Modern titles such as Mass Effect and The Walking Dead offer gamers a plethora of choices that they can make throughout the course of a game which will effect its development or outcome. But it was Lionhead Games who really championed user-defined gaming and brought the idea to the forefront of our consciousness with the original Fable. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of it’s release on the first Xbox, Lionhead have lovingly remastered the game in high-definition. The game maintains all of its old ideals: do good deeds and people will love and respect you, but do evil deeds and they will fear and despise you.
Fable Anniversary has an incredible visual improvement over the original, but is also a strange grotesque object to behold. The artists have really slaved away over this project, re-modelling everything in the Unreal 3 engine, re-drawing all textures in high definition and adding improved lighting and particle effects – all of which bring the title closer to modern standards. Environments look far richer, and even though many character faces are still pretty ugly, they represent a marked step forward from old character models. In fact, when you look at images from the initial release and hold them up against the remastered efforts – the improvement is profound.
Problems arise, however, when you realise that the characters may have been built better, but the way they move and interact is still stuck in the past. Indeed, walking animations and interactions all seem to use the same basic animation cycles that they did originally. Lip-syncing seems to have been cleaned up a little so that things don’t look too awkward during cutscenes, but even so the facial movements are so basic, and most of the combat appears so haphazard, that there is a strange imbalance between the graphics and the animations. The Unreal 3 engine also seems to dull the bright, cheery atmosphere a little, and things appear far less full of life than you may remember.
Lionhead have managed to preserve the memory of the first Fable by subtly introducing features from the later games into this one, as if they were there all along. As much as most fans might claim that the first Fable is their favourite from the trilogy, it would probably be a bit painful to play through the game again after becoming accustomed to the games that followed it and refined it. To help tint your nostalgia glasses a little more, features such as automatic check-pointing, the ability to save your game at almost any point, and the three-button, three-attack style control method from Fable II have all been added in, seamlessly.
These certainly streamline things, and when coupled with smaller tweaks that were missing first time around (such as the ability to equip clothing and weapons as soon as you discover them) the basic gameplay elements all flow together more smoothly. But this doesn’t mean that the good elements from the game have been brushed away. The Boast system (where you can set yourself extra mission objective in order to gain extra bonuses) and the armour-boosting benefits of wearing different items of clothing are thankfully still present.
Aiming is still hit and miss, though. Holding the lock-on button should lock your sites onto the nearest foe, but often (even when that enemy is right in front of you) it’ll spin you around 360 degrees and lock on to a friendly Trader instead, whom you then swiftly slay by accident – cue half the village labelling you a murderer for the next ten minutes. Other times, the camera will simply be too slow to keep up with the action, and cut important information off-screen during cinematics.
Whilst extras such as SmartGlass integration (taking the form of an interactive map of the game, complete with hints and tips, secret collectibles and comparison screenshots to keep you busy) drag Fable Anniversary into the modern age of gaming, there remain many reminders that the title is over ten years old. One of these is the use of the same voices that were recorded for the original release. The Mockney accents quickly become grating, and the issue of repeated phrases rears its ugly head all-too-often. Sometimes you want to play a quiet game of Pairs in the local Tavern without a local yelling Chicken-Chaser at you fifty times.
VERDICT: The re-mastering of Fable is clearly a valiant effort, with a seemingly huge number of man-hours having been invested in the graphical overhaul. The problem is that not only does this take the title into high-definition, but it magnifies the flaws as well. Things such as the long load times between the rather small sections of the map, and the clunky animations and difficult aiming system detract from the many refinements that have been added. Rather than excelling through re-building the game from the ground up and making everything new, Fable Anniversary remains confined by the same technologies that it always was.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by the publisher.