were capable of, and beyond anything the triple-A market seems capable of creating. Prodeus will grab you, shake you, and rock you, mind and soul, from the first level onward, for as long as you can handle it.
All images captured in-game by writer.