Giant Bomb Review

44 Comments

Fable: The Journey Review

3
  • X360

The Journey's heart is in the right place. It's too bad Kinect is the only way to play it.

You'll spend a large part of your journey planted right here.

Fable: The Journey is Lionhead making the most of what it's got to work with, which in this case is the limited and unreliable range of inputs provided by Kinect. When it works, The Journey is a breezy little confection, a simple, directed romp through the fantasy lands of Albion that's shot through with Fable's special brand of charm and a healthy dose of honest-to-goodness drama. When it doesn't work, it's not much better than Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Good thing it works a bit more often than not.

The challenge of mushing Fable's traditionally free-wheeling role-playing style into a form suitable for Kinect's limited capabilities must have been a daunting one, and Lionhead met that challenge by...having your character walk forward automatically while you use both hands to fling magic at whatever hobbes, balverines, and hollow men come your way. Yes, contrary to what you may have heard, the game proceeds entirely on rails, but even if The Journey's action levels amount to little more than shooting galleries, there's still a bit of depth to the mixing and matching of magic within them. On your left hand, you've got a Force push of sorts that lets you stun enemies and then fling them around; on your right, you get a basic magical bolt spell that can later be morphed into an area-of-effect fireball and a powerful magic shard that can be split into multiple projectiles. You can also counter almost all enemy attacks with a quick left fist across your chest, and later levels get intense enough that you'll have to use all of these abilities pretty quickly in concert to make it through without taking too much damage.

The boss encounters don't really skimp on scale.

The game does a decent job of mixing up the types of enemies it throws at you from one sequence to the next, so it's relatively rewarding to change up your spell usage, and incorporate the occasional explosive barrel or throw object, to take out foes. Plenty of later enemies also come with specific requirements, such as making you use your push spell to jerk a shield out of their hands before you can damage them. The game rewards you for dispatching enemies with style, like popping them up into the air then taking them out, or flinging them off of cliffs or into lava. So while the combat is pretty by-the-numbers and doesn't demand a lot of finesse (as long as it actually works--more on that later), you can at least get creative in the ways you deal with enemies, and you'll earn more experience points by playing with a little flair. There's a simple upgrade path that doesn't dramatically change the game, but at least lets you increase the usefulness of individual spells, make your horse stronger, or give yourself extra health.

The Journey is longer than its dozen or so self-contained action levels, though. In between those on-foot sequences--which have you exploring ancient temples, infiltrating a hobbe camp, defending a homestead from a balverine attack, and routing a stinger infestation from a deserted township, among other things--you'll view Albion from the seat of your horse-drawn cart, where you can whip your trusty mare Seren into a gallop, and take the reins to steer back and forth around obstacles and pick up some experience orbs scattered around the road. I can't say these benign travel sequences are wildly exhilarating, aside from the occasional running fight with mounted hobbes or chase sequence involving some hideous monstrosity (which are only mildly exhilarating). But they do provide a good chance for some exposition between your hero Gabriel, a rotating cast of incidental characters, and Fable's omnipresent wizened old seer Theresa about the ancient evil du jour that's threatening the land. And believe it or not, spending so much time watching the countryside roll by over my horse's hindquarters actually did go some length toward creating the illusion of a single long journey through a big, contiguous land. Know that this is a one-way trip, though, with no real meaningful choice about where you go. The path branches here and there for a couple of minutes, but that only changes the occasional sight you may see along the side of the road. Most of this journey is already written in stone. It's worth noting that Lionhead moved to the latest iteration of Unreal Engine 3 for The Journey, and as a result, what Albion there is to see here has never looked nearly this good before.

Magically pulling hollow men apart limb by limb is pretty neat.

Your travels are punctuated by the occasional break to make camp, which is where the spirit of Peter Molyneux truly lives in this game. That's where you lay your magic-gauntlet-covered hands on your horse's wounds to heal them, brush her dirt off, feed her an apple, and generally take a breather. These activities don't even constitute basic minigames--they're just simple gestures--but they contribute enough to your upgrades that it's worth doing them every time they come up. More to the point, these are the sort of quiet Molyneux moments that are supposed to engender an emotional connection between you and your animal, and...they aren't completely unsuccessful at doing that. Maybe I'm a big softy, but I actually felt responsible for not messing it up every time I had to grasp an arrow embedded in my horse's rear end and very gingerly remove it without hurting her. The first time you pull too hard and she recoils in pain, you might just feel like a real jerk about it.

