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Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta

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Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta

'This does NOT look good.'

It's perhaps apt that we start this review with an action script cliche, because Unearthed is full of them.

And also because this was my first thought some 15 seconds into the game.

Admitting defeat

Semaphore Studios's third-person shooter has such unwieldy controls and unbalanced gunplay that I couldn't get past the opening corridor in my first half a dozen tries.

Not the opening level, you understand. The very first corridor. On Normal mode. It was so bad that I restarted my iPad just to make sure the game was indeed supposed to behave this way.

Then I admitted defeat and put the aiming system to full auto just to get to the next section. I almost wish I hadn't.

InNately lacking

But let's duck down away from the flying bullets and consider what we're dealing with here.

Unearthed blatantly culls its ideas from Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. Its chiselled matinee star protagonist is straight out of the Nate Drake school of loveable rogues. He cracks wise as he slaughters entire platoons of trained soldiers with lethal precision.

Well, I say 'lethal precision.' As my initial difficulties suggest, Unearthed has some serious control issues.

The layout will be familiar to anyone who's tried to play a half-baked third-person action game on a touchscreen device before. The thing is, even by these low standards the controls are all wrong.

Movement with the left virtual stick is sluggish and unwieldy. Aiming with your right thumb is even worse, with the crosshairs twitching every way but over the target. It's seriously hard to get a bead on an opponent, even when you enter aim mode.

The trouble is that there seems to be too big a disjuncture between aiming and shooting. You end up standing there struggling with the camera while you get pumped full of lead by your enemies.

Doesn't cover itself in glory

There's a cover system, but it too is borderline useless. You can peer around a corner and blind fire, but good luck hitting anything.

Which is just as well, really, because getting into cover and popping out is a dark art that the game's engine seems to struggle with.

Shooting is bad enough in Unearthed, but then you get into your first fist fight and things take a turn for the hilarious.

At certain prescribed points you'll be disarmed by an assailant and be forced to take him on in a kind of rudimentary one-on-one brawler, complete with six virtual 'attack' buttons.

It plays a little like Tekken... if the Tekken combatants had gone out for a drink after the tournament, got completely plastered, and started groggily swinging at each other in the car park. Punches and kicks usually miss their target entirely in a mess of ropey 3D models and duff collision detection.

Puzzling

When the game steps away from action into the gentler pursuits of platform-puzzling things get marginally better - though with woeful camera control, flaky contextual commands, and plenty of instant deaths, it really is only marginal.

On the puzzling side the game spells out the obvious solutions to problems (go here, fetch this) without even giving you a chance to explore for yourself, taking away any lingering sense of mystery.

The graphics are as glitchy as the controls, with basic animation, torch effects that only kick in when approached and - on at least one occasion - a whole section of a level that disappears to reveal the skybox when the view is aligned a certain way.

Even the game's potentially refreshing twist on the usual Western perspective (your protagonist is Middle Eastern, as is the background lore) is undermined by a cheesy American vocal dub and some awfully rendered cutscenes.

Overall, Unearthed really is a relic of the past, dug up and grafted on to sloppy touchscreen controls. It should be reburied and forgotten.

Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta

A horribly clunky episodic third-person action game with woeful controls and impossibly lumpen gameplay
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