At an infamous press event at E3, Peter Molyneux repeatedly told his audience that Fable: The Journey would not be a simple on-rails experience, and would present a unique viewpoint into the world of adventure gaming on the Kinect. Right.
I’m here to tell you, right now, before you drop your hard earned cash on it, that it is on rails. And that’s not the worst thing about it.
Fable: The Journey will feature hot horse action — lots of horse action — more horse action than any one gamer can handle probably, specifically in the form of your horse named Saren. For any spectators that happen upon your playthrough, this would seem like the main character of the game — at least, moreso than the guy who is supposed to be the main character — Gabriel.
Gabriel is just a regular-ass dude (yes, there’s no female hero option unfortunately) who is seperated from his caravan crew, only to embark on a journey greater than he ever imagined: or something like that. Basically, you play as the bumbling idiot Gabriel as you ride your horse and cast spells for about eight hours: with very mixed results.
In Fable II, the gimmick was in the form of a canine, which sorta kinda worked for some people who bought into the story, and projected their personal pooch onto the screen. Here, your horse is more of a nuisance than an asset, leading to a more hateful than helpful relationship — and part of the reason for that is the control scheme.
In order to get around everywhere, you have to control your horse with your two hands via Kinect. There are “virtual reigns” to master, and it’ll take both of your hands to do it. Cracking them with your hands will make the horse go faster, holding them above your head will stop, and raising either your left or right hand will make the horse turn — simple, right?
Well, not really. As is the case with oddly designed Kinect games, the controls will either work very well, or they’ll be all over the place. If you were just expected to simulate your way from point A to B with little effort, it would have been fine, but that’s not the case. Along the way you can pick up XP, which, depending on the color, needs to be picked up by trotting, galloping, or outright running. Did I mention that you have to non-negotiably sit down the whole time?
Due to the unresponsive controls, you’re going to have a lot of frustrating moments where you’ll want to throw a controller against the wall — only you are the controller, which could end pretty badly.
It also doesn’t help that the game is on-rails – and although you have a few different paths to go through — since you have to always go straight, the game is essentially a tunnel simulator. To be clear, this is not an open world game.
When it comes to these portions (which is easily half, if not more of the game) I hope you really like horses, as you’re going to be spending a lot of time grooming, petting, and tending to it. You could even say that half of the game feels like an XBLA sequel to Kinectimals.
Once you get off your horse and start actually fighting things, you’ll long for the horse sections again — which is not a good thing in the slightest. For starters, there is no targeting mechanism — you just have to wing it and hope you hit something with your two spells (not much variety here). Later on in the game, you get a chance to do battle with unique enemies like the signature Hollow Men, and it’s kind of cool to be able to manipulate their appendages, but it ultimately serves no purpose, considering you can just blast them away in a few seconds.
Handled correctly, hand gestures could have presented a myriad of cool spell combos for the player. As it stands, using a telekinesis and fireball spells aren’t very exciting — especially when coupled with a defensive spell that only works some of the time. After about four hours of the repetition of horse riding and the monotony of using a scant few spells, I couldn’t take anymore and stopped playing.
All in all Fable: The Journey is a shame, because Lionhead put forth a lot of effort to preserve the charm and feel of the franchise — it just feels like they were forced to shoehorn in every Kinect trope possible from up top.
So if you’re looking to board the fun train, you might want to find another mode of transportation. Yes, the track is not all layed out for this game, which may cause your sanity to derail. To be clear, you definitely do not want to dock this one into your 360′s station.
Get it? Because you know, the game is on-rails.
This review is based on a physical copy of Fable: The Journey for the Xbox 360.