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Fable: The Journey could be a rough one


Lionhead designer Ted Timmons says he learned a lesson after showing off Fable: The Journey to the public for the first time at E3 2011. "It's fine to be on rails," he says a year later, at the tail end of E3 2012. The spin-off was famously labeled as "on rails" by the public thanks to an early demo, and Timmons told Joystiq that while the team was surprised at the response, they eventually got a different message out of the whole thing: "We shouldn't be distracted by the whole 'on rails' issue," he says now. "We just want to make an awesome Kinect game."

The Journey's awesomeness is yet to be determined, but it is certainly a Kinect game. The E3 2012 demo featured about ten minutes of two different levels in the game. You use Microsoft's all-seeing camera to snap and steer a horse's reins, throw a magical spear and open a locked door with magic spells.

But while it all works (once you're shown how to do it - the tutorial is still a work in progress), the real question here is whether this journey is one worth taking.

Gallery: Fable: The Journey (E3 2011) | 6 Photos

To the game's credit, it does something new with Kinect. The real innovation that came out of Milo and Kate (the Kinect tech demo that Lionhead eventually abandoned), says Lionhead's creative director Gary Carr, "was seated play." Fable: The Journey can be played standing up, but it's really designed to be played on the couch, where you'll wave your arms to control the story and cast combat spells.

The game is as responsive as most Kinect titles, and the controls (once you figure them out) are fairly straightforward - hold up your left hand to charge one spell, or right for another, and then fling the spells forward to cast them out. The two spells shown in the E3 demo were a shock spell (that could be upgraded into a fireball) or a force spell, that could be used to pull the heads or arms off attacking Hollow Men.

The spells did indeed fly where they were sent. But the fun just wasn't there, for whatever reason. It could be that I was doing it wrong; after spurring on a horse for a few minutes by snapping invisible reins, my arms started feeling a little achy, and Carr told me it was because I was supposed to put them down in between snaps. He said that maybe the eventual tutorial would fill me in on that point. Likewise, the spell effects were cool, and the fireballs I threw went where I sent them. But complicated fights eventually broke down into just flailing my arms back and forth, tossing out rapid-fire spells until all of the enemies on screen were dead.

Fable The Journey
The bright spot here is that Fable: The Journey does have some more subtle touches. All of this spell power is granted to your main character, Gabriel, via a set of magical gauntlets, which are placed on your arms after you stick them out into a pool of magical liquid. That move is simple, but it's effective, with the game going to a point-of-view camera, and your small real-life moves having real in-game consequences. There are moments, too, where you can lean to move through various pieces of cover.

Lionhead is promising a 12-14 hour story that opens up a lot of Fable's backstory (and includes a lot of familiar locations and characters from the main series), and if they can fill that time with lots of variety and strong Kinect-enabled moments, you might care enough to make it through the tamer spellcasting sequences.

While showing off the lean-to-cover mechanics, Carr tells me that, originally, the whole game worked on a lean-to-move mechanic. "We solved it technically," he says, which perhaps caused a lot of the "on rails" confusion when Fable: The Journey was first announced. But what Lionhead found, through its own development and user feedback, was that "this really isn't how I want to play games," Carr says.

We'll see if Lionhead has found the right way to play with Kinect when Fable: The Journey arrives on October 9.

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