It is easy to mock Unearthed: Trail on Ibn Battuta right out of the gate. At a glance, you would think that this is a Gameloft game, cheaply imitating the well liked Uncharted franchise. The basic gameplay looks similiar, the actual game name looks similar and the title logo looks similar too! The whole thing just reeks of a filthy cash-grab.
But to my surprise, Unearthed was actually developed by a small developer based out of Saudi Arabia. For a game that was obviously developed on a shoe-string budget, it is ambitious. The gameplay clearly apes the likes of Uncharted and Tomb Raider with its combination of puzzle solving, exploration and combat. Unearthed even goes the extra mile by adding brief driving, rail shooting and stealth segments too. Unearthed has it all and this is only the first episode!
Unfortunately, it is all abysmal.
Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta opens with a third-person shooting section, where the game teaches you the basic controls and right away, you know that this is not a quality product. The dated visuals, the pathetic sound effects and the flat feeling weaponry; it's a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, third-person shooting is a small part of Unearthed with only two sections in the entire episode featuring such gameplay.
But things get even worse quickly. After shooting some stupid enemies, the game suddenly shifts into a hand-to-hand combat section. Unearthed seems fond of these segments as there are four of these parts in the episode, which is a real shame because these are easily the worst part of the game. All of the fist-fights are one on one affairs, resembling a fighting game like Tekken or Virtua Fighter but that's being generous to this game. You can kick, punch and block but the controls are so clumsy and unresponsive.. You will often see your punches and kicks clip through your opponent and you will receive phantom punches in return. Playing these parts really is like being punched in the face. Even the Osama Bin Laden boss fight in the infamously bad Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror is better than this.
Things gets slightly better when Unearthed moves into an ancient tomb, where the Uncharted and Tomb Raider influences shine through the most. There's some puzzle solving, platforming and trap avoiding here and its a good palette cleanser for what came beforehand. However, this part of the game is far from perfect. All of the climbing and traversal mechanics are flawed. Movement throughout all of Unearthed is of a sluggish quality and unfortunately, that bleeds into the climbing and jumping. The puzzle solving is boring too because there isn't really anything to solve. Both puzzles in the game require you to find certain items and put them in slots to open a door and that's it. It's a glorified key hunt, really. Something a bit more substantial would be welcome.
Unearthed also manages to add two vehicle sections. One has you firing a sub-machine gun from the back of a quad bike in an on-rails section, which is the best part of the game as it works just as you would expect. However, the same thing cannot be said of the final sequence, which has you driving a car around Morocco while trying to avoid pursuing police cars. The car handling is absolutely atrocious, making simple turns a hassle and you will be crashing often. The car handling is so poor, it makes the cars in State of Decay feel like Forza, in comparison. It's that bad.
Thankfully, the entire episode lasts a little over an hour, give or take. Given how poor Unearthed is, that is not a bad thing at all! However, after finishing the game, you unlock a Survival mode, where you can take on waves of monsters in small levels, most of which are featured in some form in the campaign.
Unsurprisingly, this mode is pathetic and you will want to quit out after a minute of gameplay. While the gunplay in the campaign is terrible as it is, Survival mode does a great job of exposing even more flaws within Unearthed. The hit detection is awful, especially when a monster is standing right in front of you. The game also doesn't manage ammo for your weapons correctly. When you reload, you throw away all of the ammo in that clip, which could be argued as being "realistic" but considering this is a mode where you get to mow down waves of zombies, it's just a load of bollocks. I also notice that all dropped weapons of the same type have the exact same ammo. For example, I used a AK until it has two bullets left. I threw the gun away. Later I spotted another AK and picked that up. It also has two bullets left. That's not a coicidence, that's shoddy design.
With Unearthed being an episodic title, I can't imagine many folks buying the subsequent episodes after playing this rotten first attempt. The story also fails to grip you, like the way episodic content should. I admire that the developers have a preview of Episode 2's events at the end, but I just don't care. The dialogue is horrible thanks to the awkward script and the even more awkward voice acting, the characters are cliched and the first Episode doesn't have any particularly memorable moments.
The graphics in Unearthed date back to something you would see ten years ago. Simplistic models, rigid animations and poor textures are everywhere. The game does have some solid lighting effects though, which give the environments a layer of atmosphere that wouldn't be there otherwise. Nevertheless, this is definitely not an impressive looking game with several nasty graphical glitches lurking within. The sound effects are even worse. The game is generally quite sparse when it comes to sound effects and there are definitely a few sections of the game that could have done with more ambient noise. As mentioned earlier, all of the guns use stock sound effects, which makes it hard to take the game seriously. The music is quite good though, piping in during key moments.
I didn't expect my first review of 2014 to be focused on such a stinker. Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta easily rivals Hidden Audio Log's worst game of 2013, Ride to Hell: Retribution. Both games are similar in that they try to do several things at once but instead of making one of those elements actually any good, they just have many gameplay mechanics that all suck collectively. For a small indie developer, Unearthed is ambitious but that's the most positive thing I can say for it. Even at the low price of $5, don't play this game.
ONE OUT OF FIVE
(A terrible game whose positives aspects are practically nonexistent.)