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PowerSlave (Saturn) artwork

PowerSlave (Saturn) review


"Into the abyss I'll fall..."





Even though the opening cinematic consist of just pages being turned in a picture book, PowerSlave begins on a pretty strong note: aliens have invaded the Karnak temples and their surrounding areas in Egypt, ate the women and children, dismembered or mummified the men, stole King Ramses' corpse, and annihilated all military intervention sent from around the globe. Cue the next couple pages, where a gang of mercenaries, who hilariously look like G.I. Joe rejects, are sent in via helicopter, which, of course, gets shot out of the sky. One lone man manages to jump out prior to the explosion, and, with no means of making contact for backup or evacuation, begins his one-man quest in combating the alien invasion with just a machete. Now image all this being narrated with a deep voice that's akin to what you hear in movie trailers, because that's exactly what happens, and done by the late, great Don LaFontaine himself! You can't beat that!

With such a ridiculously burly, rough opener, one would expect this FPS to begin with immediate bloodshed, exploding bodies, and all sorts of violent acts that would make an 80s action movie blush. Well, um, things explode in a bloody mess, but not the type you'd expect or probably want to see splatter in pieces. Not even ten seconds into the very first map, Ramses Tomb, your machete gets overshadowed by an acquired pistol, and do you use it to destroy menacing and grotesque beings? No, you fire at a bunch of cute, red spiders that explode into green goo. They don't even have any projectile attacks, meaning they have to get up close and personal to damage your mercenary. Fret not, as the second map introduces a new opponent: the... er... the bird. I mean, I know games begin with easy enemies, but even Doom had the decency to start you off with shotgun-touting zombie marines!

Thankfully, PowerSlave's strength soon kicks in during the third map, Karnak Sanctuary, where the quality begins its ascent, albeit with some misses along the way. See, at least for the first half, the game's biggest selling point isn't due to it being a clone with an Egyptian theme, but prides itself on putting emphasis on dungeon-esque exploration. That may be a silly thing to say considering Doom and its ilk has you explore areas by default, but what makes PowerSlave stand out is that it performs this task in a very 2D, action-adventure method. I didn't fully comprehend what it was aiming for until the Sobek Mountain Shrine map, where I fought my way inside, gunning down projectile-throwing Anubis Zombies (the jackal dudes) with my newly-equipped machine gun; it's here where I began to be very reminiscent of my time traversing dungeons in the earlier Zelda games.



From finding keys and activating switches that unlock rooms, gaining health and ammo through random drops from enemies or vases, obtaining new powers like the ability to jump higher, or visiting supposedly completed maps to access new areas with said abilities, all while wrapped in fast-paced, arcade-style play, PowerSlave channels its oldschool heritage pretty hard. And to further push the Zelda connection, most dungeon areas even end with your character grabbing a small, floating pyramid! That's some coincidence. Big props go out to the team for pushing this template almost effortlessly into the 3D realm, let alone a FPS, since this was in an age when a lot of developers had a difficult time transitioning from 2D to 3D without making their products look like clunkers.

Sans the opening two maps, coming along for the ride is an often challenging experience mixed with some surprisingly gutsy elements. The rogues gallery eventually include formidable opponents, like mummies who fire serpents which are capable of bending corners while tracking your mercenary. The Bastets are a nightmare to confront head-on, as well, since not only do these anthropomorphic lionesses have speed and a vicious melee attack, but keeping your distance is mostly a futile attempt, because they also have the power to teleport! Keeping your ammunition in check is something that's going to be difficult, due to the random drops (predetermined pickups are scattered far apart) and PowerSlave's favorite habit of throwing these strong enemies at you in groups of two or three throughout each map.



