North American MS-DOS cover art
|Engine||Build (PC)/SlaveDriver (console)|
|Platform(s)||Sega Saturn, PlayStation, MS-DOS|
|Genre(s)||First-person shooter, action-adventure, platformer|
PowerSlave, known as Exhumed in Europe, is a first-person shooter developed by Lobotomy Software and published by Playmates Interactive Entertainment. It was released in North America, Europe and Japan, for the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and MS-DOS over the course of a year from late 1996 to late 1997. On May 24, 2015, Powerslave EX, an unofficial remake based on the PlayStation version, was released for free, but has since been removed for download until further notice.
PowerSlave is set in and around the ancient Egyptian city of Karnak in the late 20th century. The city has been seized by unknown forces, with a special crack team of hardened soldiers sent to the valley of Karnak, to uncover the source of this trouble. However, on the journey there, the player's helicopter is shot down and the player barely escapes. The player is sent in to the valley as the hero to save Karnak and the World. The player finds himself battling hordes of extraterrestrial insectoid beings known as the Kilmaat, as well as their various minions, which include mummies, Anubis soldiers, scorpions, and evil spirits. The player's course of action is directed by the spirit of King Ramses, whose mummy was exhumed from its tomb by the Kilmaat, who seek to resurrect him and use his powers to control the world.
In the console versions, there are two endings, depending on the player's course of action during the game. In the good ending, the protagonist has collected eight pieces of a radio transmission device, so he can send a rescue signal and be extracted from the Valley. After reclaiming the mummy of Ramses, the Pharaoh thanks him for his effort, and promises the player that he will inherit Ramses' Earthly kingdom, and that the Gods will bless him with eternal life and make him ruler of the world. After escaping the collapsing tomb, the player is indeed rewarded as such, and becomes a powerful and benevolent Pharaoh of the entire planet. In the bad ending, the player has failed to collect all eight pieces of the radio transmitter, and is subsequently buried in the tomb of Ramses, only to be excavated centuries later by the now ruling forces of the Kilmaat.
In the MS-DOS version, there are two slightly different endings, again depending on the player's course of action, but only in the final stage. The final stage takes place aboard the Kilmaat mothership, where a nuclear weapon has been armed and is set to go off in 15 minutes, and has enough power to obliterate the planet. In the bad ending, which occurs if the player loses all of their lives or fails to disarm the bomb in time, Earth is destroyed in a massive nuclear blast. In the good ending, which occurs if the player makes it to the bomb on time, the Kilmaat retreat from the planet, but the main character is stuck on their ship and needs to find a way off.
Gameplay in the both the original PC version and console versions follows the standard first-person shooter formula. Familiar elements from the genre, such as health refills and a selection of different weapons, are present. However, in the console versions as well as the remastered PC version, Powerslave EX, the game functions more as a hybrid of a first-person shooter and a metroidvania, as the player obtains new weapons and ancient artifacts over the course of the game, providing them with abilities that allow them to explore previously unreachable areas, all of which are connected with an overworld map. Such abilities include being able to jump higher, levitate, breathe underwater, walk in lava and walk through force fields.
PowerSlave was Lobotomy Software's first full game, with development starting in May 1995 for the PC. Lobotomy co-founder Brian McNeely recounted:
As work began on the 3D engine, our art and design teams began putting the framework of the game together on paper. We devoted a few weeks to this until we were happy with all of our concepts. At the same time, David Lawson began modifying and adding new features to BREW, our world editing tool. Paul Schrieber created a tool called Peepshow that we used to set up all of the animations in the game, and Jeff Blazier developed an editor for object placement and ambient lighting. When all of these elements were ready, we started putting it all together to make a game.
At one point, the MS-DOS version was to be released by 3D Realms as one of their games to show off the power of the Build engine. During this time, the game was known by its working title Ruins: Return of the Gods. Apogee Software released screenshots of the early working version with a slideshow of another of its published titles, Mystic Towers. 3D Realms eventually dropped the title, which was then picked up and published by Playmates Interactive Entertainment.
