Review - Fable: The Journey


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  • Fable: The Journey
  • Fable: The Journey
  • Fable: The Journey

On the rails and Kinect-ed but is it any good?
Lionhead Studios
Release Date:
XBox 360
Age Rating:
Lionhead Studios goes back to the Fable universe in their latest adventure but things are a little bit different this time around.

Fable: The Journey tells a story set 50 years after the events of Fable III, when the land of Albion has mostly forgotten the magical powers and heroic actions which characterised the earlier age. You’ll play a fellow called Gabriel who is living a normal life as the driver of a caravan before he gets pulled into an adventure by the blind seer Theresa, who will be familiar to fans of the series.

It’s hardly an unusual set up for the franchise but The Journey veers away from the established rules of its forebears in almost every way.

Firstly there are the graphics – powered by the Unreal 3 engine this is certainly a more attractive Albion than we’re used to seeing, with plenty of variety in the landscapes and locales and some solid lighting work. Another change in the move to the first person perspective, letting the action unfold like that of an FPS.

But the biggest difference for anyone who has delved deep into this world before is the fact that The Journey unfolds as an utterly on the rails experience. That’s right, beyond some basic branching paths and the ability to sometimes sidle left or right, this is a unremittingly linear experience.

It’s a strange decision for a series which has always prided itself on presenting a huge open world to explore as you will, as well as a character to shape as you please. Gabriel is formed from the start and is much more talkative than your usual hero and while you’ll be able to upgrade certain abilities it all functions at a fairly basic level.

Of course there’s a reason for all of this – The Journey is a Kinect title, designed to showcase the potential of Microsoft’s hands free box. It’s has also been touted as one of the first games to use the magical controller which will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers alike.

Focussing on the good points for a moment – it has to be said that some of the mechanics work. The entire game is spent either navigating with your horse Seren or on foot and Lionhead has worked to keep things as simple as possible. So you’ll crack invisible reins to ride faster and lean to steer. Once you acquire the requisite magical gauntlets, you’ll find different spells bound to each hand – offensive on the right, defensive on the left.

The movements required for these skills are clean and distinct, meaning that the Kinect camera has a better chance of actually doing what you want it to do – at least compared to the first generation of motion enabled games. The levels generally favour horse based sections to begin with, opening out to more magic spiced perambulations as the story continues.

That narrative bears some resemblance to what we’ve seen in the series before, particularly in the broad humour and even broader characters which you’ll meet and the foreboding messages from the even surly Theresa. Gabriel is essentially tricked into being bound to the gauntlets so that he can heal his horse and further manipulated into helping the blind old bat to destroy a terrible evil known as the Corruption. He’s far from heroic, and generally moans a lot.

That whiny lead character is just the first of many problems you’ll find during your time with The Journey, many of which stem from fundamental and inescapable mechanics. In the main, I couldn’t help but be irked by the fact that I was playing an on the rails shooter in 2012 – one in which large sections of the game can be played with no interaction. And it’s not even particularly attractive; there’s no reason for these hills and dales to not be strikingly beautiful but the ageing engine, which dates from 2006, just isn’t up to it.

It would all be considerably more forgivable if the experience wasn’t plagued by the same issues which have overshadowed every Kinect title to date – inconsistent inputs. When you flail your right arm out, there’s a very good chance that you will produce a bolt (or shard or fireball) but that’s no guarantee you’ll hit something. You see The Journey also wants you to aim your attacks, something which claims to be incredibly precise but is next to impossible to co-ordinate.

The magic casting sections quickly devolve into making scattershot semaphore and hoping for the best, or relying on your tether and throw move (which can be spammed indefinitely) to cause chaos in the ranks of your enemies. In truth, there is some fun to be had from exploding barrels and ripping foes apart but you often get the impression that the game is just playing itself, deciding on its own how to interpret your spasms.

Much of the rest of the game concerns your horse, either directing it or caring for you. The carriage controls are a mixture of good and awkward – cracking the reins feels just right but turning can be unresponsive, an issue exacerbated by the often winding trails you’ll find yourself on. Rest stops give you the chance for a breather, where you can clean your horses coat, give her an apple and get her some water. You can even make soothing noises through the microphone to calm her. Yes all of these things happen and yes this is the game Lionhead thought would appeal to hardcore gamers.

Outside of the main campaign, which takes a long while (about 7-8 hours) to tell a fairly slight story, there’s an arcade mode which lets you replay areas from the story mode for points and profit. Actually just the first one. And that’s your lot.

Fable The Journey is a strange product. There are some charming moments here, with some discrete moments of enjoyable art and design and a sweetness to the relationship between Gabriel and his equine pal. And the game proves that Kinect integration has come a long way since it debuted almost two years ago. But as a gameplay experience its hopeless basic and repetitive, with frustrating mechanics which can turn the simplest levels into fit-inducing exercises in rage.

For Fable completists only.

6 Stars
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