Fable: The Journey review: a bumpy road

Game Info
Platform 360
Publisher Microsoft Studios
Developer Lionhead Studios
Release Date 2012-10-09

Renaissance man that I am, I've been preparing to direct the stage version of Scrooge (based on the delightful 1970 film starring Albert Finney) as I played Fable: The Journey. I mention it in the hopes you'll allow a comparison between the most popular Christmas story since the first one and Lionhead's latest.

See, as I struggled through Fable: The Journey, fighting its Kinect controls every step of the way, I couldn't shake the image of Jacob Marley. The ghostly businessman shambled through life bound by the iron chains of his wrongdoing. Fable: The Journey is similarly bogged down, unable to shake free of the shoddy motion controls that are integral to its own existence.

The difference is that Jacob Marley gives no indication that he'd be fun to be around if he were freed. As an audience, we're happy to see him suffer. Fable: The Journey, on the other hand, has a heart, is even inspired on occasion; its shackles are all the more tragic.

Put more simply: Fable: The Journey might be kind of good, were it not so bad.


Ftj_bladebarrow_2_hires_medium

Fable: The Journey protagonist Gabriel may be a simple traveler, but he's got big dreams. He's constantly chastised for losing himself in the fables of powerful heroes that once saved the land of Albion from extinction. When he's separated from his nomadic people, Gabriel finds himself the unlikely next member of this long-ago severed chain of heroism. He must fight to stop an evil force from consuming the land with only his horse Seren, the seer Theresa (sister of Fable's first protagonist) and the occasional straggler to aid him.

Much of The Journey is presented from the driver's seat of Gabriel's cart as he steers Seren away from treacherous terrain and toward experience orbs that litter the road. From a seated position (there's no standing on this journey) you'll hold virtual reins, pulling left or right to steer Seren. It's a smart layer of abstraction, as it allows for occasional Kinect stumbles to be chalked up to the fact that your movements are, after all, just suggestions to a beast with a mind of its own.

Fablejourneyreviewb300_medium

Fable: The Journey protagonist Gabriel may be a simple traveler, but he's got big dreams. He's constantly chastised for losing himself in the fables of powerful heroes that once saved the land of Albion from extinction. When he's separated from his nomadic people, Gabriel finds himself the unlikely next member of this long-ago severed chain of heroism. He must fight to stop an evil force from consuming the land with only his horse Seren, the seer Theresa (sister of Fable's first protagonist) and the occasional straggler to aid him.

Much of The Journey is presented from the driver's seat of Gabriel's cart as he steers Seren away from treacherous terrain and toward experience orbs that litter the road. From a seated position (there's no standing on this journey) you'll hold virtual reins, pulling left or right to steer Seren. It's a smart layer of abstraction, as it allows for occasional Kinect stumbles to be chalked up to the fact that your movements are, after all, just suggestions to a beast with a mind of its own.


Fablejourneyreviewc1280_medium


THE CENTRAL TEST OF SKILL IN FABLE: THE JOURNEY IS BROKEN

Fablejourneyreviewd300_medium

About half the time, your bolt will not head towards your target. It will, instead, burn up an innocent patch of grass or perhaps a nearby tree. You can leave the game to recalibrate (sorry, it can't be done mid-battle) and that will sometimes help, though the fix is always fleeting. I rarely achieved above 60 or 70 percent accuracy, and it was even worse with my left hand.

As far as I'm concerned, that basic combat failing should be enough to send Lionhead back to the drawing board. The central test of skill in the game is broken. It feels like trying to play a lightgun game while your annoying little brother swats at the barrel with every other shot. It doesn't work.

Most every other application of Kinect in Fable: The Journey works fine. Shaking bolts before launch to set them aflame? Great! Crossing your forearm in front of you to activate your shield? Sure! Washing your horse and speaking to it in a soothing voice to get some easy experience points? Wonderful! But when you're on your 30th attempt at a section of tutorial you can't complete because spells won't go where you want, none of it matters a lick.

On the rare occasions that spells work as intended several times in succession, they're wonderfully empowering. In its final hours, Fable: The Journey reaches a decent climax, helped along by the final spell you obtain, a homing shard that makes aiming problems easier to ignore. The story even has a few emotional beats that work surprisingly well (though the jokes are uniformly lame).

But all of it, every moment, is utterly smothered by the technology used to control it.


Wrap Up:

FABLE: THE JOURNEY FAILS TO PUT THE KINECT TECHNOLOGY TO GOOD USE

Maybe some good will come of this. Maybe, like the cautionary tale of Scrooge's long-dead partner, developers will learn from Lionhead's stumble, accept Kinect's weaknesses and stop trying to manipulate it into mechanics it will never do justice to. Sadly, for Fable: The Journey, that change of heart will be too little, too late.

About Polygon's Reviews
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.
Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_5353_tracker