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August 2022

PowerSlave Exhumed

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: NightDive Studios
Developer: Lobotomy Software (EU), NightDive Studios (US)
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2022


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Xbox Series X Review - 'PowerSlave Exhumed'

by Cody Medellin on June 30, 2022 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

PowerSlave Exhumed takes the best elements of the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions of PowerSlave and adds a bevy of new features, upgrades, and updates that take full advantage of the power of modern gaming platforms.

Enthusiasts get excited when they hear that Nightdive Studios is behind a project. Much like Bluepoint and M2, the company has a reputation for taking old games and giving them just the right amount of polish to look authentic — while still feeling at home on modern platforms. Nightdive's latest game puts it deep into cult status territory. The original Powerslave (Exhumed in other places) wasn't a huge hit, but the release of Powerslave Exhumed ensures that more people will know about it now.

The premise is different but familiar for a game plot in the 1990s. The ancient Egyptian city of Karnak is the current target of an invasion by the alien race known as the Kilmaat. Their objective is to take the body of King Ramses and extract its magical power so they can take over the world. Despite the combined forces of the world's military, no one has been able to successfully infiltrate the city. As a lone mercenary, you are lucky enough to survive a chopper attack and make it inside, where the spirit of King Ramses tasks you with finding the magical artifacts necessary to defeat the aliens. As clichéd as it all is, it's made slightly better by having the unmistakable voice of movie trailers, Don LaFontaine, narrate that opening.

Considering the game's vintage, you have an idea of what to expect from the gameplay. The game may have adopted the twin-stick style of modern shooters, but manipulating the vertical axis isn't a necessity. As long as the enemy is in front of you when you pull the trigger, you'll score a hit. The maps are more like mazes with secrets, and multiple doors need specific keys to unlock. The arsenal consists of mainstays like pistols and machine guns, but the addition of magic powers gives the title a bit of a Heretic/Hexen feel. Reloading isn't necessary, health is only refilled via packs that you find in the world, and you can carry many weapons on your person, but you need to switch to your sword if you want to melee an enemy.

One thing that can be annoying is the pacing of the enemy variety. The enemies are well varied, including jumping scorpions and aliens with Anubis masks who hurl fireballs to giant locusts. New enemies don't come along too often, so there are long stretches where you feel like you're fighting the same enemies, without them mixing it up in different groupings. It isn't a game-breaking issue, but it is noticeable when you encounter a new foe and realize that it has been a while since the last one.

There is one change that players should expect from some of the other games that Nightdive has done: speed. You have no walking speed, so you're eternally running like you have turbo on. It's not an uncontrollable speed, but it means that every firefight is a speedy affair, and getting out of the line of fire is quick. The increased speed is great for running and gunning, but it is tricky when it comes to the platforming portions. First-person platforming is still tricky today, but attempting that in the early days of the genre is even more difficult. While the game doesn't subscribe to the idea of fall damage, having to deal with so many pits and yawning chasms with small landing platforms can be infuriating since you can't really control your speed.

All of the above game mechanics sound like standard fare for any shooter of the era. What makes Powerslave stand out from its peers at the time is its emphasis on exploration. You get a sense of this when you realize that the overworld map is interactive rather than static, and you can choose which unlocked spot you want to visit. The keys are sometimes located in completely different levels, so there's a reason to dart back and forth between places. That is amplified once you start finding power-ups, so you are motivated to explore new areas that were previously inaccessible. Modern first-person shooters rarely put this kind of exploration into their design, so it is impressive to see that Lobotomy Software succeeded all those years ago.

If you've played the original on the PC, then you know that what Powerslave Exhumed is vastly different from the old MS-DOS version, which stuck with the norm of linear level design. This version takes after the home console versions, which were considered more experimental by taking on this Metroidvania approach. Nightdive has decided to mash together elements from both into a remix of sorts. The level maps are based on the Sega Saturn version of the game, while some elements from the PlayStation version are included to spice things up, like undulating water.

The change isn't too jarring to those who are more familiar with either the Saturn or PlayStation iterations, but the remix approach gives the game a fresh coat of paint. Levels can feel more crowded now due to the combination of enemy types from both the PlayStation and Saturn versions. The inclusion of level differences might disorient those who try to play the game from memory, while the new sections play out well and don't feel like they're out of place. These kind of tweaks feel good, since they don't ruin the nostalgia that old players feel when replaying this on the newer platforms.

The presentation is exactly what you've come to expect from the studio. For the sound, this means using the original voice clips, which still sound even though you can tell it isn't of the highest quality. The music fares a little better, since the original soundtrack was done using redbook audio on the consoles, so the CD quality of the songs translates well in the modern era.

Graphically, the textures retain the same pixelated look as before but still appear much cleaner due to the scaling to higher resolutions and the use of the PC assets, which are cleaner-looking than the original console iterations. The same goes for the animations, which are the same as the original iterations but remain charming thanks to the public's current acceptance of the "boomer shooter." One thing that remains interesting but welcome is the inclusion of various graphical options on the Xbox, making it feel very close to PC options, minus a few like resolution and screen ratio.

Powerslave Exhumed is another solid conversion by Nightdive Studios that's improved by some smart changes. The merging of elements from all three versions of the game creates an experience that feels both familiar yet new, while focusing on the console version's exploration aspects makes for a more interesting game. The shooting remains solid despite the slow rollout of different enemy types, and the platforming is also good for a first-person shooter, despite your swift movement speed. Fans of the original will be thrilled to go through this version, but newcomers who love retro games will enjoy this more since they get to experience an early exploration-based, first-person shooter.

Score: 8.5/10

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