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Fable the Journey 360 Review - -
Fable the Journey
Reviewed by
Sean Warhurst
Fable the Journey 360 Review. Rising above many of the system’s shortcomings, areas of the game may fall into some of the same traps many developers find themselves in due to the Kinect’s limited capabilities, but when the game works it provides one of the most engaging and immersive titles available, inventively putting the technology to great use.

Gameplay 7.5
Graphics 8.5
Sound 8.5
Value 7.0
Distributor: Microsoft
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Rating: M15+
Review Date: Nov 2012
Sean Warhurst


Fable the Journey

Notorious for making grand promises that they fail to keep, the latest offering from Lionhead studios is Fable: The Journey, a game that promises to revolutionise gaming for the Kinect by offering up an experience that isn’t either a dancing game or substandard shovel ware. So, does this return to the world of Albion finally reach the lofty goals of the developer or is their ambition still being hamstrung by technological constraints?

Slotting into continuity 50 years after ‘Fable 3’, Fable: The Journey features Gabriel, your archetypical clumsy no-hoper and a member of the nomadic Dweller tribe. Hopelessly separated from his group by a freak accident, Gabriel finds himself tasked with saving the world after running into series regular Theresa and acquiring a set of magic gauntlets.

It turns out Theresa is being pursued by a malevolent corruption that scorches all that falls before it. After an extremely close getaway, Gabriel’s trusty steed Seren is critically injured. Hastily making a deal to assist Theresa in her fight against The Corruption in exchange for Seren’s life, Gabriel is thrust headfirst into the tried and true RPG role of saviour of the world. This story set-up is standard fare for the series and works equally as well as previous entries.

Much has been made of your relationship with your horse in this game and you’ll find that for the first half an hour you’ll feel like you’ve popped in the wrong disc and are playing ‘HorseSim 3000’. A large chunk of the introductory missions revolve around learning to steer your cart, grooming, healing and feeding apples to Seren.

Gabriel has been riding Seren since he was a small child and that bond is conveyed through your interactions with her. Quieter moments allow you to delicately brush the mud from her glistening chestnut haunches or remove an errant arrow and gently heal the wound with the power of your gauntlets. The Fable series has always focused on the player creating a strong rapport with your AI animal companion and The Journey is no different, leaving one of the biggest impacts of the entire experience.

After being instructed to pull up a comfy chair, you start the game with a lengthy introduction to horse riding. To control your cart, you basically act as if you have a real set of reigns in your hands. To set your horse off at a slow trot you simply hold your arms out and crack your imaginary reigns. Cracking the reigns again makes Seren go faster, while bringing your arms up to your chest slows her down by pulling the reigns in.

Steering takes a little bit of getting used to; To go left you pull your left arm in whilst extending your right and vice versa. It sounds easy but feels a little off to begin with, although you can rest your arms when not steering if you get too stiff. These sections, coupled with the areas where you tend to your horse, are handled extremely well. They feel intuitive and, whilst not the most exciting areas of the game, the responsiveness and accuracy of the Kinect is of an exceptional standard and is one of the better uses of the much maligned motion sensing peripheral.

Once you’ve ran into Theresa you’re introduced to the other main game-play component of the game – Despite Lionhead’s protests that it definitely isn’t an “On-the-Rails” experience, at the end of the day Gabriel is automatically moved from area to area whilst flinging spells at oncoming enemies. Replace the spells with a gun and you’ve got Time Crisis. Sorry Lionhead, but The Journey is a standard example of an “On-Rail” Shooter, albeit one with a charming artistic style not usually associated with the genre.

Moving away from the trio of Might, Skill and Will in the previous entries combat is solely magic based. Equipping your gauntlets with a spell each, you lift your hand up and thrust it out towards the screen from the shoulder as if you were throwing a real fireball; with multiple upgrades and a useful feature called Aftertouch where you can manipulate the course of a spell after it’s been fired, when the tracking works you effectively feel like you’re a super-powered magic machine right in the thick of the action.

Unfortunately the Kinect registering your movements accurately becomes a real problem. These sections of the game are some of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had, constantly trying to shoot a lightning bolt at an oncoming Goblin and helplessly watching it continually hit a pillar on the upper left corner of the screen.

Situations such as this occur all too frequently and really dampen your experience, especially during sections of the game that ask you to aim and hit specific targets; you end up frantically pumping your open palms at the screen, relying on luck to get you through the area before you lose your patience and chuck  ‘Portal 2’ back in. Blocking attacks also turns into a game of chance, with a 50/50 success ratio of the Kinect reading your movements. If it wasn’t for the presence of Aftertouch, the lousy tracking would have turned me off the game within the hour.

The range of motions required to perform actions are inventive and varied, with a large range of mini-games taking advantage of the Kinect’s capabilities in order to replicate real world actions, such as turning a waterwheel or hoisting open a treasure chest. Boss Battles are fun, with most requiring a deft hand as you juggle through multiple spells in order to expose and then strike the prerequisite weak spot.

The story also holds up rather well; despite initially appearing to be a watered down regurgitation of previous plots, The Journey’s streamlined narrative is even more engaging than that of its predecessors, never falling into that trap of becoming overly complicated due to trying to squeeze in too much. The characterisation is strong and the tangible bond the game manages to build between Gabriel and Seren (And by proxy yourself and Seren) is an achievement in of itself, creating the best video game horse I’ve encountered since Agro from ‘Shadow of the Colossus’. If you need to take a break from the main action, there’s also a series of side-quests available. 


Unlike earlier entries, Fable: The Journey was developed using Unreal Engine 3; the power of this engine married to Fable’s affably British visual style makes for some eye candy indeed, clearly demonstrating that, unlike a lot of other Kinect Games, Lionhead has really taken great care to try and ensure that this is a top tier release for the peripheral.

The bright, cartoony visuals are impeccably rendered and minor details such as the gleam of the individual hairs of Seren’s mane are breathtaking. The environment, while a little bland at time, is lovingly rendered to represent the familiar locales of Albion; if you have a ‘Fable 3’ save-file, environmental changes made  by your character carry across to The Journey, ensuring that this world is still your Albion. The artistic direction is quite refreshing and, while not as stunningly realistic as the ‘Gears of War’ series, serves to prove the versatility of the Unreal Engine 3.

Audio quality is also above par, with the distant trill of birds, the clip-clop of Seren’s hooves as they pound the cracked clay road underfoot and the scintillating crackle of residual electricity seconds after you’ve let fly with a spell at a marauding Hobbe all sounding so precise you’d swear you were in Albion yourself. The music is your expected sweeping, orchestral chord drenched RPG soundtrack. Whilst effectively evoking the mood of the world, nothing really sticks in the mind once the console is turned off. The Voice acting is also of a high calibre, with Pythonesque accents and witticisms delivered perfectly.

Final Level

Retaining the charismatic humour and visual style of the RPG’s, Fable: The Journey shouldn’t be classified as a spin off; resting quite comfortably in the Fable canon, “On-Rails Horse-Em-Up” The Journey is a worthy addition to the series.

As “Scream-At-The-TV-And-Then-Curl-Up-In-The-Foetal-Position-Sobbing-Uncontrollably” infuriating as the game can be at times, especially when trying to interact with environmental puzzles with some degree of accuracy, Fable: The Journey is a rewarding experience and is easily the most ambitious game I’ve played on the Kinect so far. Rising above many of the system’s shortcomings, areas of the game may fall into some of the same traps many developers find themselves in due to the Kinect’s limited capabilities, but when the game works it provides one of the most engaging and immersive titles available, inventively putting the technology to great use.

It’s just a damn shame about that irritatingly inaccurate precision tracking.


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