App Reviewed on: iPhone 4s
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Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta - Episode 1 is the first part in an episodic series of games that take clear cues from big budget console titles like Tomb Raider and Uncharted. Although the game stays faithful to the action/puzzle gameplay format that made those games popular, there are a few key problems with Unearthed that might keep players from enjoying it as much as they would like to.
In Unearthed players are dumped immediately into the action, playing through a shootout in an office building. In this scenario, players are given some tooltips, but are mainly left to their own devices to figure out how the game works and fight their way down the hallway. To control their characters, players place a finger on the left side of the screen for a virtual joystick to appear. On the right-hand side, players can control the camera, as well as use the on screen buttons to perform actions like jumping, shooting, and aiming.
After completing this brief firefight, a short cutscene plays out before cutting to events that occurred three weeks prior to the shootout sequence. Based on these story-telling choices alone, I got the sense that the developers were taking some queues from Uncharted, but I was then quickly buried in references and nods to it and Tomb Raider, making its sense of homage to these titles so transparent that it was annoying. Attempts at quippy dialogue? Check. Puzzle solving that involves climbing around tombs? Check. Use of the term "tomb raiding video games" in dialogue? Check.
The "on the nose" treatment of and referral to Unearthed's source material would not be as grating as it is if it didn't serve as a constant reminder of how there are games out there that do everything Unearthed does, only better. Sure, this is a mobile game, but every time I clipped through the environment or lost control of the game camera, I wanted to switch to a different experience and save my appetite for tomb raiding for a time when I could sit in front of my TV.
To compensate for some of its shortcomings, Unearthed is thankfully somewhat forgiving. After dying, the game reloads the environment while allowing players to keep items they have picked up already. I found this particularly comforting after I randomly fell through a floor and died just after collecting all of the pieces necessary to complete a puzzle. Although I appreciate the forgiveness, this in no way excuses the fact that I fell through the game environment for no reason.
Beyond the technical issues, Unearthed is a playable game, but that is hardly a compliment. For those that are curious, feel free to check it out. The first 20 minutes or so are absolutely free.