Fable is one of the larger modern gaming franchises, and gamers have grown very fond of the mystical land of Albion since their first adventure there some eight years ago. The merging of a great franchise like Fable, with the stunning and yet equally frustrating technology that is the Kinect, is interesting to behold. Lionhead Studios have tried to bring a nigh-on fully featured role playing game to the Kinect, rather than the usual short mini-game style that many other titles have adopted.
In Fable: The Journey, you take on the role of Gabriel: a normal, and rather weedy human as he journeys across Albion with his caravan and leads his nomadic life. Gabriel’s world is soon tipped upside down, however, by a dark force that is afflicting Albion. With the help of Theresa, the seer, he ultimately, and somewhat unwillingly, is forced to take on the role of hero. We’ve seen this sort of setup before, of course, and it is the typical Fable experience. It nevertheless works well here and helps draw you into the world of Albion.
The story is dramatic and enthralling, particularly for gamers familiar with the world of Fable. The countryside is immediately recognisable, despite 50 in-game years passing since Fable III. The characteristic animation style is present here, despite the fact that the camera is now first person (rather than the usual third person).
Graphically, it’s quite amazing to look at. The lush forests, craggy mountains, and fixtures like the spire all look fantastic. It is easily the best looking Fable title to date, and the developers have done an impressive job. One scene in particular has you racing through a mine shaft in a minecart, which is just awesome.
Your horse, Serin, is your only means of travel across the landscape, and it also takes the place of the dog from Fable III. Lionhead clearly emphasises the bond which Gabriel has with his trusty steed, as you have to heal and brush your horse throughout the game, or sooth it with your voice.
Because the game is based around Microsoft's controller-less Kinect technology, much of the gameplay centres around in-game cutscenes, which in turn connect the various gameplay elements. Don’t expect to be walking around on your own; instead, prepare to be carried through the story and your journey in more of a linear narrative style.
The Kinect controls are at times brilliant, and at other times very hit and miss. Fortunately, you don't have to spend the entire time standing; Fable: The Journey is best played entirely from the seated position. But - and this is where my biggest gripe about the Kinect comes in - you need a nigh-on purpose built lounge or furniture to really get the ultimate experience. A chair which is too deep or has sides that are too high will cause problems. I struggled to get the light levels in my lounge to remain optimal, and my experience alternated throughout a play session as a result.
Nonetheless, it is an awesome feeling to sit in your wagon and spur your trusty steed onward with a flick of the reins and steer (for the most part accurately) with a tug on the left or right. Magic is also great fun, when it targets properly; a high level of accuracy is at times required to target certain enemies. The Kinect allows you to cast push spells with one hand, and attack spells with the other. The attack spells can also be swiped, allowing you to shoot them around obstacles and the like.
The game includes a calibration minigame which allows you to fine tune the setup. I found that, at times, the same movement wouldn’t produce the same result, and - as mentioned earlier - my play experience would vary throughout a session. If you have your Kinect setup perfectly, you may have a different experience, but it’s so difficult to discern what a perfect Kinect setup really is.
Overall, for Fable fans, the story alone is worth the purchase, and Fable: The Journey is easily the most extensive Kinect title to date. But it is a very different experience to the usual RPG, and while the Kinect does a good job, it's not spectacular, and you may have to be prepared to fiddle around with your living room setup and lighting to get the best out of it (which is pretty much normal for any Kinect title).
Quite frankly, Albion really needs to be seen from the first person perspective; it's satisfying indeed. And, let's face it: casting spells with nothing but your hands is pretty awesome.