Chances are there was a lot of head scratching at Lionhead when Microsoft requested they give the Fable franchise its own Kinect spin-off. Just how do you transfer an open world RPG full of moral choices, to a device that has proven itself to be useful only for very simple games such as dancing sims and fitness packages? We bet Lionhead were still asking themselves that question the day Fable: The Journey shipped to retailers.
It’s often said that the unlikeliest of heroes are always the best. This rings true where Fable: The Journey’s hero is concerned – at the start of the game Gabrielle is seen swinging a branch around, pretending to attack make-believe enemies. Gabrielle’s world soon gets turned upside down after being spilt up from his convoy of caravans, forcing him to travel alone. After saving the life of a female with psychic abilities, their paths become entwined and not long after Gabrielle is bestowed with a pair of magical gauntlets that must be used to stop evil spreading over Albion.
At the start of the adventure Gabrielle is even afraid of the spider-like enemies that dwell in Albion’s copious amount of caves, but as the story progresses he becomes more courageous. There’s a strong bond between Gabrielle and his horse Seren too. A young horse Seren is not, which makes the journey that little bit more perilous as Gabrielle has to constantly find words of encouragement to keep her going. As well as the psychic Teresa, two other passengers later join the ride across Albion which helps keep your interest levels up. There’s a travelling fortune teller who you bump into no less than three times too. Due to being absolutely useless at his profession, his appearances help to provide comic relief.
There’s a huge focus on Seren. When you’re not riding her through Ablion’s picturesque forests and along cliff tops, you’re spending downtime feeding, washing and healing her wounds. This is the first stumbling point – you’re often instructed to stop the cart and tend to your horse, which prevents the story (or action, if you prefer) flowing in the manner that it should. Although a lot of the animal husbandry tasks are optional, you do feel inclined to give Seren your attention as valuable XP – used to upgrade skills – is earned by doing so.
At least controlling Seren is a comfortable experience – this is one of the few Kinect games that can be played sitting down. Just gentle movements are required to steer, and a crack of the virtual reigns to go faster. To make the travelling sections a bit more engaging there are XP orbs to collect which can only be gained if you pass over them at certain speeds.
There are also places marked along the roadside where you can stop and explore. Actually, explore isn’t the correct word to use there – this is an entirely on-rails experience. Whereas previous Fable games have provided a journey from which you carve your own destiny, here you feel more like a passenger. Moral choices, for which the series is renowned, are sadly absent.
Fable: The Journey shines the brightest during its action sequences. Using the pull spell to drag enemies into lava and to pull the limbs off hollowmen is good fun, as is blocking attacks to send projectiles back from where they came. Boss battles have quite an epic feel to them too, requiring you to cast the right spell during the few seconds the enemy’s weak points are shown. The handful of puzzles present are also well implemented. They aren’t taxing but they do provide a change of pace.
As well as casting spells with motion controls you can also yell into the Kinect’s microphone to conjure up a fireball or magic spear. The voice controls are perfect – never once did we have a problem. Sadly we can’t say the same for the motion controls. Projectiles didn’t always hit the target and once we put our hands up in the air to stop the horse and cart in order to get out and explore, only for the horse to keep on going. Rather than using the ability to redirect projectiles with the after-touch move to gain a style bonus, we found ourselves mostly using it just to correct wayward shots.
In an ideal world Lionhead would have been put to work on Fable 4, or even a new franchise, instead of creating this. The six or so hours that it lasts aren’t an unpleasurable experience, but it’s clear that it simply exists because Microsoft wanted a Fable game for Kinect, believing that such a thing would help to shift a few more devices. Lionhead have done their best with the task at hand – it looks great, the voice acting is decent and the presentation excellent – but it’s not a franchise that’s best suited to motion controls and suffers because of it. We just wish Microsoft could have seen that from the start.