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PREVIEW

FABLE: THE JOURNEY

In front of the clean polished 55-inch HDTV stands a simple, black-covered wooden chair.

It's from here we'll be horse-riding. Here we'll be casting spells. From here, we'll be exploring a whole new world. Because, as Gary Carr, executive producer at Lionhead, tells us with a grin, we will be demoing the game for the developer.

The chair represents the concept of Fable: The Journey. Not for a second we will have to leave the sofa, because it is the first Kinect game we can play completely seated. That's a big relief: with an adventure offering several hours of play time, standing the whole way through doesn't appeal. In raising the bar, Lionhead has given itself a challenge, summed up by Carr: "If the players reclaim their controller, then I have failed."

Fable: The Journey will tell a great adventure strongly focusing on the story. First, we assumed that this was probably only because there are no better ways of doing it with Kinect. But that's not true. It's just different.

Kinect had forced the studio to rethink radically, Gary explains. One has to think differently to craft a great Kinect game, to create a strong experience.

Fable: The Journey
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Our hero is Gabriel, a 18-year-old nobody. His horse is injured and he meets the mysterious Theresa, who promises him magical powers to cure it. Of course, her reasons are not entirely altruistic. Theresa herself is sick and needs to find a way to The Spire to heal herself. It will be Gabriel who will lead them there.

Before us lies an on-rails adventure. That's not insult, but a way of describing the paths we'll follow as we track across greater Albion
Of course, no controller means some things can not be implemented, that which we are accustomed to from third person shooters or action adventures.

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So the journey will be rather linear. We either sit on the coach and ride with alternating crews on board, battle creatures in fight sequences (sometimes off our steed, sometimes on), or look after our four-legged companion.

Horse-riding is conducted in first-person view with our hands on left and right reins. we crack the reins to get the horse moving. A harder whip will increase your speed, and if you pull back on the reins, the horse stops. Head movements are captured via head-tracking, letting you look side to side.

Fable: The Journey

Then comes a cutscene. Two dwarfs with funny shaped bushes on their heads attack, and a moment later two arrows are stuck in the flank of the horse. Injured, we push the horse as carefully as we can to escape the danger and pull in at a cabin. Time for a pit stop.

At a hut we dismount and must remove the arrows from the horse with intuitive hand gestures (we're told we push the arrows further in, if we're cruelly-inclinded), then pat the wounds with hands casting healing spells. Heal too much and you'll cause scars to form. The whole experience feels somehow familiar.

During the twelve to sixteen hour adventure the figure and the personality of the horse and the hero will change, as common in the Fable series. If you whipped up the horse too hard nasty welts appear after time. Those who do not heal or do not care for the horse enough, loses it's confidence. The horse is almost the antithesis to the dog from Fable 3. It's important. The relationship contains a lot of elements from Milo, the boy from the early Kinect demo of Lionhead.

Milo and the associated engine technology defines some of the horse's reactions, and your interactions with it. You can feed it fruit, and talking continually to it will have it learning word and action association - soon simple vocal commands will have it speed up or slow down.

Fable: The Journey

Travelling through the adventure takes place on the coach. Thus during our journey we can sometimes turn left or right on branching paths, and in that way enjoy some freedom.

But creative director Gary Carr defines "freedom" differently in the context of Fable: The Journey. He freed the gamer from the game controller. The new Fable adventure you will be able to play exclusively with Kinect. Necessary, Carr argues, because the mechanics are only possible with the technology.

The battles in Fable: The Journey are strongly focused on magic and spells, and usually take place in a designated locked area.

We have killed wasps with lightning bolts and fireballs, and dwarves und trolls. There are also flying dragons to fight. For the lightning you just have to lift your right arm and wave your hand forward. For fireballs, holding your hand back before casting strengthens the spell.

In a later sequence, we also have to steer with the left hand a tentacle-like ball. With its tentacles we can grab opponents and hurl through the air, then shoot them dual wielding style. And we have to vary our attacks, because the opponents learn quickly and react if we keep doing the same moves.

Fable: The Journey

The motion control works well, without noticeable delay. But I notice that the sensor is not calibrated for me and my range of motion. Time and again shots land next to the target, and I couldn't influence the fireball's trajectory, which will allow you to send a ball out then bring it back to kill a opponent from behind.

Should we improve over the course of the game we'll learn a whole bunch of different spells, and naturally Gabriel and his horse can be levelled up, and there are treasures to discover as well.

The graphics look lovely, courtesy of the Unreal Engine they use. The horse especially offers authentic fur and movements. The trolls and dwarves, or giant human trees are detailed and animate nicely. The environments looks more magical than ever, bathed in strong daytime sunlight and moody, enchanting evenings. The noticeably weaker third Fable doesn't even compare.

Fable: The Journey

A conclusion is hard to make from just a few short excerpts. Fable: The Journey is certainly the most interesting Kinect title by far. It is a game that is really treading new ground, and I look forward to playing more.

Lionhead is the perfect studio for a slightly insane task like this. Fans and hardcore gamers will probably have to get used to the concept at first, but that's expected when trying new stuff.

Carr, a developer in the game for twenty-seven years now, sums it up best. "I've started with the keyboard. It was easy to transfer to the joystick. But then we got this mouse and I thought: 'Ugh, what's that, that‘s disgusting, I don't want use it'". The rest is history.

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