Review by magx

Reviewed: 02/12/14

Saving The World, One Chicken Punt At A Time

You want to pass through me and gorge yourself on my treasures? Get fat first. That is the message delivered to you by one of Fable Anniversary's so called 'Demon Doors,' magical doors created long before the time during which the game takes place, made to conceal the existence of various treasures. Approach the door in Barrow Fields and this is the message with which you are met:

"Oh no, not again. Another bony adventurer seeking to plunder my riches. I'm not interested in your meager frame. Get some meat on you! I want beefy! Blubbery! Plump! Porcine! Stop being a slave to public perception, and treat yourself. Pies, meat, beer, anything; but lots of it! Eat yourself large, and you'll be welcome here!"

The life of a hero in Fable Anniversary, a remake of the 2004 Xbox classic, is as silly as it is grandiose. The game might task you with such grown up, heroic things as protecting the citizenry and exacting revenge on evil doers, but it is not averse to some farting and drunken chicken punting along the way. One of the better aspects of the original game was this dichotomy between abject silliness and sobering, world changing responsibility. Fable was a silly game about serious matters, and those disparate elements are intact here in the remake, once again making for a fun and unique take on a well worn concept.

Speaking of things being well worn, pop in the original Fable and take a look at those foggy, low resolution graphics splashed across your screen in not so glorious standard definition and a 4:3, non widescreen aspect ratio. Well worn indeed. Lionhead, tasked with bringing Fable to the modern era, utilized the Unreal 3 engine and employed 100 artists with the aim of totally redoing the textures, lighting, and special effects in an effort to make the Xbox original look more in line with current Xbox 360 offerings. Widescreen support was added, a very important upgrade since the original Fable only supported a 4:3 aspect ratio. This might not sound like much in 2014, but pop in the original Fable and you’ll be met with black bars on both sides of the image, which are now thankfully removed as the native aspect ratio has been updated to the industry standard, widescreen enabled 16:9.

In addition to the aforementioned textures and lighting, draw distances are improved, as are the particle effects, shadows, and water effects. All of this has resulted in a much prettier version of the original game. It still retains the visual style and flair of the original while updating the visual offerings to a level more suitable for consumption in the modern era. There is one downside, however, and it is one that has plagued Unreal Engine 3 games throughout this entire generation: texture pop in. It's not a dealbreaker, but it's there.

One of the strengths of the original game was the sound, especially the musical score. At the time, this high point was held back by audio compression as well as being limited to two channel (stereo) audio. Fast forward ten years and the original score that was so beloved by the fans is not only still intact, but allowed to shine, freed from the chains of compressed, two channel audio. For the first time, fans of the Fable can play the game they love with no limits placed on the aural experience. Multi channel surround sound and uncompressed audio are now a part of the Fable experience and it sounds wonderful.

As free as the sound now is, you as a player are still confined by small, linear areas replete with invisible walls and objects that you cannot jump or climb over, and, as was the case in the original game, said areas are separated by load screens. Given the small size of each area, these load screens are rather frequent at times, although thankfully they are much shorter in duration than they were ten years ago. They certainly are not "near instant" as was stated in pre-release interviews, but they are limited to somewhere around 15 seconds apiece. These load times can be further reduced by installing the game to the Xbox 360's hard drive, or external memory, although I was unable to test this due to a lack of space.

Frequent (and lengthy) loading also rears its ugly head during the (optional) Smartglass experience. Smartglass integration sounded promising, as it adds the ability to view a map, compare the graphics of any area you are in to those of the original game, take screenshots of any on screen action, and attain information pertaining to chest locations, demon doors, etc as well as other general tips and secrets (this aspect of the Smartglass integration is optional so don’t worry about unwanted spoilers ruining your experience). In my experience testing it out however, the promise was drowned out by an unwieldy, wonky experience. Apart from the long and frequent loads, it also, at least on my phone (HTC Evo 3D) ran slowly and did not feature a very intuitive user interface. I did not use it again after my initial test, although to be fair going into the experience I did not expect to utilize it much, if at all. An achievement popped up once I connected to Smartglass, so that made up for the apps' shortcomings.

