For two years now, every game that has featured Kinect interaction has caused my heart to sink and my shoulders to sag. I have become a sceptic to the belief that Kinect gaming will revolutionise the games industry as Microsoft promised, and have yet to see any full release title that has been able to make full use of the system. I’m resigned to that fact, and it would take a revolution in gaming, that I do not believe possible, to change my mind.
Since release, few games have graced my console that have made sufficient use of the hardware, and those that have impressed are typically third party arcade titles, such as The Gunstringer and Happy Action Theater. Of late, Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim’s voice controls have given me the most use out of the system, but I cant help feeling that this same techniques could have been implemented on existing headset technology, effectively removing the need to have a Kinect sensor.
That brings my experience with Kinect up to date, and into the realms of the latest retail title to be aimed squarely at Kinect owners, Fable : The Journey.
Fable : The Journey, the swan song of Peter Molyneux’s time with Lionhead Studios, is an off shoot story set in the established world of Albion, 50 years after the events of Fable III. Playing as Gabriel a member of a traveller community seperated from the rest of your tribe, you are thrown headlong into the battle with an malevolent evil known only as The Corruption. During the flight from this horror, you encounter Theresa, the seer prevalent in all of your previous outings in the world of Albion. Seren, your carthorse is injured by the Corruption, and Theresa offers to guide you to a nearby temple, wherein a powerful artifact capable of healing Seren lies dormant.
Finding the temple and retrieving the Gauntlets of Force allows you to heal Seren, but at a cost for you are now tied to the Gauntlets permanently.
The game is broken down into two distinct styles of gameplay, one where you control your wagon with Seren and Theresa and the main sections where you explore the world of Albion on foot.
The wagon sections are relatively simple, and Seren can even be left to her own devices for the main part, only needing your interaction during action sequences. This allows these sections to act as a catalyst for developing the plot, with conversations between Gabriel and Theresa taking place during these intervals. When you do have to interact, the Kinect works reasonably well. Seren has three speeds: trot, canter and sprint. Moving your hands as if to crack the reins will increase Seren’s speed, pulling your hands to your chest will decrease her speed and raising your hands above your head bring you to a full stop. Pushing one arm out in front of the other will move your cart to either the left, or right respectively. Dotted throughout these levels are experience orbs: these can be collected at varying speeds, red for at a sprint, blue for at a trot and green at any pace, and there are also stops that can be explored to reveal chests and collectables.
When there you will be able to utilise the gauntlets powers, with your defensive abilities tied to your left hand and offensive to your right. It is also worth noting, that this game caters to those akward squad members of the community such as myself and the controls are flipped for us lefties if selected. When first gifted with the gauntlets, you have a simple bolt attack, a lasso style tether defensive power which can be used to stun or throw enemies, and finally getting the timing correct and pulling your arm across your chest gives you a reflective shield ability to repel enemy incoming attacks, be they ranged or melee.
As you progress throughout the game, you will unlock two other powers, the devestating fireball and the flexible magic shards which increases the range of your attacks. All of your attacks, quite obviously, are gesture based whether pushing your hand out from your chest for your basic attack, or raising your hand back over your shoulder before “throwing” your magic shard attack.
These sections are fully on rails. Appropriately, a level early on features a rollercoaster-esque mine cart ride which serves as a perfect allogery for the game overall, with your slow steady build up in the plot progressing cart rides, to the hectic and exciting foot battles thereafter.
Fable makes no attempts to pretend it is not a linear game, instead stepping up and making the undeviating nature of the levels as interesting, exciting and varied as possible. This is helped along by the wealth of lore spun into the world, and regardless of the game being recreated in the Unreal 3 engine instead of Lionheads proprietary software, the style and models are instantly recognisable as a fable standard. The dry british humour that is known and loved from the franchise is alive and present in this title.
Much like the previous titles in the franchise, you find yourself once again paired with an animal companion. Unlike the dogs of the previous iterations, your horse Seren has a much larger role in the game itself. Between the main chapters and at rest stops, you are tasked with caring for Seren, be it feeding her apples, grooming her or healing any wounds she has received during your travels. These tasks make up the crux of the interactions at these points and obviously she is instrumental for the riding sections. Regrettably, the bond that was established well between man and dog in two and three, does not transfer so well to man and horse, and the whole process feels a bit flat and lacking of substance.
Once again though, the hardware shows its limitations. The gesture controls work reasonably well, but it seems the longer you play, the more unresponsive the system becomes, requiring you to re-calibrate the targeting system to progress. This is now a regular and unfortunate occurrence with Kinect-centric games. It is a shame really, as the game weaves a competent story in this established universe and ties it together with an interesting set of mechanics.
So, is Fable : The Journey my Great White Whale of Kinect games?
No, it is not. But its the closest anyone has come yet.
What Lionhead studios have achieved, is a game that is not only eminently playable but feels built from the ground up to make the most possible out of the Kinect sensor. If you are a fan of the series or if you happen to own a Kinect, gathering dust like mine once was, then this is a clever little title that will entertain for a good 8 – 12 hours. It will not make the Kinect good value for money, but I think that horse has long since bolted.
Could it have been created as a standard controller game? Yes. But I believe it would have lost some of its soul in the process.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 12/10/2012
Disclosure: DigitalPariah rented a physical copy of Fable: The Journey for review purposes . The title was reviewed over the course of one week on Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.