Yeah, I was worried too. Worried is an understatement, actually. I was fit to burst with a humongous sob if Microsoft’s obsession with motion control squished the Fable franchise into a limb-flailing mess.
But, my doubts were misplaced. Just a bit. Enough for me to put my hands up and yell, hopefully without attracting the attention of my Kinect, that Fable: The Journey is the best thing that’s happened to Kinect since, well… ever.
But this isn’t the Fable you know. Sure, it’s bright and colourful, but a distinct lack of chicken kicking, sex jokes and farting in children’s faces lets you see Albion from a different perspective. The new angle isn’t so disparate that you’ll feel cold and wonder where the British charm has run off to; this is most definitely a Fable game, but the vibe is decidedly fresh enough that The Journey sets itself apart from the main trilogy.
Returning to Albion is an unrivalled delight. The Journey does the most remarkable job of highlighting just how vast Fable’s fantasy land is, successfully escaping the comparably tight microcosm of the original trilogy. For all those game’s individual strengths, Albion has always felt like a small little place you could run from one end to the other in an hour if you had a decent pair of legs and an inhaler.
The Journey changes that. Dense forests, huge open caverns and sprawling mountain canyons all come together to create an expertly crafted, cohesive world that’s recognisably Albion, but suitably altered to fit the new adventure’s focus; to make you feel small in uncharted territory as you journey across the landscape.
You play as Gabriel, a young lad travelling with his tribe before he’s split off from his convoy of caravans and left to fend for himself. It’s here you stumble across Teresa, saving her life from the evil Devourer, and your adventure starts proper. For all the classic talk of heroes and fate, this is a far more tightly woven tale than any previous Fable game. It’s the standard save-the-world-from-a-colossal-evil, and you should expect some brilliantly climactic scenes, but for the most part the story is about your relationship with a few select companions.
As well as Albion’s beauty and a decent story, The Journey provides the strongest Kinect experience to date. It’s not quite there yet – arguably it won’t get "there" until next gen - but this is the closest game to Microsoft’s dream of magical you-are-the-controller experiences.
Best thing of all? You play sitting down. There’s no prancing around the living room. No sweating or tiring yourself out in seconds. You play the majority of the game from the back of a horse, sitting comfortably in your cart, and even combat sequences can be tackled from the comfort of your own sofa.
Your journey is split into two distinct halves - journeying on your horse and cart, and fending off enemies in magical combat. There are minor extras dotted throughout: caring-for-your-horse mini-games and small puzzles, for example, but these are just seasoning on the meat.
Controlling your stallion, Seren, is a matter of patience. The cart is initially a pain as you fumble with the reins, but once you’ve got your arms positioned correctly you soon settle into a gentle rhythm. You crack the reins to change galloping speed, and pull on individual reins to steer left and right. It’s simple, but effective. Most importantly, it works the majority of the time.
This is much the same with combat. Your left hand controls your Push spell, and also acts as your blocking arm when you pull across your body in a shielding motion. Your right hand is your offensive arm, and is used to throw bolts of electricity and flaming balls of magma at your foes.
The game understands Kinect’s limits, and never expects you to simultaneously fell 20 Hobbes with latency-free perfect motion tracking. Instead, fight sequences throw smaller waves of around five enemies at a time. Hobbes and Stingers make up the grunt forces, but ramping up the challenge to Balverines and Hollow Men ensures combat doesn’t become stale, and boss fights are on another level of big.
When Kinect does get the better of your patience (and it occasionally will), the Aftertouch system is there to make sure you don’t strop off in a huff. When you miss an enemy with a ranged attack, Aftertouch allows you to flick your attack back in the direction of a foe. This gives you the opportunity to quickly rectify any mistakes you, or Kinect’s often-temperamental sensor, might make. Lionhead clearly knows the system it's designing for.
While I didn’t bond with my horse as much as Molyneux may have liked, I fell head over heels for Albion. It’s a game of two halves, and there’s not much to see outside the 8-hour story, but Fable: The Journey is the unexpected surprise Kinect needed.
Version tested: Xbox 360