However, the more ballsy aspects of the game involve having to fight the environments themselves, something you don't see that often in FPS titles, either thanks to bad design or it's just too much of a hassle. PowerSlave starts out with small stuff like vases that explode when destroyed (randomly generated, at that) and fire projectiles shooting out of walls after a switch is pressed, but builds into much more menacing encounters. Basically: a lot of these situations revolve around your gained special powers, which pretty much require you to do a lot of precise jumping and swimming. There will be moments where you have to hop on platforms hovering over inescapable pits of lava, float down a spiraling, acid-filled cave shaft where you can't even see around the corners, jump over one hit-kill lasers, and swim through underwater corridors filled with piranhas before running out of air.

To add more weight to these scenarios, there's absolutely no checkpoints in any of the maps, so if you die late within one, you get sent to the start where everything resets. Considering how taboo these elements are in a FPS, factored in with the strict restart, PowerSlave could and should have been a disaster. But, for what I consider to be this release's biggest shock, Lobotomy Software made most of the mechanics gel together like it was nothing. The game is hard, with the constant array of bloodthirsty enemies and deathtraps, but it rarely gets to the point where you think the devs are screwing with you. With perseverance and experience, it's very much a doable type of hard.

Notice I said most, however, because there are three very specific moments that I believe the game just crumbles at. An early location, Amun Mines, has to be one of the most confusing, badly designed maps in PowerSlave, featuring a lot of spots that look too similar to one another, and one tight, underwater corridor entrance you can barely make out because it blends with the other textures. There's also a mine-filled water dungeon that has a particular underwater room near the end that's awfully mean-spirited. You have no way of knowing its "function" on your first go, so you just get stuck, die, and restart the whole thing. The last annoyance is a map late in the game, literally filled to the brim with lasers, some of which are so claustrophobic, you'd probably have panic attacks just trying to squeeze through them. But, if you know how to do a crafty jump trick, you can pretty much skip 90% of the level.



Fortunately, these are just small stains in an otherwise solid Sega Saturn release. For something that's neither Sega-developed, an RPG, or an arcade port, the game really is a feat, since it usually moves at a smooth pace, has slick graphics with cool lighting effects, and is just a mechanically-sound title. More so when you consider it was made from a relatively unknown western team, with one of its developers even declaring in an interview that the Sega Saturn was completely miserable to develop on. So it's impressive the game turned out the way it did, and is pretty much the reason Lobotomy Software won the right to port over Duke Nukem 3D and Quake to the console, the latter which was thought to be impossible. Sadly, the studio closed down shortly after its run on the Saturn, denying us a sequel that was in the works at the time. However, it was questionably going to be a third-person, Tomb Raider-ish game, so maybe it was best that PowerSlave ended up a standalone classic.

Rating: 8/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 20, 2014)

PickHut almost didn't purchase Aqua Kitty once he found out it plays like Defender. PickHut is now glad he purchased Aqua Kitty, because it plays like Defender.

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EmP posted May 05, 2014:

I can't find my copy of this game, and now I've had to order one off Ebay.

I remember being so impressed with this game back in the day. After the obligatory FPS rush started by Doom, sub-par titles were being flooded into the market, and I had no reason to believe this would be any different at all. The lackluster start seemed to confirm this for me, and I almost just gave up there and then. But the time I'd reached the platforming bit with the one-hit-kill lasers (you know the one ) I'd almost wished I had, but was having a blast. Killer review to sum that up.

In half a year's time, you should do Fighter's Megamix. It has the car from Daytona as a selectable fighter.

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pickhut posted May 05, 2014:

Yeah, the lasers in this game are a nightmare. I found a hidden path in a very late stage that was just a series of cramped shafts with lasers. I thought the final receiver piece was hidden here, so I just went through it, dying countless times. And when I thought I was near the end.... MORE lasers!! Long story short, the end didn't have the piece, but stupid dolls of the developers. >:|

Thanks for reading, and I dunno if I'm capable of reviewing Megamix, since my biggest weakness is writing for fighting games. Though, it's a game I've wanted to try out since the 90s, but never got an opportunity. I'll still probably get it just to play it, since it still sells decently at a used price. Honestly, I'm shocked it's not as expensive as some other games like Burning Rangers or PD Saga, since it's a Saturn exclusive with some absurd content in it.

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