Then again, the only thing you can feel when the game messes it up for you is rage. The Journey is a simple and inoffensive game right up till the minute the poor reliability of Kinect suddenly makes you feel like you can't play it at all. There were several instances in combat where all of my spells were flying off in seemingly random directions and the game constantly refused to acknowledge my blocking gesture, causing me to die over and over on what should have been an extremely simple encounter, and that made me want to turn the game off and throw it out the window (as you should do with any game that refuses your best efforts to play it). For what it's worth, I never had any real trouble guiding my horse in the traveling bits, which isn't very responsive but at least worked like it should. The quality of the combat gameplay seemed overly sensitive to the lighting conditions in my living room, though, which I experimented with extensively. Once you at least get Kinect reading you consistently, there's an in-game calibration scheme that seemed to make the aiming more reliable, but an onscreen reticle indicating where your shots are actually going to land probably would have fixed all of this in the first place.

(For those interested, I've included the game's own tutorial for making Kinect behave itself.)

In light of the occasional technical problems, The Journey gets by largely on its charm, which is in abundance. There's mirth and melancholy in equal measure over the course of the storyline, which isn't especially original but is rendered effectively nonetheless. As cheeky and lighthearted as Fable is (and this installment is no exception), it says something about the game's talent for melodrama that you end up genuinely feeling sorry for certain characters on several occasions when bad things happen to them, and the game culminates in a moment that will likely be among the most poignant seen in a game this year. The whole thing is just so gosh darn British, too, which I imagine is less of a selling point if you are British. That pervasive sprinkling of refined, humorous nonsense makes The Journey feel a little more like one worth taking, even when some of its nuts and bolts are less appealing.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
44 Comments
Edited by washingmachine

Could've been worse..?

Posted by Aquavelvaman

Surprising

Posted by FreakAche

Glad to see this is a competent game. I thought some of the e3 demos made it look kind of fun, but became worried at that horribly desperate advertising they were doing for it a few weeks ago.

Posted by KaneRobot

I can't believe Guy In Pink Trucker Hat or N7 Girl would lie to us...

Posted by Leadcat

Good to hear the Fable franchise hasn't gone completely off the rails.

Posted by s10129107

Yes, but is the game Hardcore. I'm a Core gamer Brad, thats all that matters.

Posted by VibratingDonkey

Sounds a lot like my experience with the demo. Underneath all the Kinect wonkiness lies a game that's decently entertaining to interact with. Ironically while it would've worked better without Kinect, it also wouldn't have been as fun.

Posted by EvilKatarn

It's not on rails, Brad!

Maybe that was the truth when Molyneux was working on this?

Posted by themartyr

I am shocked that it wound up being on-rails, after such vehement claims to the contrary.

Posted by WMWA

Poor brad. Hopefully he gets to review an awesome game sometime soon. One day...

Posted by zombie2011

I might buy this after watching the QL, i love the humour and the art of the Fable games. Albion is one of the best game worlds imo and i'd like to play some more there.

Posted by Hailinel

Not on rails? But Molyneux said--

Oh, right. Molyneux said it, so of course it was never true to begin with.

Posted by YoungFrey

The fact I consider 3 stars surprisingly good because it's a Kinect game makes me sad.

Posted by MEATBALL

Methinks I'll give the game a shot when it hits bargain bins, I do love Fable's brand of charm (I even really enjoyed Fable III - which I'm quite sure makes me a crazy person) and the game sounds pretty decent.

Posted by WMWA

Also, this is one of the best reviews you've ever written. Good job

Edited by ProfessorEss

@MEATBALL said:

Methinks I'll give the game a shot when it hits bargain bins

Same. I'm not convinced I'd like it all that much but if I can find it in a bin somewhere someday I wouldn't mind picking it up on the cheap to see what it's all about - plus my son might enjoy it.

I'm very curious how well it would work for me because despite Kinect being wonky tech I don't typically have near as many issues with my Kinect setup as Giant Bomb seems to.

