The land of Albion needs a hero once again. But this time, those wishing to apply for the post can forget about mashing buttons with one hand while reaching for a fistful of chips with the other. Fable: The Journey is designed exclusively for the Xbox 360's Kinect system. And that means it'll keep your hands far too busy—grooming your horse, heaving open old treasure chests and throwing magical fireballs at screeching beasties—to do any double dipping.
Franchise games of the past ( Fable, Fable II, Fable III) have been immersive excursions into a lush and colorful fantasyland of enchantments and sword-swinging heroes, a 500-year trek through magical battles of good and evil. Each game has had a different protagonist at its core, but they've all had one common element: Gamers could make heroic or wicked choices along their gaming journey and subsequently shape their character with each new decision. Do you want to be a halo-coiffed nice guy the people adore? Or are you more inclined to opt for a horned villain whose only friends are the swarm of flies buzzing around his head?
The Journey, however, does away with all those choices—and the muddled middle ground which resulted when your ideas about right and wrong differed from the gamemakers'. Here it feels like decisions are still being made, but this is more of an "on rails" adventure that only has one place to go and one hero's tale to tell. That adjustment means a whole lot of evil-leaning and often ugly interactions are automatically avoided—the bloodletting, heavy-drinking, malicious-murdering, prostitute-bedding sort of stuff. And that allows this title to carry a T rating rather than the nastier M of its predecessors.
Crack the Reins and Venture In
That hero's tale to tell is of a young, bumbling romantic named Gabriel. He's a nice but rather undependable guy who dreams of gallant adventures and appreciative girls. But he'd quickly admit he'd much rather concentrate on caring for his old faithful horse Seren than actually leap into the path of anything dangerous.
Unfortunately for him, he doesn't really have a choice in the matter.
One day, while trying to rejoin his traveling tribe caravan, the soft-hearted Gabriel stops to help an injured woman named Theresa (an ancient blind seer who many will recognize from past Fable games). Before you know it, he's being chased by a malevolent land-devouring corruption … and he's being dubbed by three mystic heroes of yore as Albion's newest, if most reluctant, champion.
Gabriel is called upon to gather certain artifacts from around the land of Albion. Then he has to wield them against an onslaught of drooling creatures and glowing-eyed demonic monsters that want to crush all the good things of life beneath their hobnailed heels.
It's here that the Kinect system's game mechanics come into play in sometimes surprising ways.
Don't Forget the Liniment
I'm not personally crazy about playing video games by sitting in a chair and waving my arms in front of a sensor strip. But in this case I quickly found that it was rather entertaining. Snapping Seren's reins, learning how to manipulate the five different gesture-centric spell commands, and leaning to one side or the other to shift my character's position on the screen was fun and intuitive.
The Kinect smoothly picked up my real intentions, for the most part, and by the time I got to the parts of the game where I had to control a galloping Seren, deflect attacks and chuck out various blasts all at the same time, I kind of stopped thinking about it. In fact, the adventure started feeling like I was participating in an interactive movie. Probably more so than any game I've played prior to this.
Another interesting part of that interactive equation is how well your movements connect you to Gabriel's world. As you gingerly pull a chunk of splintered wood out of Seren's side, for instance, and move around to apply physical ministrations to the distressed animal—hearing her whinny of relief in response—there's an unexpected bond formed. And it's an emotional connection that gives weight to your actions later on.
A Few Hooves to Duck
Obviously with all this talk of demonic monsters there's going to be some shadowy stuff afoot. And there are indeed scores of non-human baddies to contend with—from flying rock-mite creatures to trolls to hobgoblins to skeletal zombie things to something that looks like a skinny werewolf. A busty farm girl transforms into a slathering boss behemoth called the Temptress. (This sable-shaded beastie appears to be naked, though her dark coloring makes it difficult to tell exactly how naked.)
One large and looming red-eyed entity looks like it just scratched its way up out of the foulest pit. And a bubbling, lava-like scourge with giant claw hands snatches at Gabriel and Seren as they race into the light. When you hit them with spell or spear they fall or burst into flame. And it's through the aid of a couple of mystical gauntlets that Gabriel learns to "cast" magical spears and bolts of lightning and fire at his foes.
I heard one or two uses each of "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑mit" and "blimey."
Much like Gabriel's beloved Seren, then, Fable: The Journey is definitely a tamer Albion beast than those we've seen before. It can kick and bruise, but it doesn't try to maim and kill.