It’s interesting to look back and see how first-person shooters have evolved since the days of Doom. What once used to be a genre focused more on the single-player experience of exploring levels and killing monsters slowly turned into something more focused on multiplayer experiences. In recent years, it feels like an older-school design philosophy has been cropping up more and more in smaller-scale shooter projects and the latest in this lineage is Prodeus. Developed by Bounding Box Games, a team made up of industry vets and Doom modders, this new 'boomer shooter' does a fantastic job of bringing back retro shooting carnage with some light modern touches.
Much like the genre predecessors, Prodeus is rather light on narrative. The premise places you in the role of a generic space marine on an asteroid that’s acting as the battleground between two warring factions of aliens. Or something like that. It doesn’t really matter; Prodeus is more interested in just pushing a one-man army’s worth of guns into your hands and prompting you to mag-dump everything that moves. Those of you who appreciated the somewhat heightened focus on story in the latest Doom or Wolfenstein reboots may be a bit disappointed here, then, but we promise that the raw thrill of combat will quickly make you forget you cared about who you’re playing as or what you’re fighting against.
Gameplay in Prodeus follows old-school shooter design where the focus is on navigating mazelike levels spackled with combat-focused arenas, all the while mowing down anything that gets in your way. Bounding Box clearly did its homework in getting the gamefeel just right, as nearly every weapon feels crunchy and impressively satisfying to fire. Shotgun blasts and rockets will cause your enemies to positively explode in showers of blood, and boring through a hallway of monsters with a minigun always feels great.
You gradually grow your arsenal as you progress through the levels, and while there are clearly some weapons that are better than others at things like crowd control or putting down the bigger foes, it doesn’t feel like Prodeus ever falls into the Doom Eternal trap of all but necessitating that you use specific weapons for specific enemies. Every weapon has a secondary ability activated via 'ZL'—such as a burst fire on your sidearm or a railgun shot on your lighting-based arc cannon—which gives each weapon a little more utility beyond its obvious use.
Movement itself also feels excellent, especially once you find the toggle to keep your character constantly running. We were pleasantly reminded of Quake once we got a feel for the fast, twitchy kind of controls on offer here, and the more intense all-out fights you get into in the bigger arenas really push you to take advantage of how nimble your character is. The only downside here is that gyro control isn’t an option at time of writing. Though you can perform well enough using the Joy-Con's sticks, it feels like they don’t have nearly enough travel for what the action demands of you; we’d recommend using a Pro Controller if you have one.
When you’re not busy fighting for your life, there’s plenty of exploration to be done to help break up the action a little. Each stage is packed with secret rooms and routes that have things like extra health, armor, or ore that you can spend on new guns and abilities in the shop on the world map. Some of the stages even have secret exits. Given how sneaky some of these secrets can be, it’s almost certain that you won’t find everything in your first run of a level (sometimes you literally can’t) and this helps to add some replayability to the main campaign. It should still only take you about ten hours or so to clear everything, but we were impressed at how well-paced that runtime was. The balance between battles and the quieter exploration sections is pretty much perfect.
Once you’ve exhausted the main campaign, there’s also a robust user content hub on “ProNet” where you can play online multiplayer or browse and download new levels (even whole campaigns!) designed using the same tools the developers used. Our favorite was a level called 'Black Magic Society' that provided an utterly disorienting and claustrophobic descent into a labyrinth decorated with death traps and shifting walls. We also found a creative recreation of the first level of Quake in the Prodeus engine, right down to the secret and enemy placement.
As is typical for user-generated content, there’s sure to be quite a quality spectrum depending on what you download, but we were impressed by the sampling of levels and campaigns we sampled. The only downside is that you can’t make anything yourself in this Switch version, though this makes sense after seeing how dense and mouse-centric the level editor is on PC. If it were featured here, it would either be an absolute bear to navigate with a controller or the developers would have had to completely redesign the whole thing. At the very least, ProNet allows you to enjoy the fruits of others’ labors, and having access to this large, free well of content in addition to the already stellar campaign gives Prodeus a lot to keep you coming back.
As for its presentation, Prodeus does a great job of replicating the look of '90s shooters while occasionally throwing in some modern flare. A pixel filter and 2D enemy sprites give Prodeus that retro flair, though if you want something that feels a little more modern you can choose to swap out the sprites for 3D models. And while environments start out feeling much more oppressive and colorless, later levels start to widen the scope more and become more visually interesting. As for the modern touch, we especially appreciated details like dynamic lighting or sparks flying away from explosions. These effects come at a cost—we noticed that the frame rate tends to dip when there’s a lot happening at once—but it rarely gets to the point that it actually affects gameplay negatively.
All this is supported by a soundtrack that oscillates between the two extremes of a creepy, almost contemplative ambient sound and a much more aggressive doom metal that kicks into gear when the monsters start teleporting into the room. We noted that the music tends to be quite dynamic, too, raising or lowering in intensity to match whatever happens to be going on onscreen at the time. You could say that it’s not a very memorable soundtrack, but we felt that it matched the action well and did a great job of setting the right atmosphere.
Prodeus is the kind of game that knows exactly what it wants to do and executes that vision flawlessly. It’s not complicated and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but every inch of this experience was clearly crafted with passion and talent. The intense firefights, expansive arsenal, metal music, and sprawling level designs all come together to make Prodeus feel like a game that’s just the right mix of retro and modern. If you have ever been a fan of Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, or any of the indie boomer shooters of the last few years, you owe it to yourself to give Prodeus a shot. Even if you haven’t much been into the genre before, we’d say this is an excellent place to jump in and see what it’s about. Wherever you stand, we’d give Prodeus a strong recommendation; this is absolutely worth both your time and money.