The more we see Lionhead’s Kinect-controlled, first-person adventure, Fable: The Journey, the more impressed we are with how far the title has come. The integration of motion controls and the switch to the first-person perspective is a sharp contrast from the previous games in the series, and those changes had a lot of Fable fans worried. But after we had a chance to play through the first few hours of the game, it seems those fears may be unwarranted. The characters, environments, and interactivity through the Kinect are all delightfully Fable.
Fable: The Journey is much more cinematic than its predecessors. The game starts with the hero, Gabriel, traveling with his nomadic Dweller tribe when he falls asleep at the reins and gets cut off from the group. He decides to take a different path and comes across the seer Teresa, who is running from a mysterious, evil force called Corruption, and asks Gabriel to take her back to her home to the Dark Spire where she can regain her power. Teresa rides along and guides Gabriel on the path toward becoming a hero and stopping the Corruption--whether he wants to or not.
Playing Fable: The Journey feels like you’re playing an interactive movie. The cutscenes are plentiful and there is constant dialogue between Gabriel and the other characters accompanying him, even during gameplay. As you steer your horse down a road and enjoy the scenery, Theresa often fills you in on the surrounding environment, telling you stories on the history of Albion, and challenges you to enter dangerous areas in search of powerful relics, treasures, or just someone to ask for directions. It’s all surprisingly immersive and informative, but the witty banter and humor also shines through.
A large portion of the game will be spent driving the wagon, which is controlled entirely with your arms. If you pull back with one arm and push forward with the other, you’ll turn. Pulling both hands to your chest slows the horse to a walk and raising your arms up and cracking the reins speeds your horse up to a trot. There’s a short sprint if you crack the reins again. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn, but the driving sequences are still challenging at the same time.
It may sound a bit boring to stare at a horse’s backside for more than a few minutes, but the game keeps the driving sections entertaining. Aside from the companion conversations and beautiful vistas, you’ll also have to pay attention to hazards on the road, or your horse will suffer the consequences. Your horse can take damage from colliding with objects, running over rough road too quickly, or being attacked by enemies. You’ll see your horse’s health meter drop if you make a mistake, but once you stop by one of the many campsites along the road, you’ll truly see repercussions of your carelessness.
Gabriel’s horse is the hero’s main companion and best friend in the game, and is one that you have keep in good health if you want the old girl to perform at peak efficiency. During your travels, you’ll come across rest stops and camps that allow you to check on your horse. If you’ve steered your horse into objects, or happened to come across a hostile group of Hobs during a driving section, you’ll see ugly gashes and even arrows lodged in her side. You’ll have to carefully pull out arrows and use your healing powers to mend the wounds, but if you are careless, your horse will let out heartbreaking cries of pain.
Caring for and healing your horse creates an interesting dynamic. You’ll get experience for cleaning the accumulated mud off your horse, feeding her apples, and pumping water for her to drink while you’re at camp. But since the horse is such an important character in the story and because you interact with her so much, you’ll want to heal her wounds and keep her clean because you’ll feel bad otherwise.
But Fable: The Journey isn’t all about brushing horses and driving wagons--you’ll also shoot magic spells with your own hands. We’re not going to say that it beats the standard Xbox 360 controller just yet, but the way you use your body to cast magic in combat feels completely natural. The action sequences take you through on-rails levels that include dark caves, Balverine-infested forests, and Hob camps. To fight off your enemies, you can shoot an electrifying Bolt spell, manipulate objects and enemies with the Push spell, and block attacks with the deflection spell--all with simple hand gestures that work extremely well. However, surviving battles isn’t about how fast you wave your arms around; each spell can be used in special, creative ways.
Push will latch onto enemies and objects with green tendrils, which you can use to fling your target around the level with a wave of your hand. Bolt can be fired directly at your enemies, or you can shoot the electric ball off to the side, then drag it toward your target. This makes it easy to damage enemies hiding in cover or home in on an explosive barrel--which is extremely satisfying. The real fun comes when you combine the spells to toss an enemy into the air then blast him with your offensive spell, or deflect enemy projectiles back to the source and then finish them off while they’re stunned. It all combines to make you feel like a powerful mage, and it’s a lot of fun as a result.
Fable: The Journey is shaping up to be one of the more promising games to come out for the Kinect. From what we’ve seen so far, this new direction for the series still feels like a Fable game. The story takes some unexpected turns, you actually care about the characters, and the new perspective on the world makes even the familiar sights feel fresh. We’re interested how the adventure turns out when it releases on October 9.