It really is fitting that Nightdive are taking the helm with porting Exhumed (sorry, Americans) to modern consoles. The original development team behind the game was responsible for providing extraordinary ports of classic FPS games – something which also rings true for Nightdive Studios. Exhumed was Lobotomy’s first crack at producing a proper game of their own, and they did an amazing job. It’s a shame then that a series of mistakes were made that ultimately led to their downfall, as they could have gone on to make some more legendary shooters.
Exhumed found its way onto the mighty Sega Saturn, the PS1, and the PC, with each version being bafflingly different. The PC version was a rather disappointing by-the-numbers DOOM clone, but the home consoles got something truly special. However, that also meant that this classic was also burdened with a less than perfect control scheme. That problem changes today.
This is PowerSlave Exhumed.
Many thanks to Nightdive Studios for the review code.
DUKE MAY ROCK, BUT RAMSES RULES
Surprisingly, PowerSlave Exhumed does actually have a somewhat coherent story that extends beyond shooting the creatures until they die. Set in the late 20th century, the ancient city of Karnak has been seized by ‘unknown forces’. You play as one of the special ops soldiers that has been sent in to investigate. Things go south after your helicopter gets shot down, so you go alone to find out what the crack is. This is all told through storybook cutscenes that are quite charming in their own right, even though the voiceover is a little … mumbly. I really thought they would give Ramses a new voiceover, or at least add some subtitles, but it was not to be.
Regardless, the rest of the story is told throughout gameplay. Soon after you take control of your nameless protagonist, you’ll uncover the tomb of King Ramses who mutters something about six sacred relics that will help put a stop to this evil. It is quite a minimal story, but you’ll be chatting with Ramses a fair amount throughout the game and there are even multiple endings on offer depending on whether or not you assemble the radio transmitter to call for extraction. It’s quite well done and makes it feel like an adventure whilst not getting in the way of the action.
I’M A POWERSLAVE 4 U
Despite how the game looks, it’s important to note that PowerSlave Exhumed is not a shooter – at least, not the kind of one you think it is. Sure, there’s an arsenal of awesome weaponry and an array of deadly enemies for you to take down – but that isn’t the focus of the gameplay. In fact, the game shares more DNA with Metroid Prime than it does something like DOOM – except the original game released in 1996, which is a whole six years before Nintendo dropped their classic GameCube title.
After that initial sedate jaunt to the tomb of King Ramses, you set off on your way to collect the aforementioned artifacts. Each one grants you a new ability, which range from something as simple as being able to breathe underwater for longer, to something far more exciting like the ability to float over long distances. Much like in a Metroidvania, these abilities allow you to revisit previous areas and find paths to new levels, or even to secrets. Secrets range from health upgrades, to radio transmission pieces, to the team dolls (more on those later) – so they feel far more rewarding than the simple ammo or health caches you would normally find in a shooter. As is typical of the genre, you start the game feeling like a weakling but by the end you will feel virtually unstoppable. It’s extremely satisfying, especially if you go out of your way to collect everything.
Where it differs from something like Prime is that this is not an open world. There’s a world map and each area is its own separate level. Whilst some of these are quite sizeable and open to exploration, it’s still a level-based structure. Whilst this may make it feel a little more linear at first glance, in reality it effectively just cuts down on backtracking. Need a quick refill of health and ammo? Simply hop into Set Arena, grab the pickups, and quickly exit the now-bossless stage. It’s really quite refreshing playing an old school version of what is a much more modern game style. Ramses will help guide you to where you need to go next, but the world map also shows which levels have alternate pathways. It’s vague enough to feel rewarding when you find a new area in an old level, but signposted well enough so that you don’t feel totally lost.
