It’s not really fair to criticize a game for being designed for a particular system or controller, but I can’t help but wish that Fable: The Journey wasn’t a Kinect game. It has all the makings of a fine Fable adventure, but gets bogged down by hitching its story to a motion-controlled wagon. It’s not meant to be Fable 4, just a fun little Fable-flavored diversion, but even as such it falls short of delivering on its promise.
You play as Gabriel, who gets separated from the rest of his caravan after indulging in an ill-timed snooze while driving his horse cart. While he’s trying to find a way around the collapsed bridge keeping him from catching up, he runs into Theresa, who Fable fans will recognize as the seeress who has a habit of putting good-natured nobodies in harm’s way so that they can become heroes. Sure enough, shortly after he saves Theresa from a grim fate, Gabriel finds himself literally stuck with magical gauntlets and a mission to save the world. Gabriel’s journey, both metaphorical and geographical, may not be particularly inventive or deep, but it’s appealing, just the same.
You’ll split your time in The Journey between steering your horse, Seren, from the seat of the cart and hopping off to use your magical gauntlets. The controls for horse driving actually works surprisingly well; you slap the reins to make Seren go faster, pull one or the other to steer her side to side, and pull up towards your chest to make her slow down. As approximations of driving a horse cart go, it’s pretty effective and the hand motions required to make it all happen are pleasingly simple to learn. But even the best approximation of steering a horse cart is still an approximation of something that is, by nature, not very interesting. The game does its best to try and spice things up by forcing you to steer around trees, tossing in some chase sequences and making the different colors of experience impossible to pick up unless you’re going the correct speed, but mostly, you’re just looking at Seren’s butt as she clip clops along the trail.
The parts where you hop off the cart are more active, and therefore a bit more interesting, but ultimately they fail to hold your attention. Your magical gauntlets let you cast spells like bolt and push by waving your right or left hand, and you block by crossing your arm across your chest. You can combine spells to attack your enemies directly, or use the environment against them, assuming your Kinect is calibrated well enough to understand what you’re trying to do. Theoretically, you can use push to latch onto enemies and fling them around, but I could never get it to work with any kind of reliability. You can use aftertouch on your shots to guide them around obstacles by shooting out your hand, then flicking it the direction you want your shot to go, but good luck getting that to work in the heat of an actual battle. When your gauntlets work the way they’re meant to, combat is mildly entertaining, but too often you’ll find yourself frantically flapping your arms around just trying not to die.
The experience you collect goes towards upgrades for both you and Seren; you get stronger spells, she gets more health. It’s satisfying to have something to work towards, though the upgrades are so sparse you might not feel much incentive to try and scoop up the experience orbs that litter the roadside. You’ll probably collect enough experience to acquire all the spell upgrades you want simply by cutting down enemies in combat, which makes the cart sequences feel even more like a waste of time. You will occasionally encounter an optional pit stop that will let you open a collectible-concealing chest, give Seren a good brushing, or get into a wee fight, but they don’t pop up often enough to relieve the tedium.
What’s so frustrating about Fable: The Journey is how good it almost is. Gabriel is likeable, Theresa is a mainstay of Fable lore, and even if their banter sometimes strays into sitcom territory, the adventure they’re on is one worth pursuing. The charming Fable visuals are present in full force and the voice acting is, as usual for the series, incredibly well done. What a shame that all that potential is saddled with such dull motion control gameplay. The few times you can interact with your surroundings, like healing your horse or opening chests, feel gimmicky and pointless.
Bottom Line: Playing through the game all you can see is the missed opportunity. The world around you is interesting and begging to be explored, but your movement is on rails so you can’t do anything about it. Pick any complaint you might have about Kinect games – they feel like tech demos, they’re unresponsive, they’re repetitive – and Fable: The Journey is guilty of it.
Recommendation: The world is inviting, the characters are likeable, and the adventure is enticing, but the actual gameplay of Fable: The Journey is a waste of your time. Unless you’re desperate for a reason to dust off your Kinect, don’t bother.[rating=2]