Fable: Lost Chapters
key review info
- Game: Fable: The Lost Chapters
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: N/a
- Reviewed on:
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I could have said that Fable is one of those games born from deep love and pure heart. However, all coins have two faces - this is the way of things, and this one makes no exception. So let me reemphasize, whereas Fable might pass as a lovable Snow White of original designs and mechanics, it is in fact so recklessly conceived one could take it for the evil Queen. No surprise here, as many of Peter Molyneux game-designs accustomed his fans with being all idea and no depth. I cannot stress enough how happy I am I did not fall for the enthusiastic presentation of the incipient Fable project. I was too busy with the (virtual) orgasms that Knights of the Old Republic gave me. No, Fable is not the consequence of passion and true heart, but just some cynical brag of a handful of overrated game developers.
On a second, superficial overview, without taking into consideration what Fable was meant to be, it is undoubtedly a distinct, fresh breathe in game design. And I would not have come into believing something like this if the game did not convince me that although being superfluous in many of its aspects it keeps its consistency with itself from one side to another. I mean how one could expect anything mature/deep from a something so outrageously "consolish".
Judging from a different level, the problem with the whole game is that it tries to address complex issues by giving juvenile solutions. Fable was meant to be the our average RPG, but rather a hero simulator, or an interactive fable builder, or the something like a build-in history of that rare kind of heroes fighting with their internal moral conflicts rather than the wicked in the flesh.
Anyhow, even Planescape Torment or KotOR had more success dealing with such matters even though they weren't supposed to. So do not expect anything major from Fable. It is simply not the case. How on the world can I guess what the main character thinks if he never spits a goddamn word? Selfish bastard!
If you are a thinking person, please remove your brain with a spoon before reading this: "The game depicts the life of a gifted orphan wavering between his dark lusts for revenge over the killers of his family and protecting his home, the lands of Albion. But this is a mere shell addressing to those that haven't time to spend, nor wish to dig for game value other than the narrative layout". I have wavered for a while before spitting this out. How can one learn anything about the tragic destiny of the main character if he is so cheap with words? Where is the interface that connects me as a player to the conscience of the main character? My keyboard and mouse? Lame! I mean, why did the Greeks invent the tragedy in the first place? For some guys at the Lionhead Studios to be lazy and not write a single wiseass line to be remembered by posterity? What is the use of giving the player moral dilemmas: kill your sister or do not kill your sister, while your bad boy just nods. For a moment there Fable did touch one of my sensible strings of my heart, but it ended by killing me with a nod. This guy nodded through the entire game actually. It is preposterous! People are dying, men growl at my main dude to save the world, and he nods rubbing his chin. Is this some kind of post-modern twisted philosopher embodiment, or what?
To put in different words, although decent, it is not the plot itself that gives weight to the game but the way it was implemented in its design. Needless to say that playing just for the story's sake won't get you anywhere. But, truth be told, even overstated as it is (or not stated at all), it will prove a great excuse for your despicable deeds. And believe me, there are numberless occasions for you to be the Devil reincarnated.
Bestowed with a fable's layout, the game is thoroughly centered on the hero's behavior and decision-making, therefore the story itself has more of a functional than an artistic role. With a linear plot and everything drawn in black and white, good and evil, light and darkness, the philosopher in you will probably resent this kind of approach and accuse it of superficiality.
In fact, the plot and the ethics provided by Fable should not be judged too harshly. I believe that it was supposed to center on Nietzsche's maxim "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you" (Beyond Good and Evil, 1886). The hero's will is tested several times throughout the plot by having the choice of keeping Albion's archenemy's (known as Jack of Blades) symbols of power and take his place. However, I am too kind making such correlations. The dudes from Lionhead simply juggled with my nerves through the entire thing. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that there is not a single clue to point out what are the ends of my actions. I would have been content with anything, saving the world for instance. But noooo! It is my duty as a gamer to invent this kind of lame surrogates of reasons.
Back to the story, just thought to straight things up: you play as a mute boy who has no idea about what he is doing - well, Mr. Peter knows -, having the unique opportunity to play with the "keep it/throw it away" thingy, tolkienish if you ask me. At least Frodo knew to talk to us in English: "power tempts, power corrupts and the only way to fight it is destroying its material form/forms". He never said this, but he certainly could.