Programmer Ezra Dreisbach thought to incorporate dynamic light sourcing into the console versions after seeing Loaded on the PlayStation, since the walls in PowerSlave were already being gouraud shaded for the static torch lights. Though Lobotomy, like most developers, found it easier to make 3D games for the PlayStation than for the Saturn, they elected to develop the Saturn version first so as to beat other upcoming Saturn first person shooters to the market. One of the console's two CPUs was used for drawing walls, while the other handles everything else in the game.
The game is narrated by iconic film trailer announcer Don LaFontaine.
The first version of the game to be released was on the Sega Saturn, shortly followed by a release on the PlayStation, with tweaked gameplay, added architecture, some different levels, and other changes. Both of these versions are based on Lobotomy Software's SlaveDriver engine and feature a true 3D world, similar to Quake. The same engine was used to power the Sega Saturn versions of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake.
Besides some changes in the levels (rooms in one version that are not in another, added architecture in the PlayStation version), the levels Amun Mines, Heket Marsh, Set Palace, Cavern of Peril, and Kilmaat Colony are almost completely different between the two versions. In the Sega Saturn version, ammo and health pick-ups dropped by an airborne enemy remain airborne, as opposed to falling to the ground in the PlayStation version. There are exclusive powerups on the Sega Saturn such as the All-Seeing Eye, Invisibility and Weapon Boost. Also exclusive to the Sega Saturn is the ability to bomb-boost, which is similar to rocket jumping in other FPS games.
Sprites are represented in 2D, similar to games such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. The game features colored dynamic lighting, but only in the console versions.
Though each weapon has its own separate supply of ammunition, ammunition pick-ups are general, and apply to whichever weapon the player is using at the time they are acquired.
Level progression is non-linear, letting the player go to any previous unlocked level at any time. Some levels have areas which are only accessible after getting a certain ability or weapon, similar to the Metroid series.
Additionally, there are eight pieces of a radio transmission device hidden in eight of the stages. Stages with a hidden transmitter piece will emit a steady beeping noise on the overworld map, and can be heard beeping when the player is near their location. Collecting these pieces will affect the ending of the game.
The MS-DOS version of PowerSlave features many differences from the console versions. The MS-DOS version was built on the Build engine, licensed from 3D Realms. The version used is a slightly earlier version of the engine, made sometime before the version used in Duke Nukem 3D. The light sourcing from the SlaveDriver engine is not used; the Build engine's own light sourcing is used instead; the game also uses "fake" dynamic lighting where sectors light up as projectiles or "glowing" objects in general pass through.
The HUD interface is different; featuring an ammo counter, lungs (oxygen levels) for swimming and animated mana and blood vessels. Players have usable Mana energy that can cast spells once the spell has been acquired (e.g. collecting a torch allows the player to use energy to illuminate dark areas). Ammo is not universal, instead of blue orbs usable for all weapons, separate ammo is needed. Grenades are used instead of Amun mines. Some sprites are different (e.g. M60 machine gun), sprites are larger and more animated in general. Audible words are used for the player character instead of grunts. Mummies fire a "white skull" attack, or a partly homing red one, that when hit, turns the player into a mummy momentarily, additionally with the most powerful weapon in the game: the Mummy Staff, which can destroy all enemies within range of the player. The player reverts to normal once the weapon is used. Checkpoints are placed throughout the level by indication of golden scarabs and Saving is automatic between levels.
Levels are conducted in a more linear format. Players can replay previously completed levels, but later stages may only be played after completing the level prior. The Manacle of Power fires a lighting cloud above the enemy, rather than firing lighting bolts from the player's hands. Most of the artifacts from the console versions are not present (except the Sobek Mask, which is a spell). The powerups in the Sega Saturn version are included as spells (invisibility, invincibility and double damage). The Ring of Ra weapon is not included. Weapons pause to reload after a certain number of shots are fired. Some enemies have different death animations when killed by fire/grenades; bosses have longer death animations. There are extra lives instead of health extensions. The Amnit enemies are not included; instead there is the giant Ammut miniboss which has ramming and biting attacks. There is additional story text. The transmitter, which was a set of eight key items needed in the console versions to get the better ending, is not in the MS-DOS version per se, but it is seen before the final stage of the game, where the player receives orders to attack the Kilmaat ship. Likewise, the Team Dolls are not in the MS-DOS version.
