Not content with finally getting seminal Build engine classic Blood back on digital storefronts (Switch port, please!), as well as the first two Turoks, Doom 64, Quake and Shadow Man, Nightdive Studios have finally got Ancient Egyptian FPS Powerslave (known in the UK as Exhumed) out of its sarcophagus and re-released it as the perfectly-named Powerslave Exhumed, finally giving modern gamers a chance to enjoy this tremendous little gem of a game.
Unusually, this is one boomer shooter from that’s best-known for its home console editions rather than the almost entirely different PC title. Home computer folks had to put up with a much less interesting, far more linear take on the game. Annoyingly, though, while both the Saturn (1996) and PlayStation (1997) versions offered a far superior title, they each had something to offer in their varying level designs. Brilliantly, then, Nightdive have combined the stage layouts of both games in order to separate the wheat from the chaff and deliver the best possible version of the game.
And, well, they have. And it is. This is Powerslave in a way we never thought we’d see it: complete, unexpurgated, even more polished. Every last little nook and cranny is here, in higher resolution than it has ever been before. All the expected Nightdive options are here; menus upon menus letting you customise basically every facet of your inputs, the gameplay and the visuals. Even if you don’t, though, you’ll find things perfectly pitched. Even on the loose Switch sticks the game feels brilliant, and the inclusion of (yes!) gyro aiming goes a long way to mitigate some issues with the early game.
Issues, you say? Indeed. Now, bearing in mind that it’s easier to deal with this stuff than it ever has been, it’d be remiss of us not to let you know that you’ll mostly be fighting scorpions and spiders in your first couple of hours with Powerslave. That’s fine, sure, but it can be fiddly aiming attacks at this tiny little terrors as they leap towards you. In fact – whisper it – there are shades of Daikatana (gulp!) in the scale of these battles.
Don’t worry though, things almost instantly pick up. As it’s made for consoles, this game has some systems that have been simplified from what you may expect of a shooter of its ilk. This is no bad thing. Ammo is handed through blue mana, and simply goes to the gun you currently have selected. Out of ammo? Unlikely, but you’ve got a handy sword to swing around and you’re pretty mobile from the off, even without any power-ups.
Yes! You see, Powerslave Exhumed is a Metroidvania, of sorts. A Metroid Prime before Metroid Prime. While it does have discrete stages that you select from a rather gorgeous world map, you will need to revisit them repeatedly as you gather new abilities such as high jumps and horizontal levitation, or more situational skills such as breathing underwater or walking hazardous terrain. It's all going to be fiercely necessary because secrets absolutely abound in this expansive Egypt-'em-up, from the usual keys and doors (don't be surprised, it's a boomer shooter) to staggeringly well-hidden radio transmitter pieces and, even more esoteric, the "Team Dolls". Let's not reveal too much about those.
It all means nothing if the shooting's bad, of course, so thank Anubis that it's actually brilliant. The weapons aren't just your generic stock arsenal, they're actively good and interesting. Besides the usual pistol and machine gun you've got access to hand grenades (incredibly useful for bomb jumping), a flamethrower and various artifacts that let you cast various spells such as laser-hands and homing shots. It's all a blast, pun intended, and it's enormous fun to mow your opponents down as you puzzle out the game.
As mentioned, it's a great port from Nightdive. We experienced no hitching or slowdown and the game looks superb, much better than the console originals while remaining absolutely faithful to their aesthetics and game feel. It's a fantastic presentation of a game that's always been visually striking, if a little familiar when compared to the likes of Hexen.
Honestly, it's tempting to give Powerslave a 10 just for being available again, but no. That would, of course, be naughty. Here it is, though, in even more than all its glory — a brilliant, beautiful reworking that captures the very essence of what made it so awesome back in the day while giving the best of both the Saturn and PlayStation's distinct versions. For such a prototypical take on Metroid Prime, it's alarming and impressive just how much confidence Powerslave Exhumed shows in its design, making it the best kind of retro game — one that's even better today with full knowledge of how ahead of its time it really was. An easy recommendation to FPS fans of any vintage, Powerslave Exhumed will keep you playing and playing, searching for those last niggling secrets.