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Fable Heroes review: Less a Fable game, more a tribute act

Lionhead's B team fail to bring their A game

For all Fable 3's faults - limited NPC interaction, unclear moral choices, an end-game that came out of nowhere - it was fully built with the player in mind, brimming with fresh ideas and streamlined for maximum enjoyment.

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A quip-cracking John Cleese welcomed players to a fully 3D menu screen, for instance, and a pacy story catapulted you between celebrity-voiced characters and tasty events without ever lingering. Chalk that down to recently departed (from the company that is, not life) Official Ideas Man Peter Molyneux, who's absence is dearly missed here.

Heroes is less a game and more a tribute act - Fable in name but not in feel. Obviously this XBLA-only release is a less ambitious title, a hack-and-slash brainstormed by a five-man team on one of Lionhead's annual Creative Day's, and lead designer Ted Timmins is quick to assure fans the spinoff is a 'what if?' rather than Fable's post- Molyneux direction. But that won't let the game off the hook. This does, after all, still cost 800MSP.

At first it's all very familiar, with cheeky hobbes and hollow men, raids on bandit camps, one-button combat and Terry Pratchett-meets-Shrek stylings, but it's lacking what lies at the series' core: ideas. Instead, it's a distinctly ordinary beat-'em-up in a Fable skin.

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You'll choose one of 12 characters from four games of lore, like fan favourite Jack of Blades and the more recent Hammer and Reaver (though sadly no Stephen Fry - characters here are modelled on button-eyed dolls). Each are useful in different sorts of scraps, mage Garth unleashing magical shots at long-range and Hammer playing the damage-soaking role of tank. It's clearly designed for players to co-ordinate attacks, but when the game starts it all goes to pot.

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Like the previous Fables, there are efforts here to make combat simple yet satisfying, leveraging one or two buttons and drawing depth from timing rather than complicated inputs. Unlike the previous games, it fails spectacularly.

Fights have players wading in and prodding the attack button, eating through the fantasy land like a plague of hand-stitched locusts. Each character has a light and heavy attack (the latter running on a cool-down and costing a heart piece), but there's zero nuance and zero satisfaction. The problem is the complete disregard for tactics.

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