Not a real review: Fable Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Fable Anniversary

Fable Anniversary (Lionhead Studios) – beautiful, but buggy.

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I was ecstatic when Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary last June. The original Fable – the game that sparked my interest in video games (beyond racing, sports, etc.) as an adult – turns ten years old this year, and remains one of my favorites. A long-hoped-for, remastered-for-HD version of my favorite Xbox game, originally expected to release less than five months after its announcement? I was 100% there.

Of course, it was pushed back to February, ostensibly so that Lionhead could add some final polish and make it the great remake that it deserved to be – and that its fans deserved, and craved.

I picked the game up on its release date (February 4), but I didn’t get around to starting it for a couple of days. Since then, I have put approximately 25 hours into it over the course of a half-dozen play sessions. I’ve spent my time in-game savoring the HD graphics, basking in the soundtrack, and exploring every nook and cranny of Albion. It’s wonderful to see the original Fable in its updated glory. The adventure can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve been taking my sweet, sweet time, and I have no regrets about doing so.

The not-real review:

Graphically, Fable Anniversary is a pleasure, although this is expected: in the Xbox 360 era, we’ve already had Fable II and Fable III, which both look bright and colorful; Anniversary feels right at home when compared to those two.

The gameplay is faithful to the original, with the added option of using the Fable II controls. Personally, it’s a pleasure to play a 360-quality Fable game with the map on-screen again, and while the menu interface design has been updated, it still feels like old times, in a good way.

I won’t go into detail about every aspect of the game. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and I’m sure most fans of the original game would have a lot of fun revisiting Albion in Anniversary. Plus, this is not a real review.

However, I will note a handful of troubling issues with the game.

1. The original game’s “trade between shops for gold” “bug” – where a player can buy out a vendor, instantly increase that same vendor’s demand (and buy price) for items, and then resell those items back to the vendor for a profit, instantly re-lowering that vendor’s demand (and sell price), ad infinitum – made it into the remastered game intact.

It’s fairly obvious that Lionhead isn’t terribly concerned with the ease of gold-making in the series. After all, Fable II and III both had fairly simple, repetitive job systems that made gold-making a mindless afterthought after players put in a little bit of initial work. However, I would argue that this a broken system that needed to be fixed. They did fix it to some extent in Fable II, which had a much better “sale” system, but in remaining faithful to the original in this case, they trivialized several other systems. For instance, with basically unlimited gold, the use of Health/Will potions and Resurrection Phials goes from somewhat strategic (in the first hour or two of play) to completely trivial: when you’re sitting on 500+ Health/Will potions, you can use them like candy and it’s not challenging. Additionally, getting very good armor and weapons becomes simply a matter of opening up new areas (and thus, new vendors), with little-to-no real cost. And getting the “Choosing My Religion” achievement for donating at least 100,000 gold at the Temple of Avo (which also rewards a very strong melee weapon) is a drop in the bucket. There is no real choice necessary there (unless you deliberately choose not to make gold that way); instead of making choices have consequence, you simply buy what you need – even an achievement – while suffering virtually no effect on your overall gold balance.

2. The game freezes way too often, which is a problem. It’s happened to me more times than I’ve cared to count. On Sunday, for instance, I played for just over two hours and had to shut off/restart my 360 three times. The first time it happened was early on in the game, when I was halfway through the “Twinblade’s Camp” core quest. I was mollified when I realized that I could load from the latest checkpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I’ve had to hard-restart my 360 almost 20 times with Fable Anniversary, and even though Lionhead came out with a stability update a few weeks after release, I’m still having many of the same problems.

3. There are some annoying jagged edges in the game. The one that has annoyed me the most – probably because I’ve used it so many times – has been a problem where, if I run straight into a cullis gate (usually at the Heroes Guild), I can’t actually get onto it. I have to approach it in a semi-circular manner in order to avoid the jag, which is just a pain. There are some other ground jags, but nothing that has been as consistently frustrating as the cullis gate issue. Fortunately, we have the Guild Seal, and I’ve taken to using it almost exclusively for teleportation.

4. On that note, I’ve also noticed some instances where, when attempting to use the down button on the d-pad (Guild Seal) to teleport, the game instead reflects that I’ve used either the right or left d-pad buttons, which means I use some type of expression (usually a fart, which I guess is hilarious in its own way), eat something I didn’t want to eat, or something to that effect. At certain points, that has been frustrating, particularly at times when I was some distance from the nearest cullis gate. Since the update, this seems to have toned down, although I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence.

There are other gameplay elements that aren’t the cleanest, but these bugs are the ones that have bothered me the most, because they’re particularly immersion-breaking and because I would think that, aside from #1, Lionhead would have been able to smooth out the game’s rough edges (bugs) with the extra time afforded them by the delay.

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In general, I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun playing Fable Anniversary. It’s been great to revisit the old stories, places, music, and choices. I’ve laughed a lot, and enjoyed the coziness of the game. At the same time, I’ve found myself getting chills during certain quests, even though I’ve done them before: the quest sequences where you a) find out Lady Grey’s secret at Grey House and b) fight through the graveyard on the way to Bargate Prison were, in particular, very cool combinations of atmosphere, music, and spooky situations.

Looking back at the original through this fresh experience, it’s easier to see how Lionhead took some big leaps forward from Fable to Fable II, with jobs, the vendor sale system, combat system, expanded pub games, and the social/Renown/relationship overhauls. While I still sort of want to look back on my experiences with the original and tell people that the first Fable was the best game in the series – and I do think that it’s still my favorite – I have a much greater appreciation for the changes in game mechanics that Lionhead made in the second game now. Fable Anniversary is great, and it’s a loving tribute to the original classic, but it also shows both its age and its limitations when compared to its newer brethren. As such, it generally deserves its decent-but-not-smokin’-hot review scores.

