Let’s get this sorted right away. Fable: The Journey isn’t an on-rails experience. Well, it is and it isn’t. Ok, it’s about half and half. But when you’re not being moved about automatically, you’re controlling a horse and cart that can only really go in one direction. So it kind of is. But you can choose which path to take in some cases, so it really, really isn’t. But you can’t move freely when you’re not in the cart so...oh, let’s drop it, shall we?
Regardless of whether you consider Fable: The Journey to be an on-rails experience or not, the game itself is what matters. The story sees Gabriel – a Dweller – who has become separated from his clan as they travel to camp. When a bridge over an otherwise unpassable canyon falls, he needs to find another way around in order to rejoin his kin. En route, he runs into a tale that has the potential to transform Gabriel from the lazy scaredy-cat that he is, into a genuine hero. Fable fans will be in heaven, and no mistake.
To clarify the gameplay front a little, when you’re on foot you have little-to-no control over where you’re headed – although you can strafe left and right during selected battles – and when you’ve got the horse’s reigns in your hand, you have full control of your steed Seren’s speed and direction. These are the two methods of movement that occur in the game, and if a battle occurs while you’re driving, another character generally takes control of the horse so that you can focus on attacking the enemy.
And it almost works beautifully. The game is approached entirely from a seated position, so you won’t be jumping about all over your lounge, and for the majority of the time your commands are perfectly recognised and interpreted. A short calibration exercise takes place when Gabriel first obtains his magical powers, and this helps to ensure that your shots hit their target with greater accuracy. On top of this, the majority of your shots will amend their own trajectory if you’re a hair off, ensuring that you get the kill that you were going for. But that isn’t particularly consoling when your fireball shot misses a screen-sized enemy as he goes for your throat when you’re in the heat of battle against a wily group of speedy Balverines, with only a sliver of energy remaining. Or when you try, try, and try again to open a door using your left hand, but the cursor hits everything but what you were aiming at.
Indeed, the control system seems to have been tweaked for your leading hand as naturally, that’s the one you’ll be using most often. The limited puzzling sections that come into play that require your off-hand to be used to shift things around are a chore, though. Nothing breaks the otherwise fantastic atmosphere like wanting to throw down your controller in anger, before realising that you aren’t holding one. It isn’t what you could call a reliable problem either, as you’ll try to grab something with your left hand and miss high, then try again with a lower shot, and miss even higher. Next time up, you’ll reach for a switch on the left and go way too far left, before re-aiming an inch or two to the right and missing the thing by a full screen-width.
That isn’t to say that these control issues mean that Fable: The Journey should be overlooked. Far from it, since for the majority of the time, the same controls that occasionally cause you to curse and complain are the ones that make you feel like an evolved Harry Potter, casting spells left and right, summoning fireballs with your voice, and clearing waves of enemies as you seek to protect those who join your party. The game repeatedly points out that you should sit up straight in order to play and serious amounts of testing show that this isn’t a command to be taken lightly. Slouching at the back of a squishy couch confuses Kinect, but the second you sit forward in your seat, tall and straight and with your legs uncrossed, the whole product becomes a different prospect.
Aside from the occasional bouts of the old red mist brought around by the controls, and some incredibly low-resolution cutscenes – for which there is no excuse - we’d still recommend that you at least try Fable: The Journey. The storyline will draw you in, and the lashings and lashings of atmosphere provided by the Lionhead crew means that there is plenty of reason to persevere. Some will call it their game of the year, and others will hate it - but most will find that the package is good without being outstanding.