Since the launch of Fable in 2004, I have been a fan of each new entry in the series. I stuck by the first game unaware of Peter Molyneux’s lofty promises. I enjoyed the second game even if it meant sacrificing my dog for a new mansion. And, even though the third game changed directions rapidly halfway through the game, I enjoyed Fable III all the same. However, with Molyneux now having left the company, a new Fable has arrived that will test the most ardent fan’s commitment to the series. Yes folks, it’s true, Fable has arrived on Kinect.
Fable: The Journey is a follow-up to Fable III and takes place 50 years later. The primary focus is a hapless kid named Gabriel who randomly gets asked to be the next hero. Much of his time is spent speaking with Theresa while she reveals the passing tales of the previous games. For those of you that may have missed the first game, Fable: The Journey provides adequate Cliffs Notes to the legend of Fable.
While Fable: The Journey is a legitimate sequel in the series (unlike the forgettable Fable Heroes), it brings some new iterations into play that might turn off some previous fans. First off, being a Kinect title, this game abandons controllers completely for better or worse. Fans of the simplistic but customizable combat from the previous games are left in the cold. Instead, players will now have to use their hands, voices, and elbows to get the job done. Unfortunately, the controls just aren’t responsive enough to make this transition worthwhile.
Much has been said about the growth of motion gameplay and Fable: The Journey might be the riskiest attempt to transition a mainstream title to the Kinect. The main problem with the gameplay is the Kinect’s inability to be precise. When in combat or when driving a horse-drawn carriage, Fable: The Journey attempts to provide players with cool gameplay experiences. However, too often the Kinect cannot pinpoint exact targets. Too often the reins require precise motions that the system can not recognize. It’s a damned shame, because the ideas Lionshead Studio were playing with are interesting but the execution just isn't exact enough.
Although the motion controls were consistently faulty, one of the more interesting safety nets was Fable’s willingness to allow players to fail. Even since the first game, the developers don’t really punish the player for lack of skill, practice, or precision. In Fable: The Journey, even though the Kinect wasn’t providing me with 60% accuracy in my attacks, I wasn’t exactly dying every two minutes or so. There’s a friendly cushion that the developers included that almost says, “Hey look, we know the controls suck. We’ll let you live as long as it takes for you to finish the story.”
And, fortunately, that was really where I found my enjoyment of this game: the story. Despite having played through all three games from start to finish, I found the revisit down memory lane to be quite entertaining. The character of Gabriel starts out a bit annoying but eventually delivers an entertainingly enriching performance. Like the previous entries in the series, Fable: The Journey thrives in the realm of dramatic storytelling while allowing for bouts of raucous humor. The best of the series should be considered alongside Monty Python and this sequel definitely has it’s share of moments (in particular, I enjoyed the mission involving Bob and Finley). It’s no Monty Python, but it’s better than 90% of the other games out there.
For me, that’s really all that I needed from this game. While I was deeply disappointed by the Kinect’s lack of precision controls, I enjoyed the story enough to make the game worth recommending. It’s really a shame the Kinect is not capable of handling a complex action game like Fable. The system would have so much more potential if it could produce realistic hardcore titles rather than simplistic motion games like Fruit Ninja. In the end, Fable: The Journey is a well-meaning game that struggles mightily with controls but doesn’t punish the player too hard for it’s own failings.
CraveOnline received one review copy of Fable: The Journey, courtesy of Microsoft. We played the game to completion before starting this review.