E3 2012: Fable: The Journey Hands-On Preview – Just Horsing Around…
Written Friday, June 15, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Believe it or not, despite having seen the game multiple times since its announcement at E3 2011, this year’s E3 marked our first real 'hands-on' with Fable: The Journey. This is the part where I’m meant to tell you, “Panic over, folks. It's actually pretty good now I’ve had the chance to play it myself.” But unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I will precede this preview with one note first though, apparently, the Kinect unit that our hands-on demo was setup on wasn’t calibrated properly. Why? We’ll never know, but anyway, that wasn’t really the problem. Well, not entirely anyway.
Fable: The Journey tells the story of the plight of Gabriel, a young chap thrown into adversity and a tricky situation when the corruption comes a knocking, leaving him as the only person who can save franchise stalwart, Theresa. That’s essentially where we pick up the proceedings, to learn the ropes. Quite literally.
The first section of our hands-on had us controlling the game’s infamous horse and carriage. First, a bit of a laid back jaunt across a dirt trail to learn the basics. It does very much control like a horse too, with us having to pull back on one rein and push the one hand forward to turn a corner. Pull the right hand back to turn right; pull the left hand back to turn left. All you need to know then is that flicking the reins will make the horse go faster – which is essential if you want to pick up the red experience orbs. The green orbs on the other hand are fair game no matter what speed you’re travelling.
That’s basically all you need to know, and after a few minutes of casual riding as well as a slickly presented cutscene, things are dialled up to about eight and players are tasked with having to steer the horse while in full flow, avoiding obstacles along the way while the corruption chases them. Here’s where the first issue became apparent. It’s easy enough to turn left and right, but trying to steer the steed back into the centre of the dirt track is harder than you’d think. In fact, I found myself zigzagging from start to finish, and it couldn’t be any more frustrating!
As part of Gabriel’s journey, Theresa will gift the chap magical gauntlets that allow Gabriel access to powerful magic. On the right hand, Gabriel has access to a lightning spell. Do circular motions with said hand and you can heat them up and turn them into fireballs. On the left hand, it’s Gabriel’s force push, which can also turn into a stun tendril of sorts, allowing players to remove body parts from Hollow Men – including their heads – as well as locking foes in place to bombard them with right hand spells. It’s all well and good in theory, but when put into practice, it didn’t work all too well.
“It’s the calibration!” I hear you say. “You suck!” I hear you scream. Maybe, but the fact I couldn’t control my spells efficiently made it a frustrating affair. For the first time in my life I felt helpless. No matter what I did, I couldn’t control the damn spells. I aimed at the middle of the screen. The spells went to the right. Aim to the right, and my spells went to the left. It was only after using the ‘after touch’ – which allows you effectively to cheat and auto-lock in on your targets after you’ve fired – after I’d mis-aimed the spell that I was able to hit anything. It’s not a frustration I’ve ever had with a controller. Calibrated or not.
Gary Carr, Lionhead’s Creative Director, who jumped into the hot seat after me, used a similar tactic with the after touch, and whether it was calibrated or not, the gameplay reminded me a lot of Kinect Star Wars – constant aimless waggling of the extremities. It’s hardly inspiring gameplay. From there we went on to catch a sneak peek at the new gauntlet section, a la, obstacle course, before catching some eyes-on time with a boss fight.
Facing off against a huge stone troll with blue eyes and glowing markings was actually the highlight of the demo. For one, it seemed like a little strategy was needed here, as Gabriel had to dodge huge boulders being thrown whilst also ducking in and out of cover and also choosing his moment to attack – all the time fending off Hollow Men too. Secondly, it actually looked like you needed to mix up your powers to truly take down the hulking goliath. Again though, it hardly looked like gripping gameplay, and Mr Cynical over here can’t help but see that it’s a shameless cash-in on the Fable franchise for a device that desperately needs a core experience to tempt in a new audience. We hope that isn’t the case, but after seeing the game countless times now, it’s a taste that’s lodged deep in the back of our throats.
Even without the calibration issues, we’re still finding it tough to believe The Journey has got enough depth to capture someone’s attention for an hour, let alone five or so – or however long the campaign will be. It really is a shame too that Fable: The Journey might not really live up to its billing, because beneath the clumsy and joyless exterior of the actual gameplay lies a Fable game that looks and sounds the part. Sure, it might have seemed more interesting than hands-off presentations gone by, but it’s not really shaping up to be the core Kinect game that we’re all clamouring for. There’s still time for Lionhead to turn it around, but the clock is now ticking faster than ever.
Fable: The Journey is scheduled for an October 6th and October 9th release in North America and Europe respectively.