Return to Ruins is a 3 maps episode for the DOS version of Powerslave / Exhumed.
High in the mountains, wooden bridge leads to entrance of some ancient structure. Looking down, we can see the jungle. It is very far away, giving sense of extreme height and therefore, dangerous anventure. But what's the most stunning - angled surfaces! It was believed that the game doesn't support them, and suddenly, they work. This feels like a miracle, like seeing something that's absolutely impossible, and yet, here it is.
Temple-like corridor turns out to be an entrance to decayed mine that supported an ancient underground city. Big cavern around the place is what causes the sense of scale now, with visual accents provided by vegetation and ancient buildings, rails create the feeling of perspective, nearby pillars and big rock do it if we look to the right.
Gameplay has nice choice and replayability. You can shoot the monsters, or run past them, wait until they gather into crowd, then eliminate them all with a well-placed grenade throw. It gives excellent incentive to return for a completely different way to play and search for missed secrets.
We are destined to visit the city's recreational area, marketplace, high streets and continuation of the mines, then get to the arenas through the big temple. All areas are detailed, nicely textured and well-lit. Experience is going to be even more immersive thanks to Powerslave engine forcing level designers to never teleport the player away when falling down or going underwater, making it feel like 100% real 3d world, temple level pushes that further with the staircase you can see from above and below (underwater). Returning to previously visited areas will be required, but they will change to keep the experience fresh. Level progression gives sense of continuity like in Blood's Cryptic Passage: you see part of previous level at the beginning and part of next level at the end.
End of first map demonstrates the most advanced usage of sector over sector trick I've ever seen - there's a corridor under the ceiling, you can not only walk below it and inside it, but also see through windows in it and jump outside. This also looks like a miracle, another moment when impossible is happening.
The temple amazes when it changes its shape, opening more rooms. It has nice architecture, interesting puzzles and layouts that feature returning to previously inaccessible parts of already visited areas. There's also a very imaginative and clever use of sand through the tools available in the engine: quicksand made with teleporter that simulates falling into other place, and room that gets filled with sand made with animated textures and elevator. Due to being a level about puzzles, it has more traditional gameplay style - destroy the enemies first, so they won't distract you from puzzles.
Arenas with boss fights are an intense, spectacular ending of the mod full of exciting unexpected surprises.
At the very beginning, it's possible to fall off the bridge if you go forward to the left or right from it. Thankfully, this flaw can be easily worked around by starting a new game again.
Cave that players see if they look back could use a turn, which would be better than a completely black wall. There's a chance that the elevators which are supposed to raise the Bastets won't work, then it will be possible to jump down and get stuck.
Recreational area with lake and palms is lit, but I couldn't see the source of light. No torches, no lights, no sky-revealing hole in the ceiling.
Mod support allows to unlock all hidden potential of games, and Return to Ruins is one of the most illustrative demonstrations of that. Original Powerslave is a great game with spectacular battles, beautiful animations that give cinematic feel, interesting exploration and puzzles, excellent sensation of real 3d despite being made on 2.5d engine with flat maps for levels. And Return to Ruins is many times better in every aspect. It's... There's no word for that. Greater than great.