Peter Molyneux is one of those developers that many gamers admire. His ambition, vision and dedication shine through in almost any title he touches, from Black & White right through to Fable. It was until March this year, that he along with his team at Lionhead Studios have been developing the Fable series, culminating with the latest instalment, Fable: The Journey. No matter the title, there has been one constant resounding theme: hype. Molyneux has a way with words, weaving tales of wonder when describing features that make his games unique. Yet it is with the same amount of hype that his games fall short of the mark when we finally get our hands on them. These ‘fables’ Molyneux weaves draw our attention, suck us in, but ultimately leave a slightly sour taste. Is Fable: The Journey going to buck the trend, or are we about to see what ‘on rails’ truly is?
“If you want a fun, short game that utilises Kinect controls, then by all means Fable is worth a purchase.”
Fable: The Journey is a standalone title from the Fable series, still featuring very heavily in the world of Albion. You play as Gabriel, a man who treads a path well walked. He is a bumbling, error prone and weak hero, though this is not your hero of old, given powers through blood line or sheer prowess. Gabriel’s powers are thrust upon him, meaning you – the player – will grow and learn with Gabriel as he grows to become the hero he is destined to be. This story, although familiar, gives a nice change of pace to the previous Fable titles. Gabriel is your quintessential teenager. Selfish and inert, he only thinks for himself and it is this attitude, which is easy to relate to, that gets him lost. Separated from his tribe, he comes across Theresa who has been wounded by a darkness called The Corruption. The Corruption is taking over Albion and Gabriel must take her to the Tattered Spire to restore her power. It is here the real journey begins; Gabriel must help protect his steed Seren and in the process obtain the power of the gauntlets.
If however, like me, you are still waiting on that killer AAA title to come then I’m afraid your Kinect will have to continue collecting a dust for the near future.”
The vast majority of your time will be spent on horse-back. You are given a brief introduction to handling your cart by using your Kinect controls and sitting down, that feels very natural with obvious gestures. Snapping at the reins makes Seren go faster, while holding them up will make her stop. You can even brush her hair and heal her wounds using circular motions that altogether feel very realistic. It is when these controls are in use that the Kinect shows its power, as you feel as part of the character making small, instinctive moves translating very well to the screen. This has been touted as the first ‘hardcore’ title to really test the Kinect’s mettle and at times it does well. However whereas the horse and cart mechanic may stand up as a great technical demonstration for what’s possible, the games design makes this repetitive task quickly become mundane. Every instance of using the horse and cart can and ultimately will blur into one. There is little variation other than the occasional chase and the mechanism is mostly used for transporting characters between point A and B. It lacks imagination and quickly shows how on-rails Fable: The Journey truly is.
Once your hands become entrusted with the power of the gauntlets however the Kinect controls begin to feel all the more fluid. Casting attack spells with your right hands and using Tether spells with your left, ultimately make you all-powerful. The ability to manoeuvre your spells in all manner of directions using ‘Aftertouch’, allowing you to pick of Hobbes et al who cower behind cover and featuring a decent upgrade system; the magic is where Fable: The Journey hits its stride. The slow and steady pace of upgrades progress along with the game, and steadily drip feed you new and fun powers. Over time, the more powers you possess, the feat of facing many enemies becomes exciting, being a delight, rather than simply fun. It’s also worth noting that boss fights are a particular highlight, making good use of the magic mechanic by using both hands in tandem to create the desired effect. It is in these moments that the potential shines through.
While the powers bestowed upon you do a great job, it is the controls behind them that are The Journey’s downfall. Basic enemies are a no-brainer, posing little to no threat. Any difficulty only comes from the Kinect controls. Bolts from your hands shoot at obtuse angles and tethering gets thrown at awkward moments. The Kinect controls fumble their way through, causing more frustration then delight. Even with further setup and collaboration, it doesn’t get any easier. Accuracy just doesn’t hold up and it can make facing hoards of wolves a game of chance. Fable: The Journey is also completely on-rails and is therefore by all accounts linear. Regardless of what Molyneux has said in previous interviews, hyping the game’s potential, this is basically Time Crisis for the next generation.
Expect to churn a good eight to ten hours of the campaign, with more time spent playing Arcade mode, browsing collectables and hunting those final achievements. Where you may find your butt being sent to sleep by continual horse and cart section, you will not get bored with your surroundings though, as the art style used here is excellent. The ebbs and flows of Fable shine through; great lighting, lush scenery and fantastic voice acting, it all comes together in a wonderfully presented package that does a great job in sometimes masking the shortcomings.
It is ironic that Kinect is kind of on a journey of its own and all in all Fable: The Journey does a good job in progressing the technology forward, but ultimately the sour taste left in my mouth is of what it could have been. If we had been given the non-linear, Milo-esque Fable we were promised, this would have been the title that shipped millions of Kinect units. Yet here we are, only shifting a few degrees in the direction of the technology’s possibilities. If you want a fun, short game that utilises Kinect controls, then by all means Fable is worth a purchase. If however, like me, you are still waiting on that killer AAA title to come then I’m afraid your Kinect will have to continue collecting a dust for the near future.