Review – PowerSlave Exhumed
When Nightdive announces they are about to release a new game, I stop and pay attention to their announcement, no matter what. Those guys know how to bring back long-lost titles from the 90s, remastering them in a way that renders their original versions completely obsolete in comparison. They’ve done that with Turok, Doom 64, Shadow Man, and many other games. I was wondering what would be their next title. Turok 3? Armorines? Nope. Their brand-new release is PowerSlave Exhumed, which will undoubtedly that will raise a few eyebrows, but please, hear me out.
Before we talk about PowerSlave Exhumed, we need to talk about the original PowerSlave. What the hell is PowerSlave? I mean, aside from the Iron Maiden album of the same name. That is a game not a lot of you have played. Hell, most of you have probably never heard of it, and there’s a reason for that. This game was a killer app for… the Sega Saturn. You know, that one 32-bit Sega console nobody owned? A developer company called Lobotomy Software decided to make an initially exclusive shooter for the system, using the same engine that would eventually power their ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake for the failed console. It wasn’t a hit, but it wasn’t a flop either.
Having a first-person shooter set in Egyptian ruins, where you fight mummies, jackals, and other mythical creatures, all while exploring labyrinths and temples, is a great idea. In all fairness, PowerSlave was a good shooter for its time. The problem is that it was released a year before people started paying attention to console shooters, with the release of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and GoldenEye 007. It ended up vanishing, just like a pharaoh’s tomb underneath the Saharan Desert.
I love this idea. Sure, I love when Nightdive remasters a childhood favorite of mine, but PowerSlave Exhumed is possibly their smartest release yet. This game was massively hindered by the weak hardware available at the time. It was good, but the Saturn (as well as the PS1) wasn’t a good console for shooters, both in terms of hardware horsepower and controller design. It’s time for a hidden gem to be brought back to life with the same level of care any other Nightdive remaster has received. If this is what PowerSlave has always been, they boy oh boy, we were all foolish to never have paid attention to it. This game is shockingly great.
Calling PowerSlave Exhumed (or PowerSlave for that matter) a “DOOM clone”, something we usually label old-school first-person shooters clearly inspired by the first wave of titles in the genre, is a disservice to all of its surprisingly innovative gameplay elements. Sure, it retains the controls from an older shooter, resembling Duke Nukem 3D in terms of movement and camera controls, but what if I told you that plain shooting isn’t the main focus of this game? What if I told you that exploration is?
PowerSlave Exhumed is level-based, sure, but it isn’t linear or arranged in “chapters”. There is a map of sorts, as well as a hub where you can choose where to go next. Your objective in each level is to find an exit, of course, but the catch is that you can revisit them whenever you want, upon grabbing a new weapon at a later stage, for example. You can also acquire a few powerups that completely alter your overall movement, such as the ability to jump farther, walk on lava, breathe underwater, and more. You can then use these abilities to unveil brand new exits in earlier levels, taking you to brand new areas.
If that does sound familiar to you, it’s because it should be. That’s essentially a metroidvania. PowerSlave is a metroidvania, even though it was released before Symphony of the Night. That also means it beat Metroid Prime, originally touted as the first metroidvania set in a first-person perspective, by nearly six years! That made the game feel a lot more fresh than originally anticipated. Its level design, its focus on exploration, its generous checkpoints (yet another thing DOOM or Quake did not have), everything feels a lot more recent and much less dated. We would have never known that if it wasn’t for Nightdive; if it wasn’t for their decision to bring this gem back to the spotlight.
I was also curious to see how well Nightdive’s KEX Engine would handle PowerSlave‘s visuals. It’s not that they were hard to remaster, but I was just curious to see how that engine would handle a more sprite-based experience, with less focus on polygonal models. Again, just like Duke Nukem 3D. This isn’t as beautiful of a remaster as, say, the Turok ones, but that’s mostly due to the limitations of the source material. PowerSlave‘s art style was somewhat simple, and most of its levels were desert-themed (of course). With that being said, Nightdive was tasked with making a Saturn eyesore look appealing for 2022 standards, and they sure succeeded at that.
One thing that has barely changed is the sound design, and I sincerely think it was a smart decision. PowerSlave Exhumed features a Red Book CD soundtrack, and boy, it sounds epic. The game’s soundtrack had no right to slap as hard as it does. Earlier levels feature calm and simplistic tunes, but once you venture inside a temple, the soundtrack makes Aladdin‘s “Arabian Nights” sound like a Portland coffee shop folk singer. Before you ask, however: no, the game does not feature any music by Iron Maiden, even though it was actually named after one of their albums.
This is by no means my favorite Nightdive remaster, but I’d argue this is one of their most important. Most of the games previously remastered by the company were already massively famous and devoid of major issues. PowerSlave Exhumed is a different beast. The original game had a ton of potential, but it was quickly forgotten by players due to its original hardware limitations, unfortunate launch dates and poor sales. Nightdive revived a forgotten (and flawed) game, proving that there has always been potential in it. It was ahead of its time. I loved playing PowerSlave Exhumed, not only because of its fun combat and setting, but mostly due to its proto-metroidvania format and progression system, and can’t wait to see what Nightdive will unearth next.
Turning what was essentially really dated and limited Saturn-powered visuals into something that ran well and didn’t make everyone’s eyes bleed was no easy task, but Nightdive have managed to deliver yet again in this regard.
The shooting mechanics are a bit off-putting if you’re not used to old-school first-person shooters, but you can get used to them after a few minutes. I really love the slight metroidvania elements featured in this game as well.
The Red Book audio tracks included in PowerSlave Exhumed are beyond epic, even if they eventually stop due to their CD nature. Before you ask, no, there is no Iron Maiden in this setlist.
Fun Factor: 9.5
The original PowerSlave had potential, but it wasn’t very fun to play due to hardware limitations. Nightdive Studios removed these limitations, improved every single aspect of the original game, and released one hell of a shooter that doesn’t feel dated at all.
Final Verdict: 8.5
PowerSlave Exhumed is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of PowerSlave Exhumed was provided by the publisher.