Kinect finally shines in hands-on adventure
REVIEW: Fable: The Journey. (Xbox 360). Lionhead Games. $69.99.
Released to much fanfare in 2010, Microsoft's Kinect hands-free motion controller has so far failed to live up to the hype that surrounded its release. "You are the controller", screamed the tagline, "it's better with Kinect" promised the ad campaign - but as is so often the case, the excitement that greets new technology soon gave way to disappointment and cynicism as few of the promised innovations came to fruition.
That's not to say that Kinect hasn't had its moments. Simple concepts involving broad, obvious movements like Dance Central and The Gunstringer are undeniably enjoyable, if limited games, but while the system has offered plenty of throwaway fun for the casual crowd, there has been little in the way of the full fat, immersive experiences that core gamers crave.
The announcement of a Fable game for Kinect offered hope to those who dared to dream that the system might confound those who had been so quick to write it off as just another short-lived gimmick. Lionhead's RPG trilogy is renowned for its depth and richly-layered storytelling and has amassed a loyal and committed fanbase - could this be the game that finally allowed the Kinect to live up to its unfulfilled potential?
It certainly gets a lot of things right - most importantly the fact that it allows you to play sitting down. So far, almost every Kinect title has required a full body view of the player, resulting in long periods spent on your feet and much flailing of limbs. This is a worthy concept in theory, and there's no doubt that a lot of gamers, myself included, could do with upping their physical activity levels but there's no getting away from the fact that gaming is essentially a sedentary activity. In the same way that running round your living room reading a book would limit your ability to lose yourself in the story; it's difficult to have a truly immersive experience while bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box.
Not only does Fable: The Journey allow the player to use motion control from the comfort of the sofa - it cleverly weaves this into the story as a plot device. As alluded to in the title, the majority of the game takes place in the driving seat of horse and carriage as you make your way across the land of Albion. Movement is controlled by reaching out and grabbing the reins - cracking them to go faster, pulling them towards your body to slow down and turning by pulling one while extending the other.
Despite starting off as a leisurely trot through lush fields and picturesque mountain tracks, the action soon ramps up after the game's protagonist Gabriel finds himself under attack by a malevolent force known as The Corruption. After narrowly escaping the pursuing darkness and rescuing mysterious companion Theresa, our reluctant hero finds himself caught up in a familiar battle against evil, assisted in his quest by a pair of spell-casting gauntlets.
These glowing gloves are your main method of interacting with the on-screen action, with Kinect tracking your hand movements as you fling bolts of energy at enemies at the flick of a wrist and manipulate obstacles and objects by pushing and pulling them around. Despite some early problems with fine-tuning, once the sensor is correctly configured, control is surprisingly precise and accurate. Kinect games are notorious for being clunky and unresponsive but this is by far the most intuitive use of the system so far.
Although the action is "on-rails" and movement is almost completely computer-controlled, this allows for greater focus on narrative, with long chats offering plenty of scope for dialogue and character development as you steer your carriage along the winding roads of Albion.
Plenty of memorable characters are encountered along the way, but one of the strongest relationships in the game is with your horse, Seren. As your constant companion and frequently injured friend, it is surprising how much of a bond is formed with the animal while feeding, healing and cleaning her at camps and rest stops
Overall, Fable: The Journey is by far the most extensive and enjoyable Kinect game to date, and a much-needed shot in the arm for a system that has come in for its fair share of criticism. If you're a disillusioned and disappointed Kinect owner looking for an excuse to dust off your unit, or a Fable fan after another rich storytelling experience that expands upon the series' lore, it's well worth checking out.
- © Fairfax NZ News