Some games only get appreciated in hindsight. Whether the industry was shifting towards something different at the time or the calendar was way too crowded one day, it's easy for an otherwise excellent experience to fall through the cracks. Such was the case with the original Powerslave, a DOOM clone whose release split into two divergent paths. On PC, the game was straightforward action, but the PlayStation 1 and Saturn versions made up for the lack of precise controls with a focus on Metroidvania elements and other unique features. For the first time, Powerslave Exhumed gives this more complex vision of the game a release across all platforms, letting players experience a buried treasure that harkens right back to the mid-90s.
You deploy into the city of Karnak, a once vibrant metropolis overrun by alien forces taking the form of the creatures of Egyptian myth. The covert operations specialist tasked with taking them down finds familiar weapons at first, leading to the unique sight of scorpions and mummies dying to the bullets from a powerful M50 machine gun. As he explores the tombs further, he comes across items bestowed with the powers of the Pharaohs, including a feather that enables levitation, shoes that increase jump height, and a ring that shoots out deadly fireballs. Most of the arsenal remains effective throughout the campaign, providing an ever-expanding sandbox that keeps gameplay exciting for hours on end.
Whether you're blasting open hidden passages or tearing apart undead priests, Powerslave's shooting gets the job done. Weapons are punchy and effortless to use thanks to an auto-aim system that prioritizes weapon choice over pure skill. It's not Panzer Dragoon, but your bullets typically hit their mark, which is appreciated considering how small some of the enemy sprites can be. Before you get larger weaponry, trying to blast away leaping spiders with a single revolver can be quite annoying.
Like in any good FPS, enemy variety scales with the weapon selection, ramping the difficulty as you have to deal with more complex foes. Unfortunately, some of Powerslave's holdovers from the good old days tip the scales in the wrong direction. Ammo pickups are universal across guns but only refill your currently equipped weapon. This means that you need to manage what you have equipped in order to ensure that you have the right bullets ready for each fight. One wrong pickup and you may find yourself trapped at a bad checkpoint without the proper tools to move forward.
Speaking of which, Powerslave uses a checkpoint system rather than quick saves, and there simply aren't enough of them in each level. No one wants to leap through the numerous first-person platforming sections that litter each world more than once, especially if they succeed in traversing a lava pit only to miss their save spot just off the beaten path. Everything else about these levels feels great, so I don't think an optional save state would taint the experience for new players.
Graphically, Powerslave Exhumed is hard evidence that gaming left 2D sprite work behind a few years too soon. Characters look exceptional here, with detailed animations that feel right at home alongside most of the modern takes on the retro FPS. Bodies explode into satisfying chunks of pixels, and it's all backed by an excellent soundtrack of Egyptian-inspired tunes. Powerslave may have originated in 1996, but nothing about its presentation feels out of date.
So yes, Powerslave shows its age in some key areas, to the point that it's hard to give a general recommendation. However, for anyone interested in FPS history or games preservation, Exhumed more than proves its worth. The combination of elements from both console ports makes this an impressive port, and that's even before you factor in the technical excellence of any shooter running on the KEX engine. If you know what you're getting into, Powerslave Exhumed is a blast from the past that cements this forgotten FPS as the genre innovator it always was.
TechRaptor reviewed Powerslave Exhumed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC via GOG, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series XIS, and Xbox One.
- Amazing port work via the KEX engine
- Stellar FPS action throughout
- Varied and unique weaponry
- Checkpoints can put you in a tough spot
- First person platforming