A boy and his horse.
Fable: The Journey by Lionhead Studios takes us on an epic on rails first person adventure using Kinect for Xbox 360, in the fifth title of the Fable series. Lionhead Studios have taken an exciting and charming story and created a totally new experience for the gamer by using the Kinect controller. Fable: The Journey follows the protagonist dweller Gabriel and his trusty sidekick mare Seren as they adventure over the vast lands of Albion, where a solid and caring relationship forms between the two.
While most Kinect games involve you jumping around left, right and centre, Fable: The Journey can be played sitting down throughout the storyline, during which time you’ll only need to be able to move your arms around freely, without fear of clubbing anyone around the head. This actively removes many of the space problems that come with using the full body controller.
The classic Fable beauty, humour and immersing storyline that we’ve come to know and love over the years returns in Fable: The Journey and is captured very well as you take your first ride with your companion Seren, leading you into the story.
The game mixes up a good balance of on rails experiences from a first person view, such as Gabriel holding the reigns to navigate Seren through various paths by using both hands to steer and whip the reigns to adjust the speed. The lowest speed, a simple trot, will allow Seren to move quite comfortably through the world of Albion, even the harsher terrain which will damage Seren if it is moved over any quicker. Whipping the reigns will speed Seren up and doing so once again will give Seren a limited burst of speed. Maintaining this speed for too long will result in injury, but a handy meter will show you how much Seren still has to give. Slowing down is simply achieved by pulling sharply up on the reigns.
As you progress through the game, Seren will become injured and you will be required to carefully remove arrows and other sharp objects from your long suffering four legged companion. These procedures involve using your hand to gently grasp the object and slowly prize it out without causing your horse too much discomfort. After all, Seren will accompany you through your journey and no-one wants a horse with a long face.
Various rests points are located within the game, where you and Seren can take refuge away from the perils of Albion and have a much deserved break. Within these rest points, it’s a good time to engage with your horse and give him some love and attention. During this break, you can wander around the paddock environment seeing to his needs. Moving your shoulders left and right as indicated by on screen arrows, you can move around each section and interact, such as feeding Seren with a nibble of an apple or filling up a nearby trough with water. Feeding Seren involves reaching up into the overhanging branches of a tree with your hand, picking an apple, and carefully guiding it to Seren’s mouth for him to devour. I thought this was a really nice experience, trying to make a connection between the player and the horse through personal interaction. Seren will need his coat cleaned and brushed to keep him in tip top horsey condition and give him an overall boost in happiness and stamina. Guiding your hands across his back, you can brush his hair back and forth to clean it.
Gabriel rides Seren through various beautiful and scenic environments of Albion, following paths that may lead you to discover rockmite spiders dangling from deep caverns ready to fall on you, or hobbes running out from nearby villages waiting to attack. Early in the game Gabriel is given some magical gauntlets that grant him spell casting abilities, which are performed by using various arm gestures.
Using your left arm, Gabriel can utilize a push and pull action that allows him to grab nearby enemies and catapult them from their environment or fling them in a certain direction. The spell can also be used to interact with the environment, for opening doors and such. By moving the right arm in a thrust like action, you can instantly fire an energy bolt at oncoming enemies, and also aim at switches to gain access to various areas of the game. At times you may need to use a fire-bolt spell to ignite torches or simply blast enemies. This spell requires charging and can be quite difficult to cast successfully, so a certain amount of patience and persistence will be needed.
Other interactions as you continue your journey into deep caverns may include using both hands in a pedal action to operate lifts and move to higher levels. The enemies that you encounter will be familiar to Fable players, from the Hobbes and Rockmites, to the Balverines that stalk your every movement. The boss battles that you come across are involving and will see you facing some pretty epic monsters.
While Fable: The Journey scores high in charm, creativity and the beautiful storyline, it does however fall prey to the annoying kinect controls that made it difficul to carry on at times. I was intrigued and swept away by the story and how you could so easily engage with the environment, but the kinect didn’t respond very well to commands and quite frequently caused frustration. Many times the kinect seemed to have a mind of its own, jumping from target to target. Locking onto objects in the environment became annoying as I continued to wave my arms about frantically in an effort to prize open a set of doors or trigger a switch. Kinect’s unreliable controls filled the whole experience with frustration, even though the story urged me onwards. Combat sequences felt flighty as, even though there is the opportunity to counter attack by holding your left arm up to your body, it frequently became unresponsive.
The sad fact about Fable: The Journey is the that it could have been something truly magical in the Fable series. But the control inconsistencies really let it down. Visually, the game looks really stunning and the emotional attachment between Gabriel and Seren is charming. I would have preferred to see less on rails action and more sequences with exploration. But if you can manage to put aside the technical difficulties, the incredibly enjoyable storyline makes it worth taking this journey with Gabriel and Seren.