Both the Kinect full-body motion-control device and Fable: The Journey have had a rough time amongst the core gaming audience. While on the one hand Kinect has suffered considerably under the weight of poorly conceived and rushed development cycles for many titles, it has had the benefit of providing some truly unique gameplay experiences. Fable: The Journey on the other hand is a brand new property, unknown to all but the few who have managed to gain access to the final build prior to release. It’s true that both have their issues, but to suggest that Fable: The Journey is anything less than an enjoyable and unique videogame experience is simply a shameful untruth.
The videogame casts the player as Gabriel, a young merchant who, along with his horse Seren, craves an adventure beyond that of travelling from town-to-town with his clan. Of course, as is the case with every Fable videogame, adventure lurks just around the corner, and it’s not long before Gabriel and Seren get separated from the rest of their party, tasked with venturing to their destination via an alternative route, alone. Upon doing so they are confronted with a great evil, and the bond between the young man and his faithful equestrian companion is shown for its true colours: Fable: The Journey is not a simple action videogame, it’s an unexpected tale of compassion. And a heart-warming one at that.
The core gameplay experience sees Gabriel driving a horse and cart with Seren acting as the muscle. The player sits directly in front of the television screen (and Kinect device) and cracks the reins to speed-up or pulls them close to his or her chest to slow down. Steering is commanded by pulling the direction in which you wish to arc and pushing the opposite, as might be predicted by anyone with a working knowledge of such things, and coming to a stop is an abstract adaptation of the rules of horse riding, pulling the reins above your head. It’s a series of commands that work well together and offer a realistic adaptation of horse riding into the virtual space.
In addition to the horse rising however, the player will also engage in combat throughout their adventure. Fable: The Journey takes place along a linear path with scripted events offering a contrast between times of conflict and story progression. It’s a carefully attuned balance that so very few videogames manage to deliver – linear or otherwise – which makes for some enthralling moments of tension. The combat within isn’t actually as exciting as the tension drawn from panicked driving, with the action determined by using different spells to aim at specific targets. It’s enjoyable but, shockingly, is far from the star of the show.
The majority of gestures used in the videogame have a rather wide arc of acceptance and all vary considerably, meaning that Fable: The Journey rarely falls fouls to the issues that typically plague Kinect experiences: the times when the software issues commands that you did not are few and far between – though no less annoying – and the fact that Fable: The Journey lets you relax between moments of tension is an affordance for the human condition that so few motion based videogames consider.
Fable: The Journey keeps up with the Fable franchise in terms of technical clout, but isn’t pushing any new boundaries. The visual quality is perfectly in-keeping with the established world of Albion and the voice acting is delivered in a remarkable fashion; the fact that many of the familiar voice actors return surely helps to this end, as they may well have developed a fondness for the franchise in the same manner as it’s audience.
While there will still be many detractors of the Kinect device after the launch of Fable: The Journey – and the videogame itself, of course – Lionhead Studios has developed another of those new gameplay experiences that is only available with gesture based control systems. Fable: The Journey is a thoroughly enjoyable action videogame with a unique premise. Some may compare it to the Starfox franchise in terms of it’s on-rails design, and they’d be right in certain respects, but Fable: The Journey takes this influence and wraps it all up in it’s own world of mystery and intrigue as any respectable franchise product would. Couple this with the interesting tale that Fable: The Journey tells upon it’s travels and you’ll find there’s more to Kinect then dancing and mini-games.