Unearthed: The Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode 1 Gold Edition – PC
Release Date: January 3. 2014
ESRB Rating: N/A
Nerd Rating: 4 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
Unearthed: The Trail of Ibn Battuta (Episode 1 Gold Edition) is a first-person action/adventure title set in the contemporary Middle East. It follows the adventures of a brother/sister team, Faris and Dania Jawad. Faris is the action hero, while Dania is the brains behind the operation. So far, Dania has taken the role of advisor while Faris does all the heavy lifting, so to speak.
Episode 1 takes you from the prologue through the temple and back to Tangiers, Morocco where you meet the distant relative of Ibn Battuta’s scribe. He hints at the location of a cursed relic coveted by scholars and evildoers alike.
Although Unearthed is a cool concept – the game features Muslim protagonists and highlights details of the adventures of a famous Muslim explorer- the execution is erratic and the content falls short. It’s unfortunate that a game that aims to introduce some variety and a different cultural perspective suffers from poor design choices.
You start the game wounded and inside a building making your way to a confrontation to rescue your sister. As you make your way to the showdown, you are introduced to weapons, unarmed combat, the use of cover, and other game elements. After you burst through the door to find Dania in the clutches of the villain and his henchmen, the game fades to black and you’re taken back in time to the beginning of the adventure…
Controls are fairly standard for first-person games, with the usual four plus the mouse controlling movement, camera, and aiming (when Faris needs to kill someone). Additionally, the E key performs a variety of actions like taking and using items, activating special movement abilities and others. Space is the jump key and also allows you to climb over obstacles. T is used to Take Down enemies, if you can get close enough to do it. C allows you to take Cover behind various parts of the environment to avoid damage or ambush enemies.
Gameplay focuses not only on weapons, but hand-to-hand combat, vehicular fights, plain driving, feats of agility, and stealth moves as well. The training tutorial takes place in the now and teaches you most of what you’ll need to know to play the game. Make no mistake, Unearthed is not a simple shoot-em-up. Enemies can drop you with a single burst of automatic fire, so the use of cover and, when you can, stealth attacks is highly desirable.
The game does a good job of keeping you up-to-date on objectives, and even incorporates a help system that first tells you what you need to accomplish, and then gives you hints as to where the next item of objective is located.
Graphics are average – the temple is actually quite well-done, with a nice color palette and some great texture elements and impressive accouterments, but the character models look primitive considering the game was released in 2014. Ambient lighting and other elements are decent, not groundbreaking, but certainly acceptable. Aside from the desert scene, which we’ll get to later, textures throughout are above average in my opinion.
The in-game music is one of the most superior parts of Unearthed. Mysterious and exotic, it definitely adds to the flavor of the game, providing a pleasing backdrop to the gameplay. The development team included a number of different tracks, all of which are enjoyable.
Sound effects are fairly limited, although the game does feature extensive, professional voice-overs for the main characters. Weapon sounds are below average. Although the pistols sound okay, the automatic rifle effects are choppy, and the reports don’t match up well with ammo usage; you can easily blow through 20-30 rounds even though the gun only coughed a couple times. You’ll wonder where the bullets went…
The Bottom Line
The first confusing thing I noticed is that although the game features Muslim protagonists retracing the steps of a famous Muslim explorer, the voice-over work for the three main characters is done by American actors. The thing is, the script exposes the fact that the writer is not 100% familiar with English. So you have American voices speaking slightly stilted English portraying Muslims of Arab descent. Puzzling. In addition, during the prolonged tag-along mission in the city, the voice-over failed a couple of times, creating the impression that Dania was a schizophrenic talking to herself as she walked down the street.
Next, I discovered the controls are not always a joy to use. Running, jumping, the various climbing abilities, and looking around are OK, but the camera sometimes panned slowly enough to elicit a sudden fall and death. The cover feature is iffy at best. Sometimes Faris doesn’t want to move while in cover, and it can be a chore lining up a shot from behind an object or wall. The most annoying situation I encountered was trying to take out some guys shooting at me from an elevated position near the temple exit. I just couldn’t get Faris to face the right way to take the shots and ended up darting out from cover to snap off some rounds at these dudes until they were eliminated.
This is not a simple shoot-em-up. It’s easy to die from a single burst of gunfire, and other environmental hazards make discretion the better part of valor. Although the game punishes players who try to charge forward and prevail by force of arms, it doesn’t really give you much opportunity to utilize the Takedown move, forcing you to approach enemies from considerable distances while hoping they don’t turn around and blast you.
The hand-to-hand fighting is very primitive; move around using the standard four, punch with left mouse, kick with right mouse, hold middle mouse to block. After trading blows for a while, you’ll do a finishing move on the opponent, who will then get back up and come at you again. The second finisher keeps them down.
Unearthed incorporates driving segments that pit you against pursuing police, as well as sequences that task you with riding shotgun on an ATV while shooting at bad guys. Neither section is stellar, but I played a LOT of Driver back in the day, so weaving through city streets is no problem.
Although you can perform a variety of actions, and the game changes up scenery frequently, it all has a derivative feel, even portions of the dialogue are affected in this way. Some of the challenges are straight out of well-known adventure movies, for Pete’s sake. Even those that aren’t taken part and parcel from other media still feel trite, everywhere you turn you’re confronted with something you’ve seen or done before.
And speaking of dialogue, there’s a lot of that in Unearthed, albeit well-done as mentioned before. In fact, during one portion of the game you go from one cutscene to another cutscene, and then your objective is to follow your sister and erstwhile employer through the city streets while they talk some more! It was at this point that I remembered the NerdBacon theme for this month, and was certain a clever member of the crew was playing a joke on me.
The game environments run the gamut from quite beautiful (Ahmose’s Temple) to horrible (Desert Escape). The contrast in quality is jarring, in fact, leaving me convinced that it’s impossible the same team was responsible for both areas. The city looks nice, but like the other areas you’re limited to a linear path, which is unfortunate since some of the areas look good and you want to explore them, and maybe even talk to some NPCs. None of that is possible in Unearthed.
Although Unearthed: The Trail of Ibn-Battuta Episode 1 Gold Edition is not the worst game I’ve ever played, it somehow disappointed me more than less enjoyable titles.
I have to say, although game world overall is more than acceptable, that desert mess notwithstanding, by far the most professionally done portions of the game are the intro and episode credits. It’s as if Semaphore blew their capital on voice talent and glitzy hoopla, and forgot that at the end of the day, solid design and mechanics and novel elements are worth more than all the full-motion video and slick, scrolling credits in the world.
The game feels disjointed, as if in their rush to include a wide variety of mechanics and well-produced cut scenes, the developers lacked the time or money to polish any of them so they shine. Armed and unarmed combat, driving, shooting while moving, it all feels about 80% complete and ready for prime-time. In addition, the level design is lazy at times, for instance you’ll make your was along the path, ducking into cover when necessary, only to find suddenly that the next row of columns, while extraordinarily similar to the last, no longer give you the opportunity to hide between them.
I had such high hopes when I entered the temple. It looked good, the controls were decently responsive and I was very much looking forward to the experience, and the chance to get a free seminar highlighting the life and adventures of a man of whom I’d never heard.
Less than an hour later, I was holding my mandible to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor. “That can’t possibly be all there is…”, I whispered to myself in disbelief. Yep, less than an hour of “game play”, including all the cut scenes, exposition, character development, trailing along behind the other two main characters like a lost puppy… Oh well, at least the temple was cool. Even though this title is only priced at $5, you can do better for the money.
Nerd Rating: 4 out of 10… I try to support indie developers, I really do, but throw me a frickin’ bone here people.
Share This Post