On the positive side of things, the updated user interface and the aforementioned achievements are nice additions to the core Fable experience. The UI now features a simplified and more intuitive menu system and more information and user control when it comes to things like inventory and attaining/equipping/reading about items found in chests around the world of Albion. This manifests in new abilities such as the ability to equip an item right from a chest, as opposed to having to take the item and then enter the equipment menu in order to find and then subsequently equip the new item. In addition, the original game's save system was split into so called Hero saves and World saves, something that a subset of the people who played the original found cumbersome and less than intuitive. Well, Lionhead was listening because there is now a single save and it can be employed manually at any point in the game. These changes help to make Fable Anniversary fit in with the modern crop of games, eschewing the perhaps more antiquated quirks of the original.

In fact, one aspect of updates made in this remake actually represent a first for Xbox 360 games. Some of the achievements offer optional paths to completion, the less arduous of them carrying negative in game consequences such as being taunted by townsfolk or being given unflattering nicknames. This addition of choice and consequences is a first for the Xbox 360 achievement system and it serves to add an interesting dynamic to the game as well as fitting right in with the overarching themes of the original Fable, of which choice and consequences were a central component.

Despite being ten years old, the core gameplay of Fable Anniversary holds up fairly well. While the aforementioned linearity, invisible walls, limited environmental interactivity and intrusive loading screens may sound annoying, they never venture beyond that. Somehow the game succeeds despite these issues. The ability to switch between melee, ranged and magic on the fly keeps the combat feeling fresh. The variety of spells is fantastic and the possibilities for combinations of magic, melee and ranged attacks within single combat encounters is quite high. The ability to make boasts during the quest acceptance process, essentially putting your money where your mouth is, was and is a fantastic addition to an rpg staple and something that I would like to see implemented in more games.

There is of course much to do aside from the usual questing and fighting. Fable was known for these activities and Fable Anniversary is no different. Buy, sell and rent property, play various betting games, fall in love, have sex, get married, walk up to a group of strangers and flex your muscles before lifting your leg and ripping a large fart; it's all possible in Fable. All of your actions, both inside and outside of quests, works to formulate your reputation within the world of Albion, and the in game morality system encompasses all of this. Your actions generally fall somewhere on a scale between good and bad, and what was, and still is, great about Fable is that these choices manifest in both how in game characters react to you as well as your very appearance itself. If evil acts encompass the majority of your in game actions your character's outer appearance will begin to shift in order to match your moral inclinations. You will wear the scars of battle on your face and the weight of your choices will bear witness on your complexion and attributes, to the point where you can actually cultivate a pair of horns. This works on the opposite end of the spectrum as well, of course, substituting a halo for the horns.

The control scheme for Fable may now seem archaic to some, and so, in recognizing this, Lionhead has added the control scheme from Fable 2 and 3 so that the game can be played in a more comfortable, modern way.....with one caveat: magic. The original development team did an admiral job with Fable's control scheme, which allowed the player to scroll through the list of spells and select from them both quickly and in real time, keeping the intended pacing of the game intact. While Fable 2's scheme, featured some improvements, such as the ability to toggle stealth or the placement of functions such as run and block, I would recommend to anyone who was a heavy magic user in the first game and intends on doing the same in this version that they switch the controls from Fable 2/3 inspired to the traditional scheme, as the newer controls wrecked the speed and accuracy of spell selection. Of course, the best option would have been custom controls, so that the user could use some combination of the two schemes or something else entirely, but alas this was not implemented in the game.

Technical issues like an at times wonky targeting system, texture pop in, invisible walls, repetitive npc dialogue and less than perfect AI behaviour (at one point, a tower guard I was fighting returned to his post and acted like I was no longer there after I backed up maybe 20 in game feet to charge an arrow that I had aimed at his apparently empty head) definitely mar the experience and perhaps even detract somewhat from the fuzzy feelings engendered by the memory of the original Fable, but even so the core game holds up fairly well, even outdoing modern games in some limited and specific, but definite, ways. Fable Anniversary takes that core experience and gives it a pretty good makeover, giving it a chance to shine in today's trickier and more buyer savvy market. Nostalgia may have clouded my perceptions of what Fable was in 2004, but the Anniversary treatment in 2014 has served to make up some of that lost ground, once again giving me an endearing and endlessly charming video game experience.

Grade: 75%

Rating: 8

Product Release: Fable Anniversary (US, 02/04/14)

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