More Doom than Doom

Created by ex-Raven employees, with levels designed by "Dragonfly", a veritable God of modern Doom level designs, Prodeus has Doom-clone written all over it, another retro-ironic game like Dusk or Ion Fury. Instead, it’s something else… it’s a Doom II WAD played in Doom Eternal with a Brutal Doom mod. It’s perfect. And it’s not even finished yet.

The developers described it as a "first-person shooter of old, re-imagined using modern rendering techniques" - I describe it as “someone time-travelled to ‘93 and gave Romero a modern PC”. The standards are there – Imps, machine gunners, exploding floaters, secrets, auto-map, keys, a shotgun (or any of the planned 18 weapons). The only thing that throws me out of the 90s is I have to keep reloading. We didn’t worry about that back in my day.

But then the blood and body parts splatter around you in a weirdly attractive way and you notice the world, while 90s-like, is sleek and modern. It messes with your head, how it’s merging 2020s play with 1990s aesthetics, or 1990s play with 2020 aesthetics. Not sure. It’s hard to explain but it works. It’s like young me and old me having a beer and swapping gamer war stories.

The levels might be well designed but I can’t see through all the Gibs. Even Brutal Doom would think this goes a bit far. Everything is constantly soaked in red, creatures exploding all over the place like water balloons; it’s like a violent foam party. Some are standouts, like navigating a maze-like map with snipers on it and an Arena style level filled with the names of fallen beings/Kickstarters. There’s a fair amount of backtracking but it doesn’t feel like filler, and levels make some sort of twisted, frantic sense. You lean into a Speed-run way of playing, like a full-frontal assault and they’re throwing everything they have at you – which is a mistake. You feel like Arnie in Commando.

The sound design is top notch too. The weapons sound so meaty I sometimes fire them even when there’s nothing in my sights (Kidding. There’s always something in your sights). A standout is one weapon’s Sniper setting which lets off a thunderclap as the bullet flies. Whoa. And the creatures cackle, scream and growl endlessly, its like playing Doom with Evil Dead on in the background.

As we progress through the levels, a new kind of monster starts to appear, which the original lot seem to dislike because it can possess them – zombie-zombies? No idea what that’s all about, and we spend a lot of time recovering Runes, for no reason other than portals won’t open until we find them, but no idea what they’re all about either. I didn’t get chance to ask. This is one of those games that pulls this kinda crap on you-

It does feel like there’s more going on here than we know about. Prodeus is up to something, something invasion-y but I never really miss knowing what the hell I’m doing. There's some plotting during the level loads but as I waded neck deep in gibs, I got a sense that… actually, I’ve got no idea what’s going on. Prodeus as in produce? I just got that. I think. Am I the Produce? I don’t have time to figure it out. I have a gun and it’s pointing their way, that’ll do.

One thing I rediscovered while playing this is the reliance on regenerating health. I’d forgotten how much of a wuss that made me – get hit, find a hidey-hole, wait for the health to rise, return to battle. None of that here. And that brings back that sense of recklessness, that Oh F’it attitude where you just wade in, figuring you’ll take some of them with you.

At times it does fall a little into Doom hero-worshipping. Many of the creatures feel like reskins and the level design doesn’t stray from the industrial and alien tone; it does occasionally feel like a total conversion but it’s in the firefights that the welding of old and new comes into its own. I can enjoy modern physics and old-school mentality.

It could be argued that this is just a retail version of a Doom WAD in Brutal, and there’s dozens of those out there for free. But this isn’t a throwback or a winking, self-aware in-joke, this is a carefully crafted return to the feeling you got the first time you played Doom in ’93. Prodeus is exactly what we’ve been bitching modern shooters having been missing. You can alter the settings to get it exactly how you want; down to Wolfenstein or up to 2020 standards – you can even turn the bad guys into 2D Sprites.

The final release is due before the end of this year. The Early Access version available right now doesn’t have an ending, but then it didn’t have much of a beginning either. I completed all the available levels in one awesome afternoon and it sent me spiralling to the backend of my Steam Library looking for Rise of the Triads and Redneck Rampage.

There’s a level creator and of course, the most popular are Doom recreations. This is a love poem to the Doom WAD creators that kept us going. This is the Doom 3 we should have gotten. This is the future and the past of FPS. It’s my shooter of the year.