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Fable: The Journey review: Beautiful to look at, frustrating to play

Lionhead's adventure plods and frustrates in equal measure

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Immediately after she climbs aboard, The Corruption strikes, creeping across the land in gooey instant death that travels, helpfully, about the speed of a horse. Inky comets streak from the sky and dark tides lap at Seren's ankles.

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It's one of several crescendo moments designed to mix up travel (elsewhere there's ranged battle with Hobbes on boar-back, and a ripping minecart ride). In essence, all you're doing is moving either your left or right arm forward and back. On the upside, we seldom struggled with Kinect. On the downside, at least a controller would've enabled more interactions than simply 'left' or 'right'.

Seren's injured in the attack, so before you help Theresa, it's off to the Spell Cave where you'll grip a bloody splinter and inch it out carefully (botch the job and your horse will let you know). The Spell Cave is also the start of the game proper, the location of magic gauntlets which enable Gabriel to fight off foes rather than gallop away from them at speed.

CONDUCT YOURSELF

Now you can use the powers of Push (thrust your left arm forward to fling objects and enemies), Bolt (thrust forward your right arm to fire neon blue missiles), After-touch (redirect Bolts in mid-air) and Shield, which rebounds attacks when you raise a hand to your chest.

With spells and powers, you take on the role of conductor, managing your orchestra with two magical hands...

Given the choice between broad and tiring gestures or sitting back with a controller in our laps, we'd plump for a controller. That's not to say there's no merit in combat. The focus is on mixing and matching spells, pushing away an onrushing Hobbe, for instance, while releasing a stalactite onto a Rockmite hive, then shielding from a crossbow barrage and after-touching a Bolt to scatter a group cowering behind cover. Bad players will flail wildly, but good ones take on the role of conductor, managing different sections of their bloodthirsty orchestra with two magical hands.

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The pace is good too. No scenario goes on longer than it needs to, whether riding through snowy lands, fighting hordes of Balverine or setting up base camp in the evenings, where you'll grab apples off trees to feed Seren, and heal her wounds with your newfound magic touch. Satisfying.

Ultimately, though, it's no surprise a Microsoft-published Lionhead game looks nice, has engaging combat and stars men with funny voices. It's no surprise that MS were keen to push the virtues of their motion controller - via a first-party developer - either. Unfortunately, Kinect is Fable: The Journey's major flaw.

With a controller, this could have been the mother of all Fable games, big and beautiful and open. Without a controller, the game's afraid to let you off the track. Difficulty never comes from challenging enemy formations or new attack patterns to learn, but in struggling against the control system itself. Longevity's not from substance (new missions to do and people to meet), but through experiencing existing content (horse riding), just more slowly.

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This is undoubtedly polished stuff, but the first question that needed to be asked in that initial brainstorm wasn't "How can we make Fable with Kinect?" but "Will Kinect make it any better?"

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The verdict

It hangs together better than a lot of Kinect games, but Fable: The Journey still plods and frustrates in equal measure - and, most damningly, would have been better with a controller.

  • The best visuals in the franchise's history
  • Good pacing
  • It's entirely on-rails
  • Does nothing that wouldn't have been better with a controller
6.1
Format
Xbox Kinect
Developer
Lionhead
Publisher
Unknown
Genre
Action, Adventure

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