As all games designed for consoles, Fable won't surprise anyone through sheer complexity and such. Broadly speaking, it won't require too much concentration and thinking. The good thing about this is that the game feels fast paced and entertaining to some degree.
Every quest (main or secondary) has two antithetic solutions, one for those who wish to play nice, and another for those who go for the grit and choose power. But do not get me wrong, Fable has nothing to do with any system of moral values. I mean, where is the kindness in killing thieves for gold and experience? Ok, so they are wicked, but destroying evil for other reasons except those implied by the act itself has nothing to do with righteousness, or at least not as much as the developers would have like to. From this point of view it is just your average platform game: collect either white/angelic or red/demonic points. A little dumb if you ask me.
The quests' furnishing follows the same simplistic pattern. Everything is there for you to pick it up, as in crack one's skull or not, recover the X object from the Z area and return it to the D rally point. Do I have to mention that it has the GTAistic approach where you have to go to a rally point select the darn quest and start kicking some monster butt without the need of second thoughts, because you - much appreciated! - retry if things get messy?
Surprisingly, this whole nonsense has a point: character customization. And my God, the main dude can morph a round or two. And this depends on many factors like: training, age, deeds, how many times steel met flesh, and even on some more or less artistic/snobbish traits like haircuts and tattoo jobs. And that's that: Fable is all about the main dude's body customization and a very entertaining one too.
I know what made Fable possible. One night, Peter Moulineaux rubbed his chin with great wisdom and thought: "It's easy for a game with good characters, plot, and dialogue to be enjoyable. And I have already done that. So I won't impress anyone but doing something similar. Why not make totally retarded game that will be as enjoyable as some of the stuff I did back in my youth?" Rad! Making Fable is like running in horse race with the horse mounted on your back and win anyway. Yes, you got me right, you can accuse me of schizophrenia as much as you want, but it is a fact: Fable was one of the sexiest game experiences I had in a long time.
And I believe it was worth the many hours of torture trying to figure out why or what in the world am I doing. By itself Fable is simply dull; therefore it needs a patient and inventive player to show its grace.
It is not that it is difficult to master, the problem is with the lack of harmonization between the game's structure and some of its features. In other news, the game suffers of feature inflation. Not only many of them are poorly tweaked, but they also have no clear impact over the game's layout. They were simply thrown in the game and left as they were, leaving on the player shoulders the task of linking them up with the game core. A fine example of such nonsense is that our knight in shiny armor may receive nicknames. Thing is, once given a nickname (and the easiest way to receive one is kicking a chicken, thus being acknowledged as a chicken chaser) it is embraced by all Albion inhabitants (including the baddies) and it sticks to you until you buy a new one from a merchant conveniently placed outside the Hero Guild (starting area). I do not know who's the chicken chaser after all, the player or the genius who came up with this, rather grating, idea? And countless other examples exist that showcase such problems.
Despite having many heinous features to battle against and learn to tolerate, there are two features that don't just work brilliantly but also complement each other in a rather entertaining manner: character development/customization and fighting. These alone purge the Fable for almost all its sins.
The chicken chaser's aspect depends on several proprieties: alignment/aura (good/evil), age, combat training, body fashion and equipment. Moreover, these proprieties work as an interface between him and everyone else. For instance, heavy armor is scary, while some aforementioned body fashionables (like haircuts, face lifts and tattoo jobs) may turn him into an irresistible stud. Reputation has also some social functionality: people may cheer your presence (thanks to your services to the local community) or run from you in terror provided you've chosen the ways of the unholy.
The aging works rather niftily, the hero matures provided he undertakes the many tasks he is given by the guild. If one sticks to this and interlaces it well with the training sessions, the result may vary between great and awesome. What can be sweeter than the sight of a grey haired impetuous knight? Well, at least it would have been, if the artistic department would have opted for a more inspired character design. The Black and White concept simply does not fit into the picture.
