A genuinely dull game
(Note: this review is for the DOS port of Powerslave, and by all accounts the Saturn version is superior. I haven't played it, but if you do get your hands on it assume it's better than is described here.)
A low-budget and under marketed FPS, Powerslave (known as Exhumed on the Saturn and Playstation) was never going to take the world by storm. Nevertheless it's a competent game that achieved some fame on it's home platform the Saturn and has a small cult following to this day.
The game's plot completely rips off Doom (jeez, doesn't that give you shivers), basically the Egyptian city of Karnak has been seized by otherworldly forces. You and your squad of soldiers get sent in to kick some tail. However, you get separated from your squad and have to lone-ranger things. Helping you is the spirit of King Rameses who gives you directions and instructions on how to use weapons and spells, etc. As a curiosity, Rameses is voiced by Don LaFontaine
in all of his booming glory.
Powerslave's most striking aspect is its theme. Being able to fight mummies and jackal-headed demons is always a plus, and Powerslave goes through the motions of being a shameless Indiana Jones homage with weapons lifted straight out of the movies and levels that seriously could be sets from Raiders of the Lost Ark. When playing this game I can almost visualise Harrison Ford strutting around with that "I will not rest until evil is defeated" look. There's the obligatory middle-eastern soundtrack and an overhead map that from what I hear is geographically correct.
The game's graphics are decent for the time (in fact they use an early version of the engine that powers Duke Nukem 3D) with detailed sprites and animations. It supports a semi-destructible environment, ie you can blow up some walls to progress to other parts of the level. They even included a learning mode, truly a rarity for FPS games of the time.
The game clearly has C-O-N-S-O-L-E P-O-R-T stamped all over it and they've done minimal work in adapting it to the PC. You have limited saves, no graphic settings other than the default, and no way to remap the controls (this is something you'll definitely notice, as the controls for activating spells are in the most retarded spots possible). Come on guys, I'm not expecting wonders but this is plain cheap.
But that isn't what kills the game. Powerslave is a boring game, it's as simple as that. The game has no tension and no pace. It's Indiana Jones for geriatrics.
Powerslave's enemies are almost comically weak and easy to kill. In the first half of the game I don't think I dropped below 30 health. Most of the game's "challenge" comes from navigating all the pointless mazes, tombs, and city streets the developers throw your way, and trying not to get lost in the process.
This might not have been so bad, except Powerslave's levels aren't that exciting either. Just a bunch of generic tombs and bazaars that all look pretty much identical, populated with low-grade boobytraps and other hazards. And of course there's the scourge of post-Turok console shooters: jumping puzzles. My favorite part on level three is where you have to make a near-impossible jump over a huge canyon, and if you fall you have to climb a huge-ass set of stairs that winds around the whole canyon and 30-40 seconds are wasted before you get back to where you were. Great.
The weapons are all weak and underpowered, ranging from a crappy pistol to the world's slowest-firing machine gun. There are also some magical weapons that look cool but are too unreliable and difficult to manage to be of much use.
And on a final nit-picky note there is an annoying over-use of mazes with situation-dependant exits. Often you'll have to shoot a wall to exit an area, but the game gives you no clues about which wall this is. Enter the not-so-fun activity of scouring an area and shooting all the walls, looking for a way out. Great.
It's all just lazy game design 101, and typifies Powerslave as a whole. It is competently made but never do you get the feeling the developers really cared about what they were making.
The Bottom Line
Powerslave was made at an exciting crossroads in videogame history. The 3D revolution was coming, and with it a tide of very popular games whose company Powerslave was destined not to share. Duke Nukem 3D made a splash, Quake made a freaking tsunami, and as far as I know this game didn't register at all. You don't have to look hard to see why, Powerslave is one of the tamest, least exciting games you'll play this side of Bible Adventures.
Kids and grandmas only.