- Release Date: 12 October
- Developer: Lionhead Studios
- Price: TBC
- Platforms: Xbox
When Fable: The Journey was first unveiled at this year's E3, everybody had their doubts. How were Lionhead Studios expecting to take all the sprawling, sandbox glory of a traditional Fable game, and process it into something Kinect-friendly? Moreover, how would they manage without Fable honcho Peter Molyneux at the helm?
Even now, less than a month before Fable: The Journey's October release date, everyone is still asking questions.
How can the motion-sensitive exercise machine Kinect, best suited to pick-up-and-play, put-down-and-forget party games, fit around Fable's open-world? Isn't taking Albion and trying to cram it into a smaller game a flawed endeavour in the first place? Surely Fable works as it is; why change the formula at all, let alone completely?
Firstly, this is still very much a Fable game: Hobbes, Balvarines and Zoe Wannamaker all reprise their roles as series mainstays, and there's enough backstory and fan service in here to anchor Fable: The Journey to its open-world ancestors.
Then there's the combat. Though naturally stripped-back to make room for the Kinect, there is still a familiar mix of horse-riding and spell-casting on display. Holding up your right hand charges your Bolt attack, which is launched by jabbing your arm straight at an opponent.
Your other main attack is Push, a kind of telekinetic shove made by bending and straightening your left arm - add a pointed finger for extra magician chic.
You can block by holding your left arm across your chest like a shield, and throw, by grabbing items with Push and dragging them across the screen. Once you've got the hang of mixing them all together, the combat develops a kind of metronomic rhythm, as you zap-Push-block-throw your way through waves of minions, and gigantic monsters.
And when the fighting is over, and you're back on board your horse (flick your wrists to make her go faster, pull the reins to change direction) Fable: The Journey becomes the same tranquil, meandering kind of afternoon walk that'll be familiar to anyone who's visited Albion before.
Strolling along country roads at a gentle trot is an ideal way to see Fable: The Journey. Spending time at the many camps and stables you'll come across is even better. Here you can wash and feed your horse, chat with your companions and breathe in the picturesque environments that Lionhead have always done so well.
It's by no means your usual Fable game - you're on rails for most of the time and can never wander around an area bigger than your camp - but the sensation is there; Lionhead's trademark brand of countryside ambling is the perfect expansion to a generically linear game.
But it's not all good news. The motion-sensitive controls are as-per Kinect and take plenty of getting used to, even after you've figured out how to do what. Steering your horse is particularly challenging, and you'll often find yourself having to constantly level her up, even on straight roads.
The story, too, seems a little thin: You play as a young tribesman called Gabriel, who is trying to get back to his people while avoiding an encroaching magical storm that is tearing up all of Albion. That much is so-so, and the voice cast are just fine, but playing a Fable game as anyone but your own custom, tailored, belching avatar feels very limiting.
A named, talking actual person like Gabriel is complementary to Fable: The Journey's spoon-fed gamepla. Like the winding countryside roads that you can't divert from, he keeps the story on track. But he's also a token of how different Fable: The Journey is, and how the whole experience can sometimes jar with what we've come to expect from the series.
Hopefully, when Fable: The Journey arrives in full in October, the latter half of the game will open up more. If Lionhead can iron out the Kinect niggles, and see clear to giving us a little more of Albion to potter around, this could prove to be the best case for owning a Kinect since...ever.
It's refreshing to play a motion-sensitive title that isn't just for the sake of mini-games. Fable: The Journey doesn't have the density of it's sandbox brothers, but there's a lot more to see and do than in your usual lightweight Kinect affair. After months of negative un-hype, it's good to see Fable: The Journey showing promise again; when it launches next month, we'll finally see if it can live up to its name.
You can read our interview with Fable: The Journey designer Ted Timmins here.