The aura of the chicken lover is however as messed up as the baddies after an encounter with him. The bad dudes re-spawn (zonal, as it was the case with earlier versions of GTA) and force you to fend yourself every time your path crosses theirs. Besides providing the player with some fine moments thanks to the generous combat mechanics, each kill, being an act of kindness (?!), will add a sheer number of unwanted "saint" points to his aura. For those with wicked hearts, there can be ways to counter this problem: making sacrifices, for instance - children and women are more than welcome. How? Besides spells and other goodies, the hero may perform different useless expressions (fart, giggle, arm pump, whatever). One of them is asking people to follow him, usually to the Chapel of Skorm. The problem is that the good folks of Albion do not re-spawn and this provides the player with a serious predicament: what is the use of choosing the dark path if you cannot wander there for long? The sacrifices cannot last for long as there aren't enough souls for this rubbish. Lionhead kept however an ace in their sleeve: the choice of wearing the Ring of Power. Sorry, actually it was the choice of wearing Jack's mask. It doesn't matter anyway, although, on paper our boy is marked as evil, his aspect isn't. Lazy!
Three arts help the hero stay top notch in his daily fighting duties: strength, skill and magic. And they complement each other unexpectedly well. Indifferently what some may think, maxing either one of them will help you overcome with ease any combat situation. To be honest, mixing spells with melee prowess worked very smoothly for me. And this is a thing many games lack: skill harmonization. I mean, it's really worth it to think in advance what skills to improve and how to combine them to obtain the maximum combat efficiency from my character. And thanks to the generous number of shortcuts the overall combat experience of Fable proved to be well over my expectations. A keen RPG player would undoubtedly find the combat treats of Fable extremely rewarding.
For weirdoes - not like me - there is plenty much else to do. I however, besides the morphing concept and the facile combat system resent the so-called "unenclosed" game design. For me, the fact I was allowed to marry everyone including merchants and have a totally erratic sexual life was meaningless if not simply vile. The gain was pretty low, and the finality inexistent. Ok, so I can even beat my male/female wife to death and then add a pinch of torture through my unrelenting crave for sex. So what? Just for the sake of statistics? Horseshit! As much as I would have liked, this kind of features are far from rewarding if they do not link properly with the plot or the main character. It simply does not fit in the picture. What has marriage to do with anything? Not to mention domestic violence. Doing it once as a quest would have been more appropriate, if not actually interesting.
Video and Sound
To put it straight, besides some orchestral tunes that aren't exactly a milestone in music composition - but emotional nonetheless -, the whole art design is simply misplaced. Also never clearly stated, the game abounds in violence and gore. However, everything is rather comical than overburdening and dark. I have never been so simultaneously bored and dazzled by a game's video and sound design. Every single object in the game is gorgeously rendered, painstakingly -- even lovingly -- crafted, and absolutely without sense or scope. In the same respect, masterfully cloaked by the luxurious and playful art design, the level design is utterly hateful! I felt dungeon-crawling the whole game. For what? For the console-design sake?
The camera view has also a lot of explanation to do, as thanks to it, I dug a full-scale entrenchment between my PC and the toilet chair. And I am seriously considering knocking myself out the next time I'll replay Fable. At least I won't have any reasons to complain about the camera wackiness again.
Another complain of mine refers to the conspicuously boobs censorship. What the use of beheading wicked dudes if you cannot see your wives boobs spread all over the place? It is a sham, believe me! A fraud! Fable is rated mature and it has no high quality CGI boobs! It is a possibility I am the one soft in the head, however what's the use of getting laid with "big sad eyes" kittens if all you can see is a black screen sunk in a horrific collection of growls? It insults me as a human being. With things like these it is a little hard for me to take Fable too seriously. I guess I never took it too seriously to begin with.
Nevertheless, I played Fable. And I am happy I did. Considering this has become a rarer and rarer statement for me to make these days, the game is probably worth more than I allowed myself to believe. Granted, for its first two hours, where its worst elements are abundant (a tutorial without a save option), any hopes I might have for a "good" game were dashed against the rocks in the desert.
The Lost Chapters is not a milestone in game design, but - with all its shortcomings - it shows an undeniable greave for innovation - just for the sake of it. I'll keep my fingers crossed for the sequel.