Lionhead Studios’ forthcoming Fable: The Journey isn’t just an unusual Fable title, it’s a different breed of videogame altogether. Of course it still features the self-referential humour and the unique vision of a cartoon-coated middle ages that is Albion, but beyond this it’s an experience that will be all new to any gamer, and one which is built entirely around the Kinect full-body motion control device.
The videogame casts you as Gabriel; a young man who desires adventure and comes across is sooner than he might wish. Travelling across Albion with his tribe upon a cart lead by his trusty steed Seren, Gabriel is widely known to be rather aloof; more interested in daydreaming than he is earning his keep. It’s due to this very reason that he looses his position in the convoy and ends up alone, facing a great evil with only his wits, his horse and his newfound magical abilities to save him.
The adventure begins as your childhood friend – now honoured with the responsibility of leading the convoy – reminisces at your side about your youth, immediately and intelligently establishing character, era and potential plot points further down the line. While this opening section does lead you to believe that Fable: The Journey will be a fairly traditional Fable experience story-wise, nothing could be further from the truth. Once the videogame begins true the player finds it’s the connection between Gabriel and Seren that is the real story: a mutual bond that exists beyond language barriers and hardship, more important than the passing of time and even the potential end of the world.
This sentimentality is echoed throughout Fable: The Journey. The very first interaction the player is presented with is that of calling out to and cleaning Seren. A clever disguise for Kinect’s need to assess your size, the space you are in and the lighting arrangement you have, the change between using a single hand to call and two hands to brush Seren is all Kinect needs to base it’s calibration on, and all the player needs to understand that this isn’t just any animal, it’s your animal. There are several more moments in the opening thirty minutes of Fable: The Journey when these relationship is established with yet greater dynamism, from Seren’s determination to save Gabriel from harm and the potential fate of the horse being the most important message given to Gabriel at the videogame’s first major turning point, but to offer any further detail on these pivotal moments would be to spoil the surprise.
During the core gameplay experience the controls revolve around your steed just as the story does. The player has direct control of Seren’s speed and his target direction (most of the time), and the turning arc is very easy to learn. It’s not long before you discover that there is an amount of nuance in the handling, and it’s not just a binary hard or soft left/right. The projectile attacks learned as the opener chapter comes to a close also offer a noticeable degree of room for variation in their execution, and not least because they require and entirely separate calibration procedure in order to efficiently analyse a player’s perception of the location of enemies on the screen.
There are plenty of aspects of Fable: The Journey that fans of the series will love, not least the return of Zoë Wannamaker as a voice actor early in the videogame. You don’t have to have experienced a Fable videogame before, but if you have there’s plenty of touches designed to make you smile, familiar locations and tales of your previous adventures now the subject of fairytales and legend. And this seems to be the essence of Fable: The Journey: it’s still part of the Fable assembly, but has been created in a brand new mould.