There’s a variety of fun enemy types here too, from scorpions to crazy cat ladies (you’ll see what I mean), but most of your time in PowerSlave Exhumed will be spent exploring – a far cry from the fast paced shooting of Quake or DOOM. It’s a good job then that the world is so damn fun to explore. Levels themselves are all Egyptian themed, as you can imagine, but there’s still enough variety to keep you interested. There are mines, treacherous cliffs, canyons filled with lava, and of course perilous tombs amongst other level types. It’s all pretty top notch with intricate level design and shortcuts abound, even if there’s a water level partway through the game that can be a little bit of a slog the first time around. Luckily Nightdive saw fit to include (optional) checkpoints in the remaster, meaning that you never have to redo too much if you die. There’s no save-anywhere function, but as the game is less focused on action it doesn’t feel as necessary – especially when playing on the regular difficulty (yes, they added harder difficulties for the veterans out there!).
So, the game is great, but what exactly has Nightdive done for this remaster? Of course, the controls are modernised and completely remappable. I wasn’t fond of the default control scheme, but it was easy enough to get something I liked (see below). There’s even many more potential functions that you can map onto the controller if you desire, so everyone will be no doubt be happy. Speaking of customisation, there’s a load of other options you can play around with. I kept most of it at default, but I’m sure those who like to fiddle around with settings should be happy with all the inclusions here. Nightdive haven’t just stopped at controls and graphics though, there are plenty of other small touches they’ve done to make the remaster the definitive experience.
First of all, the game is an amalgamation of the Saturn and PS1 versions. As a Sega Saturn aficionado, the vast majority of the game seems very familiar to me which leads me to believe it heavily leans into that version. The remaster also includes the ridiculously overpowered Amun Bomb jump from the Saturn version of the game, something which allows you to gain extra height if you jump and throw it at your feet. Like with Quake’s rocket jump, it works wonders for sequence breaking and fits right at home in such an explorative game. The Team Dolls make a return, with the number bumped up from 23 to 31. These dolls are hidden away and are pretty tough to find, but they’re also extremely rewarding too since they can grant you extra bonus abilities that will aid you in your progress. The majority seem to be locations from either the Saturn or PS1 version, but there are also some that are completely new. The Lobo Flight mode and Death Tank unlockables for finding all of them are absent, but they’re a fun challenge to obtain regardless. The main issue with the dolls is that there’s no way to keep a track of the ones you have, with the game just tallying them up on your inventory screen. It’s a shame they didn’t add a gallery to see which ones you have collected so far, as it makes a hard job even more difficult.
There are also a few other little tweaks as to how the game plays too. The first thing you will notice as you boot up the game is the addition of difficulty settings, which the original didn’t have. Harder difficulties contain more enemies, which are also far more aggressive than in normal mode. It’s a nice little addition, as the modern controls make higher difficulties far more feasible. Speaking of which, they’ve also added gyro support and even a [customisable] crosshair to aid with accuracy, which both make the game far easier than it was before. These are only small touches, but they do make a big difference in practice.
One other noticeable change for veterans is a tweak to the enemy drops. In the original game, health and ammo drops would stay in place dependant on where you killed the enemy. This often resulted in some being unreachably high. Now, drops will fall down to the ground instead. It’s a vast improvement in comparison, even if it does mean that sometimes you’ll see your pickup fall down a bottomless pit – it’s a small price to pay. It’s a shame then that the drops still take a little too long to spawn after killing an enemy. The slower pace of the game means that it’s not a huge issue, but waiting around for a much needed health refill can still be a little irritating after a while.
As with all Nightdive remasters, these changes are relatively minimal overall but they’ve carefully chosen what to tweak in order to add some quality of life changes whilst still retaining the spirit of the original title. It may not be perfect, with things like subtitles, lack of tracking for team dolls, and the complete absence of the PC version all being notable, but they’ve still done a great job.
I’m pleased to say that Nightdive has done it again! They’ve taken another classic, and polished it up for the modern era with some nice additions. Considering this gem was once only on older consoles, this remaster is made all the more welcome. There’s some minor omissions for sure, but this is a game you will want to add to your collection. It was a unique gem back in the day, and it’s just as fun now. If you think you can live without this game, you must be in de-nile.