Review: Fable: The Journey is a surprisingly good Kinect effort, despite a few issues
The Fable series has been in need for a good game again. Granted, Fable III was very good at what it set out to do, but then Lionhead Studios thought that a multiplayer beat-em-up, Fable Heroes, would be an ideal entry while we waited for the next chapter. Needless to say, it wasn't. But now Fable: The Journey has arrived, exclusively for use with the Xbox 360's Kinect device, and while the use of motion gaming may be questionable for a series such as this (what's next, Halo mini-games?), Lionhead at the very least makes it serviceable – which is more than we can say for a bunch of Kinect stuff these days.
The game takes place years after Fable III. After that hero's disappearance, Albion has fallen into ruin, and long-time series character Theresa is on the run from a monstrous beast. Enter Gabriel, a somewhat unexpected hero, who picks her up with the help of his horse Seren and a carriage, keeping her from harm. From there, he becomes part of the adventure, heading into new areas and defeating enemies with magic, while Theresa opens up more about the legacy of Albion.
I like the fact that Lionhead tried to make Fable: The Journey tie into the series, rather than just making it an off-shoot. Fans will find several of their questions answered here, as well as the emergence of some familiar characters. The good/evil decision aspect is gone, probably because that would've been too much for Kinect players to bear, but at least the story remains faithful, and is worth following – particularly during the lulls.
And boy, are there lulls. Throughout most of the game, you do nothing more than ride around in areas, guiding Seren around rocks and other objects that could damage your carriage, as well as collecting powerful magic orbs. Once or twice, we could see this mini-game working. But you're doing this for a majority of the game, and it gets tiring.
Now, when the action sequences, along the lines of an on-rail shooter, kick in, Fable: The Journey picks up in fun. While the controls don't work 100 percent of the time (mainly with more complex spells), it is enjoyable waving an enemy off with a stun attack, then leveling it with a thunderous magic attack. Granted, your motions don't get really complex here, but when they work, you feel like a magician in control of his or her destiny. Can't go wrong with that.
Another thing – while there is no way to control your good or evil nature, you do have opportunities to bond better with your horse. Treating it as a beloved pet or punishing it for not getting you somewhere quick enough has an effect either way, and though sometimes its behavior can be erratic (quit hitting rocks, you stupid nag!), this is a fine aspect to the game, and one that'll reward you if you treat Seren with respect.
For a Kinect game, Fable: The Journey has some splendid graphics. While the first-person perspective takes some getting used to, the lighting effects and environments really bring something spectacular to the picture. The characters look great as well, including the numerous beasts that get in your way, such as large Corruption-powered behemoths that take more than a stun attack to bring down. If you're looking for a visual treat for your Kinect, this is likely the place.
The audio can be off and on, however. On the one hand, the music is fantastic, and Theresa's voice actress is on her game, delivering a shrewd yet determined nature behind the old character. On the other, your character sounds like a douche bag, like Anakin Skywalker in his whiny kid days. Yes, that annoying. The other sound effects are good, especially when you unleash some powerful attacks. SHOOM!
Fable: The Journey could've benefitted from better pacing (READ: less horse carriage sequences) and less iffy hit detection. But as it stands, it's a surprisingly good Kinect effort. Not great, mind you, but it's definitely a far cry from the groan-inducing demo we saw years ago at E3. Lionhead has made something that sticks here, and it's sure to keep you busy until Fable IV rolls around, whenever that is. Next gen, perhaps?
Just remember, Lionhead, no horse carriage sequences.