Fable: The Journey review: a bumpy road
Despite its charms, Fable: The Journey is crushed under the weight of unresponsive Kinect controls.
|Publisher Microsoft Studios|
|Developer Lionhead Studios|
|Release Date Oct 9, 2012|
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.
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.
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.
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
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