For every Quake and Doom we had to suffer through several dozen budget shooters scraping the bottom of the barrel. While Playmates’ horror-themed PowerSlave (also called ‘Exhumed’) presents some interesting imagery and level design centered around exotic Egypt (a very dark and twisted version of it), the final package is one of utter insanity as far as playability goes.

Lobotomy for Mummies


PowerSlave has no shortage of weird enemies.

Driven by an older version of the Build Engine powering Duke Nukem 3D, PowerSlave ironically seems too deeply rooted in the console mindset. The game was developed for the PC alongside its Sega Saturn counterpart, which might help explain the otherwise inexplicable lack of a savegame feature. Instead there are ‘progress points’ allowing you to start in various locations on a level when killed. Fair enough, you might think, but know that you get only three lives per level, and if you use ‘em up you must start over (which is frustrating, not to mention boring). But the real problem here aren’t the checkpoints but the bad controls.

The controls aren’t just bad – they seem purposefully engineered to frustrate and confound in every conceivable manner. Consider the lack of a crosshair or auto-run feature. Or how strafing is so slow that it’s basically useless as a combat maneuver. Best part is how the mouse is fixed to the horizontal axis, and vertical mouselook can only be enabled temporarily by holding down a special key, but which inexplicably locks as you start moving in any direction (so you have to sit still, AND hold a key down, AND perform a Russian folk duet, just to freely look around you – pure bonkers).

Granted, the autoaim corrects for elevation quite well – aim up and you’ll shoot bad guys down below – but simply having these options so clumsily implemented burns me like hell. Even the most incompetent game tester can call out these restrictions for their insanity. While they might work on a console, here they serve no other purpose than to annoy the player, and their negative effects on gameplay are evident.

This is all very frustrating because underneath those controls is a decent game somewhere. Both the sound and music are great, the weapons are cool and the levels look neat for the most part as well. A little common sense would have gone a long way in making PowerSlave, or Exhumed or whatever you want to call it, a potentially enjoyable shooter, even with its uninspired checkpoints-based structure.

Spruce up the controls to a point where it doesn’t feel like continuous torture, add a crosshair, implement unrestricted mouselook and you have something that could easily pass for a fun Build-powered shoot ’em up. As it is, however, it’s a Duke clone that looks nice but plays like crap.

System Requirements: Intel 486 DX2 66 Mhz, 8 MB RAM, 30 MB HDD, MS-DOS

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