Since reading back in May on IGN that "Fable: The Journey" just really works as a Kinect game, I've been curious if this would be the first real Xbox 360 Kinect experience that would draw me in, maybe get me to spend $150 on Microsoft's hand flailing sensor.
So does it work? Will "Fable: The Journey" make good on the Fable franchise's most radical departure from the previous entries in the series when it releases in early October?
First a few words of preamble: It is important to know the type of gamer who gets his hands on a game like this. I've owned an Xbox since day one, I've fixed the laser drive on my console myself, I do not own a Kinect, I play "Halo: Reach" on Xbox Live, I enjoy conquering the world in "Civilization: Revolution," getting extremely aggravated at my current lack of skill in "Counter Strike: Global Offensive," and exploring the world of "Skyrim" at an extremely leisurely pace.
I don't exactly fill the shoes of Microsoft's ideal target demographic of Kinect gamers. I also don't make weird, overly excited faces when I play games.
Nobody looks like that when they play videogames, especially not on Kinect considering it is hands free.
They look more like this (works best when synced to a little Deadmau5):
That isn't usually me, and that isn't many gamers unless you own a Kinect. Unfortunately, Kinect has so far failed to really live up to an "expanded" gaming experience beyond maybe "Child Of Eden," which is almost as enjoyable even when not using a Kinect. Then there was "Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor," an attempt at an ultra-hardcore gamer experience that failed miserably with critics and gamers alike.
Now we get "Fable: The Journey," the fourth installment of Lionhead Stuido's Fable series, a historically ballyhooed franchise that has aspired to reach great heights, but failed to fully deliver. But you can mostly blame the well intentioned but overzealous former Lionhead Lead Peter Molyneaux for overhyping previous Fable games, all of which I've enjoyed immensely.
Molyneaux even has his own entry in the Urban Dictionary where to "Molyneaux" is defined as, "To not deliver to previous promises made regarding the development of something."
In a lot of ways, the Fable franchise is similar to the Kinect. They both have made lofty promises and failed to really come through, yet both game and system have been highly successful monetarily and have brought some real ambition to the table.
So does "Fable: The Journey" really deliver as a Kinect only experience? I met with Lionhead's Creative Director Gary Carr to find out for myself.
This is Gary Carr:
I am Gary Carr.
Now that you know what Mr. Carr looks like, you can appropriately picture him getting incredibly excited about Fable and gesticulating all over the place. Also an extremely nice guy, Gary is.
Actually sitting down instead of standing to play a Kinect game is really unique, and a key feature of "Fable: The Journey" worth mentioning. During my session Carr insisted I just jump right in (while sitting) without him demonstrating anything first. Though it was obvious by his perspiration he'd done most of the demonstrating in the session before mine.
I warned him I'd played the previous Fable installments, but haven't much experience with the Kinect. My lack of experience on Kinect proved not to be too large of an issue and fit into what Carr told Polygon during a "Fable: The Journey" demo, "Don't do anything that makes you [the player] want your controller back."
Carr began by throwing me into a tutorial that taught me to use various magical spells and abilities, then challenged me to use them all in combination during combat a bit later in the game.
By the end of it, I didn't want my controller back, and that speaks volumes to Lionhead's work to make "Fable: The Journey" as immersive of an experience as possible. The game achieves this by making you feel powerful, as Tina Amini over at Kotaku mentions in her time spent with the game. I agree. You feel like a magic wielding badass in The Journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed popping off limbs and heads of skeleton warriors by throwing my tether towards enemies and swiping my hand to the left or right. Following up a limb popping attack with a fireball that finishes the creature off is a satisfying gaming experience. Toss in a Zeus-like thunderbolt spear that you cock your hand back to activate and throw at the screen to release, and its hard not to go into a fit of maniacal childish giggles. I'm 35-years-old. Take that rock troll!
The only real issue I had while playing was my poor aim when too many things were going on at once. Tether! Lightning bolt! Block with left arm! Fireball! Er... Fireball! Wave! Wave! Ahh! But I can see how a little bit of repetition and practiced movements could result in a smooth Kinect experience with responsive controls.
Is it truly a Fable game? Not to worry, from what Carr tells me The Journey is most definitely set in the Fable universe, with returning creature types, a familiar art design and even chicken kicking. Since what has largely drawn in players to the original Fable entries in the series was the well crafted world and characters, British humor, and engaging storyline, "Fable: The Journey" has to at least nail these aspects to succeed, even with a successful Kinect control scheme.
I didn't get the impression the universe was dumbed down or "Kinectified" at all. The game is linear and runs on rails like an arcade lightgun shooter, but it works in The Journey, and works well. There is a sense of progression from constantly being moved forward and eliminating baddies and solving puzzles without having to worry about directional movement.
Fable also looks great graphically with nice textures which were admittedly hard to focus on during the action. There weren't any hitches, hiccups or frame rate stutters while I was playing.
Credit goes to Lionhead if the entire 15 or so hours of game time in "Fable: The Journey" ends up being as enjoyable and immersive as my short play-through suggested. And credit to the gamers who attempt to play it for extended periods of time. Even sitting down, waving your arms around can get a bit tiring. Carr's answer; there are cutscene breaks, puzzles and other less intense activities between some of the heavier action sequences that allow players to catch their breath a bit while continuing on the adventure.
Considering my time was short, but Gary Carr's infectious enthusiasm and obvious passion for the Fable universe was long, I came out after playing "Fable: The Journey" thinking it might just have a chance to achieve what it set out to do. Be a great game.
We'll find out in October.
"Fable: The Journey" releases exclusively on Xbox 360 Kinect on October 9, 2012. Those with Xbox Live can give the demo a whirl when it goes live on September 17, 2012.
Are you looking forward to "Fable: The Journey?" Sound off in the comments below.