We are back for another look at Exhumed (Playstation, PC, Saturn). In the previous post I explored mainly the Playstation version. This time it’s the PC version’s turn. As I previously explained, the two versions have enough differences to be consideredy different games, though they share the plot and most of the assets. Both remain some of my favourite games ever.
One major difference was the game engine. The PC version used Build engine, made most famous by Duke Nukem 3d, though number of other games also utilized it (here’s a nice look at some of them on RPS). This imbued the dev team with some restrictions they didn’t have with the 3d engine for the console version, and so the levels are completely different. The pc version lacks the vertical climbing and platforming elements, but despite this the levels never feel quite flat. The devs were extremely good at using the tools in their disposal, something that both of these games suggests is a defining trait for the whole Lobotomy Software.
The levels were also long and pretty complex – or at least they were to young me. Looking at recent youtube playthroughs I see people completing them much quicker, but I have memories of being pleasantly lost for hours and feeling relief and satisfaction upon finally finding the exit.
The PC version also lacked the metroidvania-quality of it’s console counterpart; instead you travelled linearly from one level to the next. Where the console version felt sometimes like a treasure hunt, the PC version had a feeling of long trek through the enemy lines with no rest in sight.
This sort of ”alone against massive odds” thing is a staple in FPS games, and also something I never really got tired of. Even in games where the devs were not interested in telling a story, this kind of dynamic created the story for me, story of one unfortunate individual who alone must beat terrifying enemy. I know, it’s cheesy! But I like it. I like being that lone badass. I like the game granting me the illusion of great challenges and my own superhuman abilities not through sheer difficulty, but through the general atmosphere and story bits. Exhumed, like several other older FPS games, gave me just that.
I need to return to this subject in some later article! For now, let’s press onwards. Remember the beautifully detailed overworld map in the console version? PC version has it’s own map, and I’ve for years tried to find it somewhere online so I could peer at it with a magnifying glass. For writing this article I then dove into the game’s files in search for those map files. When I gave up in frustration, my beloved Sina picked up the work and in very short time conjured me up the fully paletted map and tons of other 90’s graphical treasures. So there you have it:
Isn’t it just beautiful. I wish I knew who of Lobotomy Software’s graphics team did the maps. I would buy them a beer or a coffee or something. Actually I would do that for the whole dev team for enriching my childhood so much.
Anyway, the level names aren’t listed on that but they are mostly derived from actual places in Egypt and their positions also somewhat correlate with the map (according to my super quick and haphazard research), which is a very nice detail. You start from the very south of the map in Abu Simbel where Ramses’ body was looted from, and follow the tracks way up to the north, where you can see some sort of alien corruption thing has taken over buildings. I love that trope, by the way – Doom had similar thing going on in the Shores of Hell -episode, and in Exhumed’s playstation version something similar was evident on the map, if not so much during the levels. In thePC map the last few levels see mixture of alien and Egyptian architecture, similar to how in Doom you saw Hell architecture creeping over the UAC buildings. I just love that kind of thing.
The story progresses similarly to the console version. You meet the same bosses at about the same intervals. The main difference is the lack of artifact gathering; instead you are just pushing onwards against increasingly concerned Kilmaat. Also you won’t be travelling back to Ramses’ tomb whenever he wants to chat; his spirit will now be doing the legwork and intercept you along the way to gargle divine messages. These usually happen before and after bosses and the latter briefings are accompanied by nicely illustrated story screens.
Speaking of bosses, Set was the most terrifying bastard in the console version and keeps that up here, too. His arena is one of the highlights of the game and where they make full use of the better light engine and increased amount of props. Light and shadow are used impressively and there are gory remains of Seth’s victims everywhere. Non-hostile Anubis soldiers are beating on drums, as if eagerly awaiting to witness the fight. When you do kill Set, endless stream of screaming ghosts pour out of his corpse and rise up to the sky.
The rest of the game, too, benefits greatly from the lighting and details. Where the console version had dying enemies shatter into bloodless pieces, the PC one has two sets of dying animations for most of them. You, the lucky player, get to have three of them. There is burning to death, poisoned to death and just a general violenced to death. Lots of death to go around.
The atmoshphere gets increasingly oppressive as the game progresses. One of the most chilling moments comes during one of Ramses’ briefing, a few levels before you meet Selkis, who, as I described in the previous article, was a human turned into monster by Kilmaat gene experiments. Link to that particular speech.
”They are actively robbing a slave girl of her life…”
Holy Nut, those screams are scary. It gives the impression that the torture and experiments are happening somewhere nearby, maybe just outside of these very halls. Or maybe Ramses is somehow relaying the sound via some kind of spiritual wifi access; in any case it makes the situation feel really terrifying and dire. It was also depressing that there wasn’t anything the player could do to help the would-be-Selkis. When we meet her, she has been turned and must be killed. And Ramses comes off as the most uncaring asshole of a pharaoh for reporting her suffering so emotionlessly. Remind me to punch your mummy in the dick when I find it, Ram.
I didn’t cover endings in the previous article due to laziness, so I will talk about them here. The endings as well as the opening and Ramses-rambles are all narrated by Don LaFontaine which makes them automatically very impressive.
The console version’s endings take the cake, though. There you had to collect pieces to your radio transmitter/laptop that were inexplicably spread around the map. If you found them all, you called for a ride home after defeating Kilmaatikhan, and Ramses makes you immortal. The whole world is so impressed with you that you are crowned king of the world.
That is some reward for an FPS hero who usually go pretty unsung. Horrifying implications of immortality notwithstanding, but I like to assume Ramses’ gift came with some sort of escape clause for the case of inevitable heat death of the universe or just being bored of living.
Now, if you fail to assemble your gizmo, you are doomed for some reason. I never understood why it was super important you got to call home after defeating the aliens, but it was. Sympathetic Ramses then invites you to climb into his coffin which he says will then be sealed forever (though as the whole premise taught us, he is pretty bad at sealing his corpse-box) after which you will die and join him in the afterlife where you will be treated like a king. So if we assume the old garglethroat was telling the truth, even the bad ending is pretty great for our protagonist. Oh and after a few hundred years the Kilmaat return to wipe out all humans, and your corpse is displayed in a museum, but presumably your spirit is happily wining and dining with pharaohs and not guiding some other poor bastard across temples and ruins.
It really sucks to be the PC-version’s protagonist, though. The final mission’s got a timer and beating that determines which ending you get. If you screw it up, you will destroy all of Earth and ruin things for everyone. Good job, hero. Now if you are succesful, Earth is saved and the Kilmaat escape in their ship – while you still on board. Maybe this leads up to jolly adventures in the alien world, I don’t know. Compared to becoming king of the world or having cozy time in Egyptian afterlife it still sucks dusty mummy butt.
This concludes my look on Exhumed. For those wanting to know more, let me guide you to this blog which has tons of interesting bits about the game and Lobotomy Software in general, and also links to interviews, some of them scanned and translated from non-English magazines.