Not quite the magic that Kinect needs.
What Fable: The Journey Got Right
- + Albion is detailed and vibrant
- + Humorous and charming characters
What Fable: The Journey Got Wrong
- - On-rails gameplay is repetitive
- - Combat is a guessing game
- - Controls for steering are too sensitive
When the word ‘Kinect’ comes to mind, most non-casual gamers instantly associate it with mediocrity. Jedis, Steel Battalions and zombie-slaying have all mostly failed to transform the Kinect ‘experience’ into something the average hardcore Xbox 360 owner can proudly say they enjoy alongside their traditional games. So is Fable: The Journey that bit of magic Kinect so desperately needs and that gamers have been so desperately waiting for?
In short: no. While Fable: The Journey does many things well - the unique setting of Albion is still great and the voice-acting is as charming and humorous as ever - the shift from RPG with choices and interaction to linear, “on-rails” gameplay has done the franchise little good.
The charm of the past three Fable games was the ability to explore Albion and all of its crazy locales, watch it transform based on your decisions, and shape your character into a hero, a villain, or something in between. While Peter Molyneux’s various and notorious revolutionary promises were never fully realised in each three titles, they still were a blast to play.
I was initially reluctant about re-visiting and experiencing Albion in such a different manner. To be fair, the game proves from the start that it retains enough of the old Fable charm through its humorous characters, a strong believable bond between man and animal and a wonderfully realised and visually stunning fantasy world.
The Journey puts you in control of Gabriel, a Dweller - Albion's take on Gypsys or Nomads - who live among wandering caravans from camp to camp on his horse, Seren. Gabriel is the typical reluctant but well-meaning hero who is forced to take on a harrowing journey through the worst parts of Albion after failing to catch up to his caravan. The pair soon find Theresa, a blind seer, on the road, running away from a darkness called the Corruption.
The Corruption is destroying all of Albion, and Gabriel must take Theresa to the Tattered Spire to restore her power, of which those who have played previous Fable games will know a bit about. Eventually, Seren is wounded and Gabriel is forced to don a pair of magical gauntlets which bestow upon him the ability to shoot-lightning out of one hand and perform Force-esque powers with the other, and is told he may be the last hope for Albion and its future.
While the story is nothing overly epic or not yet seen before, Gabriel’s strong relationship with his trusty horse is an endearing and a major part of the storyline, and the game does well to position us to care for their relationship in the way he takes care and concern for her.
The setting, atmosphere and art direction of Albion is executed great, with the painting-like landscapes standing out and reminding players of a strong graphical engine. Characters and areas are colourful, vibrant and detailed. But other than strong character dynamics and a pretty game world, Gabriel’s “journey” on the road feels mostly like an extended tech-demo than a video game.
The majority of the gameplay is spent trotting along sitting in your carriage, staring at the open road rather than exploring anywhere off of it.
Don’t let Peter Molyneux’s last promises before leaving Lionhead Studios fool you: The Journey is an on-rails experience. The game takes away all the non-linear freedom, all the role-playing elements, all the enjoyment that came from exploration, and leaves you with a horse and a straight line, with a few zig zags along the way. If you want to go off and find some off-the-beaten path secrets or just generally explore, you best hope its in Seren's scripted path, because otherwise, you probably aren't going there.
...other than strong character dynamics and a pretty game world, Gabriel’s “journey” on the road feels mostly like an extended tech-demo than a video game.
The majority of the gameplay is essentially a dull road trip. The Journey is centred on and around your horse, controlling Seren's speed and guiding her direction with your motion-controlled reins. As Gabriel, you will travel across dangerous lands and harsh terrain on Seren in pre-determined paths, collecting green, red and blue experience orbs along the way for future upgrades. You also have to take care of Seren by petting and brushing her regularly. The waving of hands and other movements feel silly and repetitive, but these sections help reinforce the loving relationship between this man and his horse.
But no matter what the game design or narrative throws at you, horse carriage gameplay is just horse carriage gameplay, and it's not fun. You'll be steering Seren and your carriage away from obstacles on the road by making pulling or pushing to the relevant direction, and performing cracking motions to control her speed using the reins. Navigating Seren is mostly straightforward, but steering her takes time to get used too, especially with frequent recalibration to track your arms. And while the road will constantly be dangerous and full of thing and people to run into, along with the occasional fast-paced chase sequence to switch things up, it's hard to be genuinely engaged when the rest of the time you're just sitting there.
Once in a while you'll stop to take care of hostile Hobbes or explore a temple, which usually leads to fighting. The magical-based combat is standard-fare, and would be more interesting and engaging if it weren't for the fact that the game expects you to know where to thrust your limbs to fire your lightning bolts or swipe your hand to Force-grab enemies, as there is no reticule present.
Blasting Hobbes to fiery pieces provide some fun, but there is a severe lack of other spells present in the game.
When you do blast enemies to bits, however, the ensuing result is entertaining. But with only five spells to play with and frequent re-calibrations due to the Kinect not registering my frantic hand movements when fighting off Hobbes, it all but made battles just as much of a chore as steering Seren.
The rest of the game is just as pre-determined and predictable, and while the narrative certainly does pick up and certain upgrades such as reigning Fireball hell instead of lightning bolts diversifies the combat, there isn't much more incentive to keep playing if you tire of the controls or grow impatient from the slow-moving sections like I did early in the Journey.
The Final Verdict
Fable: The Journey is not for everyone, and certainly not for most people who enjoyed the original Fable trilogy for its RPG-esque action gameplay and exploration of character morality, choice and consequence. But if you enjoyed the narrative and history aspects of Albion, you love Hobbes and a good Sunday night fantasy story, then maybe The Journey isn't that bad a choice. Absolutely nobody can say that Lionhead didn't make an effort to provide gamers with a visually brilliant and detailed game world with eccentric characters, breathtaking scenery and an emotionally gripping relationship between man and his favourite horse.
However, in the end, The Journey feels like just another motion control title that markets itself as adventurous and bold, but which exposes itself as everything but through its on-rails gameplay, over sensitive motion controls and complete lack of fun.
By Nathan Misa