A wonderful game.
The first thing you'll notice that makes this game stand out is the fact that it takes place entirely in Egypt. How many games are there that focus entirely on Egypt? Serious Sam for sure, but how many actually, really focus on EGYPT, not just using it as a mere backdrop for a typical gun fest? Not many if you ask me.
While I must admit that the back story is nothing particularly interesting – basically an unknown evil force taking over Karnak and various other Egyptian locations – it is the overall concept that stands out. All the enemies are either Ancient Egyptian mythical creatures and mummies or the creatures that lurk inside the Ancient valleys. Plus, the weapons in your arsenal vary from typical modern weapons such as pistols and machine guns to magical ancient weapons such as the Cobra Staff and The Ring of Ra. Variety is certainly a key aspect to a successful FPS, and using all these interesting and unique weapons to fight your foe is certainly a good thing.
It's not just the weapons and enemies either, the use of mythical items and artifacts are very important to the gameplay in Exhumed. For example, the sandals allow you to jump high, the mask allows you to breathe underwater for longer, and the anklets provide additional protection against lava and dangerous hazards. Overall, there are 6 artifacts that will help you through your quest, but I won't reveal them all.
What really shines in Exhumed however, is the level design. The levels here are just pure genius, no other word for it really. Only games such as Half-Life, Doom II and Duke Nukem 3D can compete with this game in terms of level design for me. Firstly, the levels are MASSIVE for a game this age, and are not linear either, i.e. you will find yourself backtracking through levels. This is because once you find more artifacts in different places; you are then able to reach areas in particular levels that you couldn't reach beforehand, allowing you to progress further through the game. This must have been incredible back in the '90's, and even today, I struggle to find many shooters that offer the same sort of the gameplay as Exhumed. The fact that the game really encourages you to think, and to EXPLORE the environment is just a wonderful aspect.
I also love the fact that you can travel back and forth to any previous level you have been to before. This is all thanks to the travel map which is displayed once you have before you enter any level. This was a rare feature for an FPS back in those days. Although it doesn't play such a huge role in Exhumed's gameplay, sometimes just small factors like these really do enhance the experience.
Combat in the game is pretty simple, fairly standard for an FPS in those days I suppose, but as I said before, the whole concept of the game makes up for this. The enemies move and attack like any other enemy in an old shooter, but they LOOK much more interesting, and are still pretty fun to fight. Lobotomy seemed to focus more on level exploration than combat with this game however. Not that that's a bad thing of course, as I have already given the level design huge praise.
The overall heads-up display and presentation is very simple, but effective and functional. Weapons don't have specific ammo types; rather, ammo just comes in the form of 'ammo power', which comes in a blue orb. 'Health power' comes in red orbs. There is a simple status display at the bottom of the screen a la Doom, and there are simply just 2 bars for you health and ammo. There is an automap feature, which will help you navigate greatly, especially considering the fact that you can see the map and the environment at the same time. If you hit select, you can view your weapons and artifacts. So simple, yet so effective.
Controls are excellent too. Everything is fully customizable. Plus, they are very easy to master, and suit the Playstation controller very well. As well as all the obvious controls (running, shooting, interacting etc), you can jump, swim and look up and down. That's all you need for this game, and there are no stupid control schemes present (unlike Duke Nukem Total Meltdown).
Visually, this game is excellent. Lobotomy had some talented programming skills, and this was also clear on their Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. Exhumed runs on its own original engine. The textures range from bright and vibrant outdoor environments to dark and gloomy indoor environments such as tombs and crypts, but nothing is ever too dark to see. Things such as hieroglyphics can be seen on many walls along with ankhs, Egyptian art and other Egyptian-themed decorations. There are also plenty of destructible objects such as pottery, statues etc.
The weapon models look pretty good considering they are 2D sprites, much like Doom. The M60 machine gun in particular looks cool. Enemies are also sprites, and while they do look well detailed and surprisingly not very pixilated, the animation is not perfect. Although certainly not bad, I think they could've had a few more actions added to the programming. Plus, I think with a little bit more work, just a little, they could move a bit smoother. But on the whole, the sprites still look more impressive than a majority of other FPS's released around the same time.
The game runs very smoothly for the most part. On the technical side of things, Lobotomy did a grand job. While the framerate can occasionally drop to noticeable levels, like when there are lots of enemies on screen or when in a large, open area, it never reaches the level where it's unplayable, and the framerate in general is very consistent and playable, unlike a lot of other old shooters released on the Playstation. Overall, Exhumed is excellent on the visual side of things.
The audio too, is great. The music is very, er, Egyptian-sounding if you get what I mean! It sounds like the sort of thing you'd hear in a movie…er, that's set in Egypt of course. Although it's only background music, it's perfectly suited to this game. The sound effects are pretty decent if nothing spectacular. Either way, I have no problems with them.
Is there anything I don't like about Exhumed? Well, naturally there's always something. For a start, I think the game had the potential to offer a great multiplayer experience as well as the excellent single-player game. The gameplay is fast, there's lots of jumping about and swimming etc, and of course, the levels are just superbly designed…perfect multiplayer material if you ask me. While I will admit that I've never been much of a multiplayer gamer anyway, and I wasn't really fussed either way, having a simple deathmatch mode does seem like a good idea considering how well made this game is. Or it could have been a huge disaster of course, but you never know until you try. Finally, I think that maybe just 1 or 2 more different kinds of enemy would've improved the game slightly but hey ho, you can't have everything.
If you are an FPS fan that appreciates early games in the genre, then do not miss out on Exhumed. This is by far one of the best, most underrated and unique games I have ever played, especially level-wise. Its fun, challenging, and it makes you think. Exhumed is a true forgotten gem.