While Kinect enjoys an abundance of dance and fitness games, there aren’t too many games that rival the deep single player experiences associated with a controller. Fable is one of those series, and developer Lionhead has attempted to cross over with the Kinect-only Fable: The Journey. The game carries over the Fable brand of humor, but inconsistent controls and lots of repetition make this a journey that’s not worth taking.
The game centers on Gabriel, a young man with a reputation for being irresponsible. After being separated from his traveling caravan, Gabriel must take his horse, Seren, and travel alone in an attempt to reunite with his people. Along the way, Seren is injured by a dark force sweeping over the land, and Gabriel must acquire a pair of magic gauntlets in order to save her. The gauntlets grant him powers, but come with a price – he is now the only one capable of saving the land from the Destroyer.
The game’s title is accurate, as about half is spent on the horse, traveling across the countryside. Your path is predetermined – you control the horse’s speed and steer within the boundary of the path you’re on, but all progress is linear. Controlling speed is easy enough, but the steering controls can be touchy, and it’s easy to over steer. The best bet is to get the horse pointed in the right direction and quickly drop your hands, to avoid any accidental steering.
Along the path are orbs you can collect to gain experience, which can be used to purchase upgrades. Some orbs require you to be traveling at a certain speed in order to collect them, which can become annoying. Make no mistake, you’re going to spend A LOT of time traveling, and as the game wore, on I just wanted to get from place to place as fast as possible. Having to slow my horse to a trot in order to collect some orbs just felt like it was dragging out a process was already taking too long to begin with.
The gauntlets have two main spells, bolt and push. Bolt uses your dominant hand, and does what it sounds like, firing a projectile at enemies. Push allows you to grab distant enemies and objects and manipulate them. Push has uses in combat like throwing an enemy off a cliff or into an exploding barrel, and also environmental uses like triggering switches. Mixing up the spells in combat is a requirement – some enemies will need to be stunned with push before they can be attacked, and bolt has a limited number of shots before it needs to recharge. Combat earns you experience as well, and as the game progresses you can learn new spells.
Fable: The Journey is an on-rails game, like the Resident Evil chronicles games. When you’re off the horse, Gabriel progresses until he reaches a group of enemies, and you can’t proceed until you’ve killed all of them. Temples work the same way, with some light puzzle solving thrown into the mix. When traveling, there are optional side areas that you can stop at, and those are more of the same. You’ll kill some enemies, open a chest and then hop right back on the horse.
Kinect games succeed or fail largely because of their controls, and Fable: The Journey stumbles badly in this department. Simply put, the game requires a level of precision that Kinect simply doesn’t provide. It attempts to replicate you exactly, which leads to a lot of frustration. Games that succeed on Kinect are built with the understanding that the game will have to interpret player movements rather than responding directly to them.
In combat, my bolt spells would hit the floor at a monster’s feet, or fly right past them. Even in situations like boss fights, when there was only one enemy on screen, both spells would go all over the place. Inaccuracy is just a reality of the medium, and games that handle projectiles well (like Diabolical Pitch), assume that if you’re throwing on the right side of the screen, you’re probably throwing at the enemy over there, rather than the floor. In some areas you can lean left and right to dodge enemy attacks. This motion really threw the game off, and after dodging my next five or six shots would go directly into the ground at my feet until it re-adjusted.
The control issues also go beyond the combat. For example, there is a door in the game with two switches on it, which must be triggered simultaneously by using both spells at once. Pushing both hands forward to throw, with nothing else on the screen, I needed ten tries to open the door. Both spells were going in all sorts of directions, despite the fact that there was nothing else I could have conceivably been aiming for.
When you first learn the spells, the game takes you through a lengthy calibration process, having you fire at targets in different areas of the screen. If you feel like your aim is off you can re-calibrate, but that requires quitting the game, losing any progress you’ve made since your last checkpoint. The game does autosave pretty frequently, but having to completely quit is annoying regardless. In truth, using the default calibration seemed to work as well as going through the custom calibration, and using both, I found that the same movement would get many different results.
The game looks good, and there are some nice visual touches, like the shine of Seren’s coat after you brush her. The cutscenes also stand out, with their unique and cool visual style. The horse sequences had some issues though, with occasional jumps and some really jarring texture pop-in at times. The music is very nice; it fits the scenery and sets the mood nicely. The voice acting is really good, and it makes the characters stand out and lets the humor of the dialog shine through.
Aside from the main story, there is an arcade mode that allows you to replay combat sections with scoring system and post your scores on Xbox Live. The optional areas in the game are sparse, but that’s where you will find most of the game’s collectables. The cards you find don’t have a function, but they’re written with the same humor as the dialog, so they’re worth collecting just to read them. You can also find dolls that you can use in the XBLA Fable Heroes game. In return, you can use gold earned in Fable Heroes to buy upgrades in Fable: The Journey.
Given the game’s sense of humor and the limitations of the Kinect hardware, Fable: The Journey could be forgiven for being a linear game with occasionally repetitive combat. The sheer amount of time spent in travel kills any momentum though, and the combat breaks down to thrusting your arms at the screen and hoping for the best. It’s a real shame, because it’s fun when it works, and using push to pick up an explosive barrel and toss it into a group of enemies is a blast. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between. Fable: The Journey doesn’t make good use of the Kinect hardware, and the results are less then magical.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.