Fable first came into our lives way back in 2004. It brought with it some refreshing and innovative ideas on how to pump some vigour into the veins of the age old RPG genre, it also sadly never quite managed to deliver the experience you felt the developers so badly wanted it to. The original Xbox never held the power to bring the vision fully to life and even the vastly superior 360 has still seemed to fall short.
Fable is still a success story for Lionhead studios of course but the games have always, at least on a personal level, felt way too shallow and throwaway to compete with the true big hitters of the action/RPG stable. They reached for the stars but ended hanging precariously from the guttering wondering what went wrong.
So then, how about if ‘shallow‘ and ‘throwaway‘ are the order of the day? What if Lionhead released a game that wouldn’t look out of place airing on the CBeebies channel alongside Iggle Piggle and Mr Tumble? If the goalposts were widened and the ambition narrowed could a Fable game finally find the back of the net?
Don’t be silly! Here’s Fable Heroes.
What Lionhead have served up with this latest in the Arcade ‘NEXT’ promotion is a delicious looking, ‘hack and slash’ side scrolling action game…..with puppets.
Each puppet depicts one of our heroes from the main Fable games such as Hammer and Reaver as they head out to defeat waves of enemies, open a few chests, collect coins and erm, very little else to be honest.
The game accomodates upto four players in co-op as they plough along through Albion on a merry jaunt. Each level covers an area of the Fable universe so many of us know and love and also contains a fork in the road that requires players to choose where to go. One path leads to a variety of entertaining mini-games, great when playing with friends online, the other to a tiresome boss battle. Tiresome is a word that tends to come up fairly often here.
Such familiar foes as Hobbes and Balverines will be pummeled into oblivion along the way and this time round a far less familiar Fable foe also rears it’s ugly head, the one known as The Monotony Monster!
Yeah I know that was poor………..Monotonysaurus?
Anyway, this is the main problem, the game quickly descends into a bit of a mediocre hit, hit and hit again side scrolling yawnfest with very few redeeming features. It’s hard to see who this is even pitched at. While our younger Xboxers will certainly enjoy the simple and straightforward gameplay and colourful looks they probably won’t have the sort of connection to the main characters as they would in something like a Lego Harry Potter or Indy spin off. Older players such as myself, okay perhaps not quite that old, but older anyway will struggle to find anything here that can hold the attention for more than the briefest of blasts. Unfortunately everything that Fable Heroes offers has been seen and played before in other far more accomplished games.
Between levels Lionhead have tried to keep players on their toes with a little board game action. Dice are rolled, you get to move your character and then choose whether to spend your coinage on the upgrades depicted on the square you’ve landed on. It’s a nice idea but isn’t executed very well. First time round it was a little difficult to see what was going on, second time it was fine, third time it had become a slight chore and a little pointless.
The original Fable series prided itself on challenging the player to make some pretty substantial moral choices, Fable Heroes attempts to do a similar trick via the good and evil chests scattered across the levels. Choose a good chest and a member of your party will be rewarded, choose an evil one and they’ll feel the wrath of the chest. The rewards and punishments come in a variety of shapes and sizes from turning your puppet into a giant for a time to zapping them from above and causing coins to spill. It’s one of the smartest features in the game and, especially the evil chest, results in much merriment among the group. It obviously doesn’t hold the same draw when playing alone but it’s still a nice touch and the game is richer for it.
The only thing truly keeping this game’s head above water is the inclusion of the four player co-op over Xbox LIVE. Here at least the action continues to hold some pleasure, whether it’s competing with fellow players for coins, teaming up to dispose of tricky bosses or unleashing the evil chest, standing back and watching gleefully as it reaks havoc. With friends Fable Heroes has a chance. Without? Well, it’s probably going to become very boring very quickly.
Graphically the game looks great. The characters, backgrounds and enemies throughout Albion simply ooze charm. The animation is fluid and precise although at times when swinging and connecting with an enemy it feels a little like there’s no actual connection, as though an air shot is doing the damage.
In terms of length Fable Heroes isn’t going to keep you going for long at all. After completing your first playthrough you’ll unlock Dark Albion, a place of slightly tougher challenges and slightly less light but, to be fair, Dark Albion isn’t enough of a departure from regular Albion to make it hugely worthwhile, it adds a little time to the overall game length but in all honesty you’ll do well to see this one through to the end.
So what have Lionhead dealt us this time round?
Well, Fable Heroes is a strange one. It lacks in some very key areas such as originality, entertainment and longevity. It has a couple of neat tricks up it’s blousy shirt but not enough to make this a worthwhile purchase. This sort of approach has been done so much better by the entire Lego series and games like Fairytale Fights. In it’s favour is that when tackled with friends on board Fable Heroes does come to life for a while but when played alone you’ll do well to see out ten minutes before yawning and hitting the power button.
If you absolutlely adore Fable then you may find something here to admire and enjoy, if you have a passion for hack and slash games then it’s been done much better elsewhere and if you are new to the Fable universe then please, for the love of God, buy a real Fable game as this just doesn’t cut it.