Edited by I_Stay_Puft

@washingmachine said:

Could've been worse..?

Could've been Resident Evil 6?

Posted by Cincaid

@Leadcat said:

Good to hear the Fable franchise hasn't gone completely off the rails.

I see what you did there...

Posted by Solh0und

@I_Stay_Puft said:

@washingmachine said:

Could've been worse..?

Could've been Resident Evil 6?

Could've been Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Posted by Phatmac

@Brad You better get some good games to review soon! I feel for ya :\

Posted by RenMcKormack

As a Hardcore Gamer (TM) I disagree with this review.

Posted by Levio

It's not on rails! (It's on a single rail)

Posted by Sackmanjones

3 stars for a kinect game seems pretty great.....which in itself kinda sucks

Online
Posted by honkyjesus

Any reviewer having to do a Kinect game should get a bonus.

Played the demo for this, wouldn't fully work. Took ten minutes to get to a certain point in the tutorial, then it wouldn't read my movements. The ten minutes would have taken twenty seconds with a controller.

Edited by deerokus

As a British person (well, Scottish, but y'know), what you describe as the 'britishness' of Fable is still a selling point. In a world where just about every game is Americanised - even the games made here like GTA - and our own games heritage is sometimes forgotten* it's a rarity to see something which is so clearly steeped in the culture of Britain.

In the 80s our big systems were the c64 and spectrum. Somehow though you would get the impression that British kids of that era grew up playing the Atari and NES) games American kids did. They didn't, they grew up with British games for weird computers.

Posted by McGhee

Molyneux is such a brazen liar he should leave the gaming industry and just enter politics.

Posted by amir90

Too bad, I remember playing with one of the programmers for this game on SWTOR, he was a very nice guy.

Edited by Encephalon

The wound of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor festers still, but it seems like Brad was able to find some genuine enjoyment out of it. Good on ya, Brad.

Edited by evanbower

@Leadcat said:

Good to hear the Fable franchise hasn't gone completely off the rails.

It has! We promise that this game is nottt on railsss.

Posted by Cybexx

Renting this!

Posted by jozzy

I will try the demo for this at some point, I think my kids would enjoy this a lot. And Kinect games seem to work a lot better in my basement than any location the giantbombers try it.

Posted by dropabombonit

Good review but the most important question wasn't answered in this review. Is the game on rails?

Posted by dropabombonit

Just read the 2nd paragraph again, guess the game is on rails. Another broken promise from Molyneux

Posted by Phreaker

BUT, I thought PM said it was "not on rails"! :)

Posted by MildMolasses

I wonder if at one point this game allowed for more free exploration? Maybe they found at a certain point that the technology wouldn't work right with it, so rather than make another Steel Battalion, they reined it in to a more functional format

Posted by Pudge

I can't help but think this game got a more favorable review just because it wasn't titled Resident Evil 6. Still, sounds like something to pick up from the bargain bin just to try out, sounds like a fun diversion.

Posted by DarthOrange

I'm still waiting for Brad to eat his hat like he said he would. 

Posted by Kerned

Three stars for a game that only works 70% of the time? That seems insane to me. I get that it's charming, but if the controls are 30% broken, the game can't possibly deserve that high of a score.

Posted by EndlessLotus

Of course the only decent Fable game in recent memory is only playable through Kinect....

Posted by Godmil

I'm actually (maybe irrationally) angry about the stunt Molyneux pulled by getting all those journalist to sign the "not on rails" board. Not sure if I'm more mad with Molyneux, or with the journalists who put their signatures to it. I'd like to think if I was there I wouldn't put my reputation in someone who is synonymous with not delivering what he promised (although I may have done it anyway just to avoid being rude). Did anyone from GiantBomb sign it?

Posted by theodacourt

I have no interest in this game, but I think this is one of the best reviews I've read on the site. Great work!

Posted by Enigma777

Is it just me or does that dude on the cover look like he has tiny T-Rex arms?

Posted by gunstarhero

i have played and completed all the fable games but his one i think i will pass,or wait ill its down to £10.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

Pffffft, Famitsu loves it!

It's like I'm playing a different game to everyone else! This is the best Residen...err, Fable game of all time