Published on January 16th, 2014 | by Chris Scott3
Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode 1 – Gold Edition Review
Summary: There is no denying that the first episode of Unearthed shamelessly borrows, poorly I might add, from Uncharted in nearly every way.
Picture, if you will, a charming, ruggedly handsome young man partnered with a beautiful and smart young woman who sets out on a quest to retrieve a lost artifact from a long forgotten tomb in the Middle East. This tomb is filled with dastardly traps and environmental puzzles that need to be solved before the ultimate prize can be gained. And, of course, upon gaining said prize, an army of mercenaries show up intent on killing you and taking the prize for themselves. While this may seem like the premise for the next Uncharted game, it is actually the plot to Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta, a new episodic game from developer Semaphore.
Episode One of Unearthed throws players immediately into the fire, giving them control of Faris Jawad as he fights his way through an office building to get to his captive sister, Dania. This entire sequence serves as a tutorial for the combat in the game, but anyone who has played Uncharted, or any other third person shooter, will quickly understand things. I personally have issues with the ranged combat in Uncharted for being a bit too imprecise for the amount of shooting they have one doing in that game. Those same issues are present in Unearthed. Fortunately, unlike Uncharted, the enemies in Unearthed don’t seem to be bullet sponges and go down after a couple of hits, or one lucky shot to the head, which makes gunplay easier to stomach.
Sadly, unlike Unearthed’s gun combat, the melee combat in the game does not mimic Uncharted’s particularly well. While in Uncharted, fighting people hand to hand was often the more enjoyable way to approach combat if you could, Unearthed forces players into doing it, loading a separate instance of the combat, and then plays like a bad fighting game from the 16 bit era. There are only a small handful of these situations through all of episode one but each and every one of them is a tedious experience that has no redeeming value whatsoever.
Also ripped wholesale from Uncharted is the environmental design of both puzzle and platforming areas. When Faris needs to climb or jump or balance, it is very clear where he can and cannot do it. Similarly, the puzzles that need to be solved in the game are very simplistic and can often be figured out without much thought or searching. This approach eliminates the need for true exploration, instead driving you forward on a very clear cut path controlled by the narrative. Still, as simple as it all is, I found myself at least enjoying the tomb raiding aspects of the game, showcasing just how great these pulp adventures translate to the medium of video games.
While nearly everything has been liberally modeled after Uncharted, Unearthed does attempt to chart its own course in its presentation. While still borrowing heavily from the cinematic approach of Uncharted, it does so in an attempt to pace the game like a television episode instead of a film. And while an interesting approach, the actual results are mixed at best. Episode 1 of Unearthed features at least eight gameplay scenarios over its 45-60 minutes of playtime and aside from a ten minute walk in Morocco including a stop to get tea and deliver narrative, everything else feels rushed. The game adheres so firmly to its television style presentation that nothing gets a chance to breathe, providing just one exciting scene after another packed tightly to fit the hour long format. The positive of this though is that the player is never forced to endure any of the sequences for an extended period of time and most of them end at just the point they need to, right before the apparent cracks become sinkholes to disaster.
And let’s make no mistake about it, much of Unearthed is a disaster. Anytime the game moves it is borderline ugly. My first time playing I fell through the floor into a never ending pit of darkness. On my second playthrough an enemy I felled turned into some demented version of the Slender man. Animations are jaggy and used over and over again. The controls are wonky, with button presses sometimes registering and sometimes not. And I don’t even want to start in on the driving which has no place in the game and feels like you are sliding across ice.
There is no denying that the first episode of Unearthed shamelessly borrows, poorly I might add, from Uncharted in nearly every way. However, despite the obvious lifting of premise and design, the game doesn’t feel like wholesale theft, but rather a weird homage that knows exactly what it is, even going out of its way in the dialog to call out both Tomb Raider and Uncharted as inspirations for this adventure. Still, at the end of the day, Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta has to live by its own merits and when compared to the likes of the games it so fondly mimics, it doesn’t hold up well. Even compared to similar lower budget offerings, Unearthed is less than ideal.
Semaphore’s heart is in the right place with Unearthed, however, and their intent to provide strong Arabic characters in a non-stereotypical light is commendable. But no matter how one looks at the action itself, Unearthed is not very good, and is low grade adventuring masquerading as high quality and overpriced to boot. Despite the best of intentions, Unearthed is an abject failure and when one considers the competition it has, it is just not worth wasting one’s time with.