I would definitely recommend Fable Anniversary to fans of the original Fable, as well as fans of Fable II and III who haven’t played the original, if for nothing other than to experience the original story. Albion is rich with lore, and for those who never played it on Xbox (or never owned an Xbox), this is a wonderful opportunity to visit that era in its history.

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My experience with Fable Anniversary:

  • Previous Fable experience: played the original several times. Also played II several times, and III once.
  • General game thoughts: beautiful – and still a lot of fun – but also a bit buggy, and shows its age.
  • Graphics: not cutting-edge anymore, but generally on par with other 360 Fable entries.
  • System/game performance: generally consistent with the original, and very playable, but – again – has some unfortunately frustrating bugs.
  • Music: excellent, as usual – a game soundtrack worth buying.
  • Xbox Smartglass: I didn’t test the Smartglass features. Additionally, I didn’t feel like spending extra money for the premium features, and they aren’t totally necessary anyway (although from what I’ve read, they’re pretty cool).

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices (although this game is something of an exception in that regard). These posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

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Not a real review: Homefront (PS3)

I recently picked up a used copy of Homefront (2011, PS3). Since the game is more than two years old, and was neither critically acclaimed nor a blockbuster, I got it at a fairly rock-bottom price. This is especially good: I am not a big fan of first person shooter (FPS) games, and consequently, I’m not a very skilled shooter. Thus, I usually pass on such games, even when they’re in the bargain bin.

While there’s almost always a “fun” factor with video games, there was one specific reason that I wanted to try this particular game: the setting. To summarize:

Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea since 2011, unifies Korea in 2013 to form the Greater Korean Republic (GKR), which becomes a world power. Iran and Saudi Arabia wage war with one another, driving U.S. gas prices to $19.99/gallon. Economic unrest and hysteria ensue; the U.S. calls much of its military home. The GKR annexes several weakened Asian territories, including Japan. Eventually the U.S. dollar collapses. Avian bird flue kills 6 million people, forcing Mexico to close its borders to Americans. In 2025, the GKR detonates a high-altitude nuclear satellite above the U.S. and invades Hawaii and the west coast. At the time the game begins (2027), GKR occupies and controls virtually everything west of the Mississippi River (which is irradiated).  

(Watch the video of the opening sequence above for more detail.)

Ever since I first heard about the game, I’ve wanted to see this vision and story for myself. And so, it was into this world that I stepped when I fired up Homefront for the first time on Tuesday.

After the opening cinematic (see top), which set the tone for Homefront by getting the player up to speed, I assumed the character of Jacobs, a former Marine chopper pilot. I was captured, and was being transported to a re-patriation camp, when suddenly the bus I was on was attacked, and I was rescued by American resistance fighters Connor and Rianna. From there, I was running through abandoned streets and houses, shooting at GKR gunman, and… dying. A lot.

I played the game for almost an hour before I remembered that I had a scope. A scope! which I could use to train on enemies and actually kill them with some consistency, rather than waving my crosshairs around like I was in the color guard! I wanted to be angry at myself, but I had to smile instead. It’s been so long (years…) since I’ve played an FPS that I forgot about the scope. For an hour. Nice.

Anyway, once I remembered that I could use my scope, I started making some actual headway in the game.

One poignant event in Homefront came when, after killing a ton of enemies (and acquiring some beacons for a future mission) at the local detention center, we (Connor, Hopper and I) came to an abandoned baseball field, where the GKR was in the process of dumping American corpses into mass graves with a front-end loader.

Upon witnessing this unspeakable outrage, Connor lost his sanity for a minute, and with a stream of obscenities, started firing madly at the GKR – who outnumbered us quite thoroughly. Fortunately, Hopper kept his head and led us around the perimeter of the field/grave, where we managed to kill every soldier in the area and destroy two sentry towers, only to be approached by Korean choppers as we surveyed the mass grave. Connor’s solution? Well, we stepped down into the grave and pulled bodies over ourselves until the coast was clear.

That was a powerful experience: to see, to “participate in,” and to think about later.

At that point, I was about a quarter of the way through the game. I finished it on Wednesday, but nobody wants me to walk through them through the whole game here. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the sniping missions, stunk badly at the helicopter mission (it was probably the only really frustrating part of my game-play experience – being a noob and all), and thought that everything from that point through the Golden Gate Bridge gauntlet was pretty fun. The game ended abruptly, and I was left feeling like it wasn’t supposed to be over; like there should be more there, but there wasn’t – it was just over.

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I wanted to play Homefront because I wanted to see the developers’ vision of America in such a dire circumstance. Obviously, I hope that such an event never happens, but my interest in alternate history scenarios was what drove my desire to try out this game.

Ultimately, while I wasn’t blown away by Homefront, I’m glad I took the time to play through it and experience the story for myself. The story wasn’t terribly long, and the graphics, music, and voice acting weren’t anything to write home about, but I still had fun playing it. I probably won’t ever play it again, but it was definitely worth the $5 to satisfy my curiosity.

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My experience with Homefront:

  • Previous FPS experience: not much (“noob”).
  • Single-player thoughts: a very short, good-but-not-great game; interesting story premise (which felt unfinished); conventional FPS gameplay.
  • Multi-player thoughts: none.
  • Graphics: unimpressive, but serviceable.
  • System/game performance: no freezing or game-breaking issues.
  • Music: not a standout feature; typical, but still fit well with the game by my meager standards.

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices. Since I’m simply terrible at most video games, these posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers. 

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!