Exhumed/Powerslave is an interesting game, developed by Lobotomy Software, the company that produced Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. I’m playing the Playstation version of Exhumed, and as I’m only a few levels in, bear in mind that these impressions may not hold up and I might have more to say about it a later stage. For all I know the game could dive off a metaphorical cliff at this point, into a metaphorical sea of poo.
But that shit caveats out of the way, I have to say this game surprised me. I’ve never been the biggest fan of older FPSes, especially since developing a near total emotional dependence on mouselook. On consoles, I love Goldeneye but that is an exception to my usual apathy for the shooter genre.
Exhumed/Powerslave though has a definite freshness about it – even today, how many games use ancient Egypt as their main setting? The sunny locale avoids the dreaded Doom 3 syndrome, whereby environments are defined by their astonishing monotone darkness. Here the environments are colourful and refreshingly bright.
My positive first impressions are not only the result of the unusual setting but also because the game’s level design (so far) is relatively straightforward and sometimes challenging without being dull. Levels are not overly large or long. There are no checkpoints, which can be annoying when you die near the end of the level, but health and ammo are nearly always in strong supply and death is far more likely to visit you from a sudden fall or trap rather than from some drawn out combat affair. The game has a Mario-like world map which requires revisiting levels in order to find hidden exits. Each camel represents an exit. Isn’t that cute? Finding camels could get frustrating or dull, if say you had to conduct a minutely detailed search to find secrets, but instead every few stages you gain new abilities (the ability to swim or to jump higher for example) that give access to previously inaccessible portions of the levels, ala Metroid. So suddenly that water you could only wade in you can now dive down into, to find a secret camel. Aww.
The controls are taking some getting used to, but this may be my own more “modern” preferences getting in the way. I find myself sometimes pressing the wrong button in stressful situations, and so I fire my gun instead of jumping for example, which inevitably causes my death. There’s been a trend I think, from perhaps around the PS2 era to the present day, to assign shooting to one of the shoulder buttons. Or, there’s the survival horror game method, where you hold the shoulder button to arm yourself. Here the lower three face buttons from left to right are mapped to jump, shoot and operate switches respectively, which doesn’t help to distinguish one function from the other, at least not in my mind. It may be possible to remap the controls but the shoulder buttons are already being used productively for strafing and alternating weapons (R1/L1 and R2/L2 respectively – I also get these confused sometimes in the heat of battle). But anyway, go figure. They’re certainly manageable.
Exhumed/Powerslave was also released on Saturn and PC, with substantive variations between each version. From what I’ve read the Saturn version has stronger emphasis on exploration while the Playstation version is more shooting oriented. Also the latter is said to be much harder, which I’m nervously anticipating given the lack of checkpoints. The PC version is somewhere between the two console versions in terms of their emphases, but interestingly from reading around online there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to which version of the game is best. Some say the PC version is best, while others say it is the worst. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that it seems to be no small number of people who have played (and enjoyed) multiple incarnations. All in all, so far so promising, and for just a few quid (from a brick-and-mortar videogame shop, no less) it’s living up to its cost of entry.