Review: Fable: The Journey

What better way to reinvent a gaming franchise than taking away the controller? It’s a risky proposition to turn one of the most successful Xbox franchises into a Kinect-only title, but that’s exactly what’s been done with Fable. Instead of producing a family-friendly mini-game based game, however, Lionhead Studios have created a full-blown adventure that manages to rival the main canon in scope. Not only is Fable: The Journey an evolution of the series, but a crucial experiment to see if Kinect can manage to produce a story-driven experience with nothing but the player’s body.

The Journey takes place fifty years after the events of Fable III. Players take on the role of Gabriel, a dweller who is living a happy, but simple life with his tribe in Albion. After a sudden lightning storm, Gabriel is separated from his caravan and forced to find an alternate route to reunite with them. Soon after, our hero is caught up in the attack of an earth-shattering force known as The Corruption. Narrowly escaping the spreading darkness, Gabriel meets the mysterious Theresa. The last of the hero bloodline, she’s tasked with protecting the world from evil that threatens it. Gabriel must help restore her power by taking her to the Tattered Spire. To assist in this quest, spell-casting bracelets are harnessed to protect them from the evils of Albion.

Colorful characters are encountered along the way that assist in your travels. These characters range from mildly amusing to surprisingly developed. One of the most emotional relationships in the game is with your horse Seren. As she’s with you every step of the way, willing to march into danger at your command, a surprising bond is quickly formed. Camps are periodically reached where, among other things, Seren can be feed, healed and cleaned. Touches like these really go along way to ensure she’s not rendered a lifeless form of transportation.

While creating a sprawling adventure controlled only by body movements may seem impossible, the world has been carefully sculpted around the concept. Nearly the entire game is on-rails, with player-controlled progress limited to traveling via horse and carriage. Movement of Seren is controlled by grabbing onto the reins. Once holding on, jerking both hands up in a cracking motion makes the horse go faster, while pulling your hands up towards your body stops her. To move left or right, you pull the hand of the intended direction towards you while extending the opposite arm. Intensity is based on how fast and dramatic the gestures are. Instead of simply darting to the next area, however, players must pay attention to not run into obstacles while scoping out any side-areas, where treasure chests or revealing NPCs can be found.

Movement off the horse, such as in a dungeon or mine, occurs with no player input, putting focus solely on clearing away baddies. Combat is handled via two main powers controlled by each hand. The right hand casts a damage-dealing attack spell, while the left hand can push enemies back or fling environmental objects at them. To execute either attack, you simply aim at the intended target and push your lower arm away from your upper arm with the palm facing out. While it’s a simple combat system, it truly feels that you are the one casting the spells — always a victory for motion-based titles. Common variances like needing the left hand to pull the armor off of an enemy, while dealing damage with the right prevents gameplay from seeming stale.

Besides combat and travel, there are plenty of other motion-based opportunities throughout Albion. Activities like corralling chickens, lighting lanterns and moving obstacles may seem mundane, but serve to enrich the experience, making sure there’s always a fresh task to keep players interested. Most of these secondary actions have their own unique movements to avoid redundancies. Not content to let your arms have all the fun, there will be times where multiple paths can be selected from by bending your torso left or right. With all the different movements, it’s clear Lionhead was content on utilizing the full potential of motion-control.

As is common with Kinect, enjoyment of the title will largely be based on how accurate your set-up is. I played the game with a 42” TV in moderate lighting conditions and adequate space around me. Some will experience the game in better conditions, but I prefer to review Kinect releases with what I feel is a realistic representation of most gamer’s arrangements. To calibrate, there’s a special tool that has you cast spells at stationary enemies. It seems easy enough, but after using the new settings, attacks were going all over the place. It took about four calibrations to get it as accurate as possible. Once calibration is correct, there is a learning curve to get spells accurately cast. To really nail it, your arm must be fully retracted before extending, with the palm facing up at all times. It sounds simple, but remembering to keep correct form during the heat of battle can be tricky.

Closing Comments:

With a sprawling, graphically intense world part of a near fifteen-hour campaign, Fable: The Journey breaks any conceptions of what a Kinect title can be. It’s not demo material or a novelty release, but an uncompromising adventure game that weaves an engrossing story while utilizing the full potential of motion control. It doesn’t always work flawlessly, but the sheer ambition alone makes it a must-own for Fable and Kinect fans alike.

Platform: Xbox 360