After their exceptional work on Quake: Remastered, Both Turok remasters and the recent Shadow Man Remastered; Nightdive Studios sought to take on PowerSlave: Exhumed as their next remaster. While it may not be as fondly remembered as the likes of Doom, Blood or Duke Nukem 3D; Powerslave innovated with progression in a similar way that Metroid: Prime would much later.
Due to a complex and technical legal dispute over rights, the original PowerSlave was destined for damnation. Most PC owners barely knew of it due to the big first person shooter boom of the 90s. Consoles like the SEGA Saturn and PlayStation did get unique ports that had adjustments done to the level design which accidentally made PowerSlave into a very early first person metroidvania.
Now that Nightdive Studios has this venerable shooter in their mitts; they can work their magic and make it the best it could be. As PowerSlave: Exhumed, combines the best elements from the console versions as well as adds a suite of enhancements that Nightdive Studios are known for. Was this worth digging up from its crypt? Should it have stayed buried? Find out in the PowerSlave: Exhumed Review!
Developer: Nightdive Studios, Lobotomy Software
Publisher: Nightdive Studios, Throwback Entertainment
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, Linux, PlayStation, PlayStation 4, SEGA Saturn, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One (reviewed)
Release Date: February 10, 2022
Price: $19.99 USD
PowerSlave: Exhumed‘s story begins with the player assuming the role of a nameless special forces agent who is given a vague mission about some funny business going down in Karnak. After the protagonist’s helicopter is shot down and his entire crew killed, he meets the spirit of King Ramses.
As it turns out, Ramses’ remains have been stolen by aliens and plan to use it for nefarious purposes. Ramses is rightfully upset about the whole ordeal and pleads for the protagonist to help him defeat the threat. Like a good boomer shooter; completing the mission won’t be easy and will combine shooting, key-finding and platforming.
Getting around Karnak will prove to be a bit tricky for a mere mortal like the player-character. At first, he can barely jump, can’t hold his breath and begins with a pathetic machete. The deeper the player explores and progresses, permanent power-ups expand the gameplay in a natural way that makes returning to prior areas rewarding.
Comparisons to Metroid: Prime are earned; the HP system is very similar to how energy tanks function. Finding a health expansion icon adds an extra bar to extend life. These are always a welcomed upgrade in any situation since the hero is often surrounded by swarms of jumping scorpions or lava centipedes that are in the mood for a snack.
Weaponry is varied and have multiple uses. Grenades are not just effective for blowing up big groups of belly dancers; they also break weak walls to open up hidden passages or secrets. Finding ammo for any weapon is easy since all weapons rely on a universal pick-up that feeds whatever weapon is currently equiped.
This puts the responsibility on the player on what weapons they should replenish and which should be used without having to seek out specific ammo. This keeps the flow of action very fluid. Enemies drop universal ammo randomly (or health pick ups), so staying armed and dangerous is a constantly tense tug of war.
The enemies in PowerSlave: Exhumed were originally physically crafted models and armatures. These were basically stop-motion puppets that were made into digitized sprites and this gave them a very gritty and tangible quality to them. They’re timeless thanks to this technique and Nightdive Studios’ remastering adds some clarity to their sprites.
Each character is undeniably recognizable. Their distinct silhouette and color scheme instantly communicates what they are. Players will automatically assign enemy behaviors to these defined characters; training them to react accordingly in a micro-second.
The Anubis-guys are long ranged attackers that fire slow moving bullets. The mummies launch long streams of energy and other enemies are even capable of attacking each other. Sadly, there are only three bosses to fill out a very lean game and they go down fairly easily due to the powerful weapons and artifacts the player acquires.
What makes PowerSlave: Exhumed so enjoyable is its level design and the gradual exploration of areas. Each area is packed with areas of interest and instances of the game teasing players with unreachable goodies; inviting them to find a way to reach them.
Terrain is varied and the temples of Karnak are winding mazes with switches that activate hidden doors. Bombable walls that unleash a hellish swarm of Egyptian demons encourages the player to also explore with caution. Early on, most falls will be lethal and underwater passages will be too long for mortal men.
Since each stage is connected by an overworld map that allows players to select them as they unlock, PowerSlave: Exhumed breaks tenants of metroidvania design. Players are able to skip over areas they have already replayed and still have to recollect keys in stages they’ve already acquired.
PowerSlave: Exhumed is not actually a metroidvania after all. The levels are too disconnected from each other and the hero rides on camels off-screen to get from biome to biome which is done from a map screen.
For hardcore metroidvania enthusiasts, this may be a huge disappointment that they are not always exploring one big continuous world. Other gamers may appreciate that they can skip playing through several areas and just skip over to a relevant location to get to the substance.
Figuring out where to go is never an issue since the protagonist comes equipped with a tracker and the map pings when the player is highlighting the intended level. Progressing through PowerSlave: Exhumed is a very tightly paced and lean action game with no filler, but it can also make it feel pretty short.
There are only three bosses and while they are hectic battles, they are not the hardest challenges in the game. Most instances of swarming enemies in stages are far more likely to make players respawn at a checkpoint than anything that Set or the aliens have in store.
Most of the time the shootouts are an intense and chaotic scramble while trying to pick up resources or health from defeated enemies. It is cathartic to be the last one standing amidst a massive trail of dead Anubis corpses, mummies and scorpions.
The gameplay is very much rooted in dense 90s style search and shoot action. With upgrades, players will be bunny-hopping through gauntlets and fighting all kinds of esoteric demons at the same time while using the very much appreciated weapon wheel that was implemented for quick weapon select.
Like all of Nightdive Studios’ masterworks, PowerSlave: Exhumed is full of options to customize the image quality. Players can choose to use a variety of filters to give the picture a chunky pixelated aesthetic.
One of the best surprises is the great voice of Don LaFontaine is both narrator and King Ramses. Anyone who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s will recognize his smooth and gravely voice as the “trailer voice guy”, popular for phrases like “THIS SUMMER” and “IN A WORLD…”. He is a natural for playing the phantom Ramses and makes him sound larger than life.
PowerSlave: Exhumed is a well preserved classic boomer shooter that still is a joy to play after all these years. Thanks to Nightdive Studios’ panache, it is easier to enjoy more than ever due to their careful QOL additions and improved stability and polish. It may not be as fondly remembered as other shooters, but it is absolutely worth a look for fans of the genre.
PowerSlave: Exhumed was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Nightdive Studios and Throwback Entertainment. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. PowerSlave: Exhumed is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.