Review: Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode 1 (PC)

Unearthed-English LogoUnearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode 1
Publisher: Semanoor International
Developer: Semaphore
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 01/03/2014

While on the surface, this game is nothing more than an Uncharted clone, there’s actually a bit of an interesting history here. The game is the first multi-platform title to be made in Saudi Arabia. As such, it takes a different approach. For starters, the heroes are a couple of Middle Eastern siblings, and the setting is the heart of the Muslim world. Instead of following the trail of some famed European explorer, the game’s back story comes from the adventures of Ibn Battuta. He’s basically the Arabic version of Marco Polo (The game even pauses at a couple of points to say how much cooler Ibn is than Marco. It’s hilarious).

Anyway, there was enough here to get me interested enough to actually play the game. Sadly, it appears as though the developers were only interested in creating a cheap clone that happened to be full of fun tourism facts about Morocco.

4So the story starts off with a tense shootout, culminating in what looks like the eventual demise of our hero. Then, it suddenly sends us back a few weeks. Sound familiar? I thought so. After that, you meet the brother/sister combo I mentioned earlier. They break into an old tomb in order to get some glory, bad guys show up, they get a mysterious call, they fly to Morocco to meet the mysterious caller, and things end with a car chase. It might sound like I’m being flippant or overly brief. However, I’ve just described the entire plot here.

This is the first episode you see, so it merely serves as an introduction. In fact, the whole game is about an hour long. It’s pretty much one big tutorial. This makes it hard to get into the characters, as there’s just not enough information about them. All we know is that the guy is a smarmy jerk (Gee. I wonder who he’s supposed to be like?) and that his big sister isn’t in the tomb raiding game for the money. The story effectively ends on a random note, and concludes with a trailer for the second episode. Mind you, there’s no actual footage of the second episode in said trailer. In fact, you get nothing more than a voice over on top of some static real-world images. Then there’s a scene that was apparently taken from a documentary about Battuta. It kind of makes me wonder if we’re ever actually going to see episode two. After all, this is a PC port of a PSN game that was released nearly a year ago in Europe.

Visually, the game is a bust. It doesn’t look too bad in screens, but the animations are atrocious. The eyes are the worst though. They’re basically big glassy orbs that always stare straight ahead. It’s creepy. There’s a general lack of physics in the game, which makes the car chase scene all kinds of ludicrous. At its best, the game feels like an early PS2 game.

Aurally, the game manages itself a bit better. The voices are fairly solid, even if they are working with a terrible script. Musically, the game is cliché, but that’s okay. It fits the theme quite well, and can even be quite enjoyable to listen to as you play.

3Perhaps in homage to the game’s episodic nature, part one is split into six chapters. Each chapter is a self contained section that, while it fits sequentially, feels disjointed from the chapters before and afterward. The first chapter is the intro, where you’ll learn the basics of gunplay. The second chapter is a proper tomb, where you’ll solve a few simple puzzles before blasting enemies on your way out. Up next is an “exciting” chase scene where you hold off enemies whilst riding on the back of an ATV. After that, you get a leisurely stroll through a Moroccan market (this is where it turns into a tourist advertisement). Then you chase a guy on some rooftops before making it to the final chapter. The final chapter is a bizarre car chase scene where you try to avoid being touched by cops too much until an invisible timer starts up the final cut scene.

So let’s take a look here. Though this is hyped as an action game in the vein of Uncharted, you actually only spend the first third of the game doing anything involving shooting. After that, you’ll never fire a gun again. The second half of the game feels incredibly hands off, and you start to wonder why you had to play through a ten minute tutorial in order to play through a twenty minute section.

Mechanically, the game is kind of broken. The cover shooting works somewhat decently at best. You have to walk towards cover, then hit a button to actually take shelter. However, you can very easily fall out of cover by doing things like shooting. That’s an issue. Enemy AI is incredibly dumb. They’ll gladly stand out in the open and wait for you to shoot them. You can’t pick up ammo for your guns. Instead, you pick up dropped weapons to replace the ones you have. It’s awkward.

2The worst thing, though, is the brawling sections. At several points throughout the game, you’ll start a one on one fisticuffs battle. Theoretically, you’re supposed to time shots and block incoming attacks. However, what it amounts to is a Rock’em Sock’em Robots battle, where blows appear to land but do no damage. It’s a mess. When you do land a hit, you can use a cheap exploit to chain together several hits afterward, making these sections easy when you get the hang of it. However, you’re more likely to spend five minutes watching you and your foe punch air.

Then there’s the driving section. Oh god. Basically, the goal here is to avoid touching cop cars. You do that by running around on the same two blocks for several minutes. The cops won’t try to arrest you. Instead, they attempt to ram you at low speed, making the whole venture seem like a bizarre version of tag. Each time they touch you, you lose some health. Lose it all, and it’s game over. It controls terrible, looks terrible, and is absolutely no fun to play.

Oddly enough, they’ve added a survival mode to the game. After you’ve gone though the campaign (which will take you and hour and a half at most), you’ll unlock the mode. This basically has you running around a small, crowed area. The goal is to kill waves of zombies as they come after you. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but I’ll go with it. The gameplay isn’t very conducive to this kind of mode though. Zombies will simply rush you down, so ducking into cover is useless. It just doesn’t fit.

Short Attention Span Summary

All in all, Unearthed is easy to pass up. Even though it’s only five bucks, it won’t give you your money’s worth. It’s short, uneven, ugly, broken, and boring. I suppose the developers can be given a bit of a pass, as this is their first game. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to play through. I’ll curiously check to see if any future episodes come out. Perhaps they’ll address some of my issues. For now, I recommend that you stay far away from this game.

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