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PowerSlave – Metroid meets Doom

Content of the article: "PowerSlave – Metroid meets Doom"

PowerSlave is a first-person shooter developed by Lobotomy Software. The PC original is a 1996 Build Engine FPS, which is forgotten as one of many ordinary Doom clones, while Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 versions of PowerSlave are cult classics known for the first Metroidvania first-person shooter ever created. 5 years ago, an unofficial remaster of the PS1 version, PowerSlave EX, has been released but removed due to the licensing problem. I have played both the original PC version and PowerSlave EX. Here are my impressions.

Original PowerSlave PC, PCExhumed

I have played the source port, PCExhumed created by a fan. This sourceport allows the modern FPS controls and supports widescreens.

This is a pretty solid 2.5D first-person shooter I can recommend to classic FPS fans. Some elements reminded me of Heretic such as items. You have a magic meter and magic portions throughout the levels, which allows the player to use items. The difficulty is handled like a 90s console games. There are checkpoints within levels, but if you run out of lives, then you are forced to restart the level. There are no quicksaves.

I will say the game lacks diversity in weaponry and enemy types. Some weapons are outright useless like a flamethrower, which's hitbox is so small that fires cannot hit smaller enemies. The machine gun is the only reliable weapon in this game.

The weird thing about the ammo pick-ups is that their ammo count is all over the place. For example, some machine gun ammo pick-ups are 60, or 90, or 120, yet their sprites all look the same. Since the max ammo capacity is so low, you end up wasting those ammo pick-ups.

Some enemies are just badly designed. Cat mummies are easily the worst since the strategy mostly centers around the player waiting. They disappear whenever you shoot them, so the player has to wait until they reappear and attack you. Rhino AI is outright broken. If you find an upper floor then they literally cannot attack you. They are bullet sponges and take up about 200 machinegun ammo, which makes the fight boring.

There are many cases where you cannot avoid damage, mostly due to the rigid fall damage. One particular example is the lava floor maze where the game only gives the player two invincibility items to navigate through the maze. If you run out of them, then there is absolutely no way to go through it, only to restart the entire level.

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Some ways to progress a level is outright unfair and cryptic. Like this part where the player just has to know this wall is destructible yet there is no hint of that. Some switches are hidden for no reason, which makes the player wander around the level for 10 minutes.

The game itself is nothing much special. It is pretty much like Heretic set in Egypt, which is good.

PowerSlave for Playstation 1, PowerSlave EX

So this is the best-known version of PowerSlave. It is hardly a 'version', but more of a full-blown sequel to the PC original. Instead of making another 'Doom clone', Lobotomy Software made an entirely different Metroidvania game, using their own 3D engine. It is basically Doom meets Metroid.

The structure has been completely revamped. Each level is its own hub area that is connected and branches off to different areas. Consumable items have been replaced with the items with permanent effects that allow the player to progress to the next areas, such as the sandals, which makes the player jump higher to reach higher floors. There are several secret areas that offer shortcuts, permanent health, and weapon upgrades. Even weapons unlock new paths, like how grenades destroy fragile walls. This is basically the first FPS to try this formula (Outside of System Shock, which is more of an RPG) and surprisingly, it has enough depths. There are more diverse set-pieces, levels, and aesthetics.

However… here is the confession. While this is a far interesting game to talk about, I do not like it. I do not like PowerSlave EX, and this is entirely due to the combat. PC PowerSlave's combat is basically what you would expect from a Build engine game, which is basic, but solid. Console PowerSlave's combat has been changed drastically although it may seem the same.

Unlike the PC version, the console version has no 'ammo' pick-up. Instead, weapons use the 'weapon power'. Now, instead of magic power pick-ups scattered all around the levels, enemies and vases drop health and weapon power orbs. This is a good change. It reminded me of Doom 2016 in which enemies dropping pick-ups makes the player fight more aggressively. The biggest fuck-up is all the weapons share the same weapon power orbs. Yes, there is no individual ammo. All ammo pickups are all generic blue orbs that refill whatever weapon you are holding at the time. (Flashback to Deus Ex: Invisible War) I cannot stress enough how horrendous this design trope is. Universal ammo strips the challenge of carefully managing your ammo. In the PC version, you often run out of ammo and are forced to switch to your pistol. This leads to tactical decision: Do I use the machine gun here to make it easier or do I use my pistol so I have the machine gun ammo later. If all ammo pick-ups refill whatever weapon you have, then there is no reason for the player to use weaker weapons, only sticking with the machine gun, which makes the combat repetitive.

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The max ammo capacity is even stricter than the PC version, combined with the looser auto-aim, PowerSlave EX feels it lacks the bombast. There are so many bug types enemies in this game and it is just a chore. Seriously, your pistol cannot hit scorpions even though your crosshair is directly on them. You have to intentionally lower your aim and the pistol hits then. And the game also removed the crouch function, and it makes it much harder to dodge a projectile since the levels are often small and projectiles often follow the player.

The game threw away the lives system, and this sounds good, right? Well, if you die, you have to restart the whole level. There is no checkpoint. This itself is not a bad thing except this game features an absolute dogshit platforming. Fall damage is even worse. Every time you hit the ground slightly harder, it takes away more than half of your health bar. Unlike the PC game where the lava takes your health gradually, lavas and toxic materials instant-kill you in one hit. Game over, time to replay the 10 minutes of your life. Traps like fire projectile kill you in two or three hits. Some traps activate so suddenly that it causes some bullshit cheap deaths.

Since every level is a hub area that forces the player to replay multiple times, you would think you do not have to do the same things over and over again to go through the paths you have already gone before. No, the entire level reboots itself. You do not keep all the keys. You have to key-hunt every time you visit. The levels do not even preserve the shortcuts you unlocked by destroying the walls. The map you uncovered does not even save.

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There are just so many annoying things about this game. Why the hell some item vases shoot projectiles that chase the player, which makes using a melee weapon on them suicidal? Why do vases take so many hits to destroy and take away an unnecessary amount of ammo? Why do I have to hold the jump key twice to float? Why do some spaces have invisible walls?

A lot of the problems would have been remedied if the game had a quicksave or checkpoint system. Unfortunately, even EX does not have it. I can recognize Console PowerSlave a good game, it just ain't for me.


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