STAFF REVIEW of Fable (Xbox)

Sunday, September 12, 2004.
by KmanX

Fable Box art Once upon a time, far far away in the distant land of game development there was a game. Not much was know about this game, just that it went by the name of ?Project Ego.? All that was really known about Project Ego was that it was going to be a Role Playing Game (RPG) that would revolution the genre. This proclaimed revolutionary title would come from the legendary creator and storyteller Peter Molyneux, who if you remember gave gamers God powers in Black & White. As the news about Project Ego slowly, very slowly, trickled out gamers learned that they would once again have God-like control over their character. Sort Of.

Over the past few years Project Ego was often delayed (like many first party games) but more and more details emerged as a did a name change. Fable, as it was now to be called would be a game in which your every action determines your skills, appearance, and reputation. Starting as a young lad, you begin your journey with a choice. You could choose the path righteous man (sorry, love that monologue from Pulp Fiction) or you could go the way of the darkside with a life of evil. This premonition of choice is not new nor is it unique but for some reason I was still intrigued by this title.

Two reasons why this game had kept my interest despite the many delays it encountered. The instant Molyneux had the balls to declare Fable would be the ?greatest RPG ever? I was hooked. I was really looking forward to seeing more about the game. I was also anxious for the game for the reason on why Molyneux made that declaration ? the depth the game promised. Yes you would sway to one side or the other based on your choices but it was the added details that I wanted to see. And yes, the game would look and sound great but there was more. He promised your character would retain scars from battle or if you ate too much you would get fat or spend too much time in the sun and you could develop a tan. Everything you did would shape your outcome. Awesome details in theory but would they actually be put into the game. Only time would tell I guess.

The time is finally upon us to find out. This was the game I was looking forward to this holiday season. I say was because the surprise of Splinter Cell 3 changed that but I digress, see the X04 article for all that noise. I had mixed feelings when I was told a reviewable build of Fable was on its way. One on hand I didn?t want to touch because I wanted to be surprised. I also didn?t want to play through the build and then have to go through it all again with the retail copy. (Note to developers: please please PLEASE find a way that peeps can copy their game from reviewable builds from a debug to a retail box. Enough of that.) But then again, it?s Fable!!!!!! and I get to play it early!! Wooohooo!

The second the game started I knew it was going to be good. This game looks absolutely fantastic. This is the best looking game I have seen in a while, a long while, sorry Ninja Gaiden but Fable is looking oh so good. One of the first shots in the game is a close up of the main characters face. It is one of the most realistic faces I have seen in a game. The colouring is great and the polish is impeccable. I could not get over the smoothness of the characters, especially in these close-up shots. Later on in the game in one of these close-up shots I noticed that my character did in fact take on some battle scars as the game had promised. In trying to go the evil route I decided to sucker punch a guard (one of many). That led to a beating by three guards that left a scar running across the side of my face. With this scaring, I was afraid that this could negatively affect the great details poured into the characters look. I am pleased to report this does not happen.

You can tell the developers really took the time to add the polygons to really smooth out any rough edges. I know I couldn?t see any on the faces, just on hair as expected. You also notice the detail they put into the characters hair when they are running around. The hair flows in the wind and in the correct direction of your travels. I pity the poor animator who had that task.

The luscious environments you will roam around and battle in feature also great graphical treatments and were given the same extremely fine attention to detail.

The detail remains intact when a character speaks or is running around. When speaking, the mouth not only moves, but it actually moves in tune with conversation. I know that sounds like common sense but too many games feature characters that talk with out moving their mouth are not in sync with the dialogue. However, none of these issues plague Fable, which is great considering every line of dialogue in the game is spoken and not just text on the screen.

This spoken dialogue is just one of many strengths of the sound of the game but the voice acting really does standout. The individuals who were selected for the characters were perfectly cast. During character conversations you will really notice and appreciate the merits to gaming in 5.1 surround sound. Depending on the environment you are in you will hear a bevy of sounds coming at you in every different direction with every thing from birds chirping to people talking. It?s a great detail that really helps you feel submersed in the game. As I write this, I have left the game on in the background (just so I can take a ?research? break) and I can hear roosters crowing, townsfolk bartering, birds chirping, etc.

The music score, which is constantly playing in unison with all the different sound effects, is very well done. It?s the exact kind of music you would expect for this type of game. The music often mimicked what was transpiring on screen. If you were in a fierce battle then epic fight music would play. The music played during battles reminded me of some of the music heard in Halo. On the flip side, the music that plays when you are frolicking about town or on your way to your next quest is light and appropriate.

Appropriate is one way to describe the controls of the game. Just about every button and stick is used for something. The deeper you will get into the game the more you will be able to do with the character so the various buttons and sticks will be used. Mercifully though you are given a tutorial on how to attack with your fists, weapons and Will (magic). When you are in battle you can hold the left trigger down for targeting a specific foe. This works with both your fists and weapons. Depending on which ?Will? attack you are using it will attack all enemies so you will not have to worry about targeting.

One aspect of game play that you will have to worry about is the AI ? it?s that good. Gone are the days of getting into big trouble on screen and then running away only to come back and everything is fine. I got into a lot of trouble early on as in one of the towns as I was not only fighting but I was also smashing barrels looking for goods and stealing. I was able to ring up a huge fine in a hurry. Only one problem, I didn?t have the money to pay it, not even close so the guards tried to beat it out of me. After trying to fight four against one and not succeeding I decide I should hastily retreat of screen, figuring the guards and their wrath would disappear. Man was I ever wrong. When I returned, the beating resumed. There was no escaping the havoc I created.

I also noticed how if you attacked secondary characters they would run off and be calling for the guards. Again I thought, ?they are gone, don?t have to worry,? wrong. Much to my surprise/horror the character had not only returned but he brought four more guards with him. I knew I was in big trouble. After terrorizing the townsfolk long enough you can develop the reputation as a bully and troublemaker. Once you have achieved this reputation, the towns folk will actually call out insults at you saying lines like ?there is the troublemaker? or ?he makes the villiage idiot look smart? or something to that affect. Awesome touch of not only sound but also it?s a great testament to the AI.

Given the extraordinary AI, deep soundtrack and exquisite graphics it looks like Fable may come close to living up to its billing. It didn?t go as far as I would have liked to with this one given that my retail copy should be arriving at any day. But I did get deep enough in the game to know that its not only going eat up a lot of my free time in the coming weeks but that its also a very solid game.

All indicitaions point to a short game. Being delayed as long as it was, I truly hope this is not the case.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.4 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.8 / 10


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