After Fable: The Journey’s disastrous showing at E3 last year, former Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux proclaimed, to everybody who’d listen, that The Journey was not an “on-rails” game. He was right. It is in fact several on-rails games strung together.
Kinect exclusive The Journey tells the tale of the unlikely hero Gabriel, a young gypsy who after, after an unnecessary long and tedious tutorial is separated from his nomadic clan. With an almost unnatural kinship with Gabriel’s beloved horse Seren, Lionhead very nearly fulfils its promises of the emotional connection it promised with Fable 2’s dog, and much of the game is spent interacting with your steed. that Interaction, however is somewhat limited – you’ll have to heal the beast, carefully removing arrows from her flank, feed her apples and murmur gently in her equine ear. Limited as it is, coupled with the great journey there is indeed a bond formed.
That bond is the heart of this unwaveringly scripted, linear on-rails adventure. You’ll ride your buggy, drawn by Seren on a round-trip through Albion, which, thanks to some beautiful art direction and the Unreal engine is the most beautiful and captivating it’s ever been. Incredible vistas, wonderfully lit, invite you to explore the landscape – which is unfortunate, because with its linear focus, you’re completely unable to. Mostly you’ll steer your steed on a pre-determined course, as you’d expect to, holding the reins of a horse-drawn buggy; extending one arm, while drawing the other in, as if holding an oversized steering wheel. You’re able to adjust your speed, by lashing on the reins, or slow down (or stop!) by pulling back on them, avoiding obstacles in your path and collecting experience orbs that litter the road.
At some point on lone travel, he picks up a companion in the form of Fable stalwart, the blind seeress Theresa (once again perfectly voiced by Zoe Wannamaker). Confronted and chased by a terrible evil, she convinces Gabriel that he’s the hero that Albion needs, and sets him on a path that grants him a pair of magical gauntlets that turns the rest of the game in to a lightgun-styled on-rails shooter.
Your dominant hand (right in my case) allows you to hurl blast of lightning bolts at enemies, while the other grants you a telekinetic power that enables you to pull and shove enemies about. Further on , you’ll receive more in the way of spells, such as a powerful explosive fireball attack and a death-dealing magical shard. When it works, it works quite wonderfully, and manages to instil within the player a feeling of power. There’s a genuine thrill in hurling a ragdoll enemy with one hand, and immolating it with the other. Unfortunately it’s also where the entire experience falls apart for two reasons; because of Kinect’s inherent inaccuracy, your magical attacks often go off in random, unintended directions making the whole thing an exercise in frustration – and that’s beyond the exercise your arms will be getting, flailing about hitting nothing, which you’ll do. Often. With only five spells in your wizardly repertoire, combat also becomes dull and tepid.
All told, it’s not a terrible game – but it’s one let down by the hardware that you;re forced to use. The entire time playing, my singular thought was “This would be much better with a controller.” For the avid fan of Fable and its wonderful fantasy world, The Journey, at its budget price, might be worth a look – even if it does dispense with much of what makes Fable Fable. There’s no RPG-lite progression – and there’s no binary moral choice system, so you’ll not see Gabriel sprouting horns or glowing blue. I have to admit that on odd occasion, I actually enjoyed playing it, for its Zen-like calm sightseeing tour of Albion, though it does risk becoming terribly, terribly repetitive – but hey, at least you can play it sitting down!
I planned on hating the game, but in the end it wasn’t quite as godawful as I was expecting. Put up against the rest of Kinect’s Lame-duck library, it’s definitely one of the better full-body waggly experiences for the system. Even so, it’s still hard to recommend to anyone but younger gamers and die-hard Fable nuts. If you were to ask me if you should buy the game, I’d probably say…Neigh.
When it works, the motion-controlled steering and shooting and horse-petting is actually occasionally fun. When it doesn’t it’s a frustrating mess. In the end, I felt like a horses-arse for playing it; which is also what you spend most of your time looking at.
Design and Presentation: 7/10
Powered by the Unreal engine and featuring some really beautiful art direction, it’s quite a good looking game. Pity hat everything had to be designed around Kinect’s inherent limitations.
It’s quite a lengthy adventure; 10 hours of seated waggling. completing each sections unlocks it for playing a score-based arcade mode – but there’s honestly little incentive to do so. there are a number of collectibles within the game, tied to the Fable universe, but beyond them being collectible, there’s no point to them.
One of the better Kinect games, and it’s telling that it’s really not very good. There are moments; some new characters, some thrilling setpieces and a compelling narrative that elevate it beyond being completely rubbish.