Fable: The Journey Review
Developer: Lionhead Studios / Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Teen [Mild Blood, Mild Language, Violence]
There’s nothing more tragic than wasted potential. It’s absolutely heartrending when you can tell that a game tried everything it possibly could to achieve a vision, only to be stunted by a lack of budget, early release date, or flawed hardware. Fable: The Journey is one of the most tragic games I’ve played. It does nearly everything right, but in the end can’t account for the raw inaccuracy of the Kinect.
The story and characters in Fable: The Journey are almost good enough to warrant playing despite the aggravating Kinect issues (more on that later). From a plot perspective, the game picks up after the events of Fable 3 and provides more insight into The Corruption (that ultimate evil black sludge that popped up halfway through Fable 3). From a plot perspective, The Journey is a great continuation of the larger Fable storyline and even sets up the next step in the series. As someone who’s followed the series from the beginning, I love that Lionhead didn’t treat The Journey as an inconsequential offshoot.
The characters and smaller storylines in The Journey are equally well executed. In typical Fable fashion, the characters come as a mix of idyllic archetypes mixed with terrible dark streaks that give them both storybook charm and believability. My favorites include the tragically endearing Fergus who lost his wife to balverine attacks and eventually redeems himself in a scene that filled my eyes with manly man-tears. There’s also Bob and Finley, two disembodied spirits that guide you through a temple bickering with each other all the while. My time in Albion with The Journey would be an utter delight were it not for all those pesky gameplay problems.
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROL
Though I like to believe in the potential and the promise of the Kinect, The Journey all but proves it’s impossible to develop a Kinect game based on accuracy and responsiveness. There are two main modes of play in The Journey: horse riding and on-foot monster bashing. Horse riding is typically slower-paced, affording you the opportunity to pick up experience orbs and listen to conversations between main protagonist Gabriel and other characters as you meander down the road. It’s not the most stimulating play in the world, but it’s entertaining to watch the countryside roll by and learn more about the world. Control issues aren’t as vexing in this mode either, as the worst that can happen is your horse bonks into a rock or tree.
Monster fighting sends you through caves and temples, slinging different spells by pulling your right or left hand to your shoulder and then extending it outward. A lot of smart ideas went into refining this combat — for instance, shield-sporting enemies must first have their armor pulled off with the “push” spell before you can blast them to death with “bolt.” Throwing spells around and killing enemies with the motion of your arms is genuinely cool… when it works, which is rare. More often than not, all the Kinect headaches apply. It’s inaccurate, unresponsive, and unpredictable. I’d do the exact same motion five times in a row (which I measured by visually lining up my hand with the bezel of my television) and got five different results. If a game behaved this way with a traditional controller, it’d be unforgivably broken, and I can’t hold The Journey to any less of a standard.
I can tell the developers tried everything in their power to compensate for this. There’s a flash on-screen showing exactly where the game registered your spell’s aim, which would theoretically help you fine-tune it, and a generous auto-aim generally helps you hit obvious targets. I especially liked “aftertouch,” which lets you yank spells you’ve already fired back in the direction of monsters if you were off. Regardless, the fundamental input lag and inaccuracy is unavoidable. In the end, you’ll just end up flailing at the television with a very tenuous link to the game’s actions.
I attempted jumping through the game’s numerous hoops to make the Kinect work as well: move your coffee table, sit on the edge of your seat, uncross your legs, make sure your kinect is at eye level. Even then it doesn’t behave as it should, and furthermore technology should not need such coddling.
VISUALS AND SOUND
The Journey’s presentation is solid with a few exceptions. Visually, the game realizes the world of Albion with more personal charm than in other Fable games, though part of that is thanks to playing the game from a first-person perspective. Characters and monsters exude the trademark storybook charm that usually accompanies the Fable series as well. My only complaint is that the frequent videos that punctuate the story are thoroughly compressed, which makes the switch from in-engine to video` visually jarring. Voice work in The Journey is some of gaming’s best, however. Every character absolutely nails their roles, imparting the little notes of charm and humor that only masterful acting can.
I have no vendetta against the Kinect, but after playing games like The Journey I can’t help but be a little bitter. Everything about this game is fantastic except the parts where you have to actually play it. That’s what makes recommending this game really tough. Devout Fable fans will enjoy the check-in with the world as well as promises of what’s to come, and some children may be indiscriminate enough to not care about perfect accuracy in controls. Everyone else should avoid the heartache.
- Kinect controls don’t work
+ Charming story and setting
- Wonderful (but futile) innovations from Lionhead
6 / 10