After their outstanding work on Quake: RemasteredBoth Turok remasters and recent ones The Shadow Man Remastered; Nightdive Studios sought to support PowerSlave: unearthed as their next remaster. Although not as fondly remembered as the likes of Loss, Blood or Duke Nukem 3D; Powerslave innovated with progression in a manner similar to that Metroid Prime would be much later.
Due to a complex and technical legal dispute over rights, the original PowerSlave was doomed to damnation. Most PC owners hardly knew it due to the big first-person shooter boom of the 90s. Consoles like the SEGA Saturn and PlayStation got unique ports that made adjustments to the design of level who accidentally made PowerSlave in a very early first-person metroidvania.
Now that Nightdive Studios has this venerable shooter in its mitts; they can work their magic and make the best of it. Like PowerSlave: unearthed, combines the best elements of the console versions and adds a suite of improvements that Nightdive Studios is known for. Was it worth digging up his crypt? Should he stay buried? Find out in the PowerSlave: unearthed Review!
Developer: Nightdive Studios, lobotomy software
Publisher: Nightdive Studios, Throwback Entertainment
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, Linux, PlayStation, PlayStation 4, SEGA Saturn, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One (revised)
Release date: February 10, 2022
PowerSlave: unearthedThe story begins with the player assuming the role of an unnamed special forces agent who is given a vague mission on a fun case happening in Karnak. After the protagonist’s helicopter is shot down and his entire crew killed, he encounters the spirit of King Ramses.
It turns out that Ramses’ remains have been stolen by aliens and plan to use them for nefarious purposes. Ramses is rightly upset by the whole ordeal and begs the protagonist to help him defeat the menace. Like a good boomer shooter; Completing the mission will not be easy and will combine shooting, finding keys and platforming.
Getting around Karnak will prove a bit tricky for a mere mortal like the player-character. At first he can barely jump, can’t hold his breath, and starts with a pitiful machete. The deeper the player explores and progresses, permanent bonuses naturally expand the gameplay, making returning to previous areas rewarding.
Comparisons with Metroid Prime are earned; the HP system is very similar to how energy reservoirs work. Finding a health expansion icon adds an extra bar to extend life. These are always a welcome upgrade in any situation since the hero is often surrounded by swarms of jumping scorpions or lava centipedes craving a snack.
Weapons are varied and have multiple uses. Grenades aren’t just effective at blowing up large groups of belly dancers; they also break down weak walls to open hidden passages or secrets. Finding ammo for any weapon is easy since all weapons rely on a universal pickup that powers any currently equipped weapon.
This puts the player in charge of which weapons to restock and which to use without having to search for specific ammo. This keeps the flow of action very smooth. Enemies randomly drop universal ammo (or recover health), so staying armed and dangerous is a constantly tense tussle.
The enemies in PowerSlave: unearthed were originally physically fabricated models and armatures. They were basically stop-motion puppets that were turned into digitized sprites, which gave them a very concrete and tangible quality. They are timeless thanks to this technique, and Nightdive Studios’ remastering adds clarity to their sprites.
Each character is undeniably recognizable. Their distinct silhouette and color palette instantly communicate who they are. Players will automatically assign enemy behaviors to these defined characters; train them to react accordingly in a micro-second.
Anubis guys are long range attackers who shoot slow bullets. Mummies fire long streams of energy, and other enemies are even able to attack each other. Unfortunately, there are only three bosses to fill out a very meager deck and they drop quite easily due to the powerful weapons and artifacts the player acquires.
Which makes PowerSlave: unearthed so enjoyable is its level design and the progressive exploration of areas. Each area is packed with areas of interest and instances of the game teasing players with unreachable goodies; inviting them to find a way to reach them.
The terrain is varied and the temples of Karnak are winding labyrinths with switches that activate hidden doors. Bombardable walls that unleash a hellish swarm of Egyptian demons encourage the player to explore cautiously as well. In the beginning, most of the falls will be deadly, and the underwater passages will be too long for mortals.
Since each stage is connected by a world map that allows players to select them as they unlock, PowerSlave: unearthed breaks tenants of metroidvania design. Players can skip areas they’ve already replayed and still need to collect keys in stages they’ve already acquired.
PowerSlave: unearthed isn’t actually a metroidvania after all. The levels are too disconnected from each other, and the hero rides off-screen camels to travel from biome to biome, which is done from a map screen.
For Metroidvania enthusiasts, it can be a huge disappointment that you don’t always explore a large, continuous world. Other players might appreciate being able to skip multiple areas and just jump to a relevant location to access the substance.
Figuring out where to go is never a problem as the protagonist is equipped with a tracker and the map sounds when the player highlights the desired level. Progressing through PowerSlave: unearthed is a very fast-paced and lean action game with no filler, but it can also make it quite short.
There are only three bosses and while these are hectic battles, they aren’t the toughest challenges in the game. players at a checkpoint than anything Set or the aliens have in store.
Most of the time, shootouts are an intense, chaotic scramble while trying to grab resources or the health of defeated enemies. It’s cathartic to be the last one standing in the middle of a massive trail of Anubis corpses, mummies, and dead scorpions.
Gameplay is very much steeped in dense 90s style seek and shoot action. With upgrades, players will jump through gauntlets and battle all manner of esoteric demons at the same time while using the weapon wheel popular that has been implemented for quick weapon selection.
Like all Nightdive Studios masterpieces, PowerSlave: unearthed is full of options to customize the image quality. Players can choose to use a variety of filters to give the image a chunky pixel aesthetic.
One of the best surprises is the great voice of Don LaFontaine who is both narrator and King Ramses. Anyone who grew up in the late ’80s and early ’90s will recognize his soft, deep voice as the “trailer voice guy,” popular for phrases like “THIS SUMMER” and “IN A WORLD… “. He’s a natural at playing Ramses’ ghost and makes him look larger than life.
PowerSlave: unearthed is a well-preserved classic boomer shooter that’s still a joy to play after all these years. With the panache of Nightdive Studios, it’s easier to enjoy than ever thanks to their careful quality of life additions and improved stability and polish. It may not be remembered as fondly as other shooters, but it’s definitely worth a look for fans of the genre.
PowerSlave: Exhumed was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Nightdive Studios and Throwback Entertainment. You can find additional information on Niche Gamer’s Review/Ethics Policy here. PowerSlave: unearthed is available now for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.