On May 24, 2015, an unofficial remake based on the PlayStation version was released by Samuel "Kaiser" Villarreal for free. In May 2015 it was announced that publisher Night Dive Studios had acquired the game rights for a digital distribution re-release. Villarreal and Night Dive Studios working on a re-release, but currently the beta downloads are removed. On January 2, 2017 Kaiser released the source code to his remake under the GPLv3 license on GitHub.
The Saturn version of PowerSlave sharply divided critics. GamePro's Scary Larry gave it a perfect 5/5 in every category (graphics, sound, control, and FunFactor) and said its only weak point was that the variety of enemies could have been better. He found that the Egyptian theme, varied and distinctive scenery, light-sourcing effects, and platforming elements set it apart from other first-person shooters, and concluded, "PowerSlave should wake up some people: This awesome Saturn shooter combines puzzles, pyramids, and pulse-pounding excitement into one tight package, all using the Saturn's processors like no game has before." Rob Bright of Sega Saturn Magazine also bestowed it high praise, calling it "the game to set the standard for the first-person shoot 'em up genre." He especially complimented the fast pace, light-sourcing effects, need to unlock new areas by acquiring new abilities and revisiting levels, Egyptian scenery, and sound effects. However, the four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly expressed more misgivings; while Shawn Smith hailed it for having more intelligent gameplay and plot than other first-person shooters, Dan Hsu and Sushi-X both said it is too similar to previous "Doom clones" to be of interest. Sushi-X added, "The enemies and traps are a little weak, relying more on your mistakes than your ingenuity." Crispin Boyer agreed that the game lacks originality but felt it was well-executed and enjoyable. Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot also said the game lacks originality, and argued that "Graphically, Power Slave doesn't really break any new ground." He also criticized that the game starts with mundane enemies like spiders and birds, and takes too long to introduce genuinely menacing opponents.
In early 1997 Sega Saturn Magazine's Rich Leadbetter ranked PowerSlave the best of the five first person shooters released for the Saturn in Europe up to that point (the others being Hexen: Beyond Heretic, Alien Trilogy, Doom, and Robotica), remarking that, "As a one-player quest it starts off a bit dull, but later on its brilliance becomes self-evident."
In his review of the PC version, Stephen Poole of GameSpot called the game flawed but fun, worth buying on discount.
- Ruhland, Perry (May 4, 2015). "An Interview With the Man Rebuilding Powerslave". TechRaptor. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
- "PowerSlave: Walk like an Egyptian...". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 89. Ziff Davis. December 1996. pp. 244–5.
- "Things to Do in Egypt When You're Dead". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 9. Emap International Limited. July 1996. pp. 36–41.
- Leadbetter, Rich (December 1996). "Lobotomised!". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 14. Emap International Limited. pp. 48–9.
- "Whip Ass Gaming - PowerSlave". Whip Ass Gaming. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
- Powerslave EX released, powerslaveex.wordpress.com.
- Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter PC remake to resume development this year on videogamer.com by James Orry "The news comes from PC dev Samuel "Kaiser" Villarreal, who leaked the news speaking to Tech Raptor. Kaiser is currently remaking '96 shooter PowerSlave, and was asked about giving the same treatment to Turok." (8th May, 2015)
- Source code to my hobby project, PowerslaveEX, has been made public! by SVKaiser on twitter.com
- PowerslaveEX on github.com
- "Review Crew: PowerSlave". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 89. Ziff Davis. December 1996. p. 85.
- Gerstmann, Jeff (December 1, 1996). "PowerSlave Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
- Poole, Stephen (February 6, 1997). "PowerSlave Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
- Bright, Rob (September 1996). "Review: Exhumed". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 11. Emap International Limited. pp. 68–69.
- "ProReview: PowerSlave". GamePro. No. 98. IDG. November 1996. pp. 118–9.
- Leadbetter, Rich (March 1997). "The Hex Factor!". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 17. Emap International Limited. p. 44.
- Sega Saturn - The pain and the pleasure by Greg Sewart on 1up.com (08.05.2005)