Tuesday 23 January 2018

Living up to the legend?

Few console role-playing games (RPGs) have equalled the success and global recognition Fable, with each iteration trumpeted by Lionhead Studio's head honcho Peter Molyneux.

Much of Fable III's gameplay involves travelling from one group to another, vying for their help. Missions are generally violent in nature and the game uses the same relatively fluid combination of melee and ranged weapons with constantly available magical powers.

It's enjoyable enough, with accessible action that is rarely challenging, interspersed with well-acted voicework. Along the way, you'll pick up guild seals that can then be spent on the Road to Rule -- a linear symbolic pathway that lets you unlock magic gauntlets and increase the power of your weapons, while also giving you the option to explore whimsical skills such as theft and seduction.

Weapons are far more limited this time, mainly hammer, sword, pistol and rifle, but each can be upgraded and also adapts over time to complement your style of play. Magic has had the greatest overhaul -- you can now equip two gauntlets at once to unleash devastating attacks; we're fond of Ice Storm + Swords.

Naturally, as it's a Fable game there are tertiary activities, such as owning and renting property and shops as well as pursuing a partner. And in the latter portion of the game where you take on the role of a Monarch and spend a virtual year attending to court business.

However Fable III is massively flawed. In an effort to streamline, Lionhead has decided to remove all menus from the game. Previous games allowed you to check stats in a bland but effective inventory screen in a matter of seconds. But not Fable III. This same clunkiness extends to almost every aspect of the game -- and don't get us started on the fact that fast-travelling takes at least six button presses.

Fable III is also frightfully ugly. Player models are stiff and lacking in detail and the lip sync looks like something from 2005. The presentation is decent -- aided hugely by the impressive cast including Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg and a memorable Michael Fassbender as King Logan -- and some quirky humour. There's a decent adventure to be found, with a sweeping story and some fun quests but it's hardly ground-breaking, and the streamlining of items, interactions and options means it's also a smaller, shallower world than ever before -- taking only 15 hours for a playthrough. Score: 7/10

It's essentially a platformer, with Meat Boy able to run and jump and cling to vertical surfaces in search of his way through obstacles such as saws, spikes, salt and radioactive waste.

Levels can take as little as five seconds to complete but in a level in the first world, I died 40 times before completing it. I know this because Super Meat Boy gives you a replay, not just of your successful run but of every attempt you made. Tiny Meat Boys spring hopefully from the starting block only to be minced, dissolved, exploded and fall into oblivion in mesmerising waves of death.

It's a fantastic spectacle and just one small detail in a game full of surprises -- from the almost 400 levels to a range of unlockable characters (all pilfered from other indie titles), and even the promise by developers Team Meat that they will continue to support the game with free DLC levels for as long as possible.

It's an amazingly generous package, even before you take into account the pixel-perfect gameplay, bizarre, bloodthirsty cut-scenes and frenetic boss fights.

You'll die many times on your quest for Bandage Girl but the level of difficulty is pitched so perfectly and the reset time is so instantaneous that you'll hardly be able to resist the opportunity to give it one more go.

It's an amazing feeling as your eyes dart over a level for the first time, trying to find a chink in the seemingly impossible armour of crumbling platforms, spinning blades and instant death. But inch by inch you'll progress, thumbs finding patterns you never thought were possible. Then suddenly you've bested another impossible task and allow yourself a brief moment of euphoria before squaring up to the next.

An unmissable distillation of what gaming is all about. Score: 10/10

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