Played on Xbox Series X
When I saw the frankly underwhelming reboot of Star Wars in 2015, the one thing that stuck in my mind the most was how the character Rey was surviving at the start of the film. Roaming a desert filled with ruined spaceships and scavenging whatever she could to sell looked very ‘cool’ and to this day still appeals to me.
Six years later, living that type of lifestyle in a world with an art style heavily influenced by the artwork of the legendary French artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud has become possible thanks to developer Shedworks and publisher Raw Fury – and is available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.
This seems to be the year of tiny indie developers releasing highly anticipated games. One person was responsible for Omno, two people created Death’s Door and now another two person development team at Shedworks have delivered Sable.
Let’s roam around and see what we can discover.
Set in a place called “Midden”, the game revolves around the coming of age trials of the main character whom the game is named after. Society is seemingly structured around strong female characters and dictates that everyone wears a mask at all times. Children are required to wear a standard design while adult roles are reflected in a specific mask type such as Trader, Guard and Machinist.
As a rite of passage children living in nomadic tribes are sent out into the wilds to learn how to survive, encounter different people, broaden their horizons and learn about who they are. Before setting off, tradition dictates that Sable is given several items. A “Gliding Stone” which once activated in the temple allows her to activate a “hover bubble” if she falls from height in order to avoid injury, a compass that allows navigation and the setting of waypoints and a Hover Bike as a means of transportation. Experiences gained during “The Gliding” allow the player to decide which role they want to take on in the adult world and which mask to choose at the games climax.
It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it!
Interestingly, following this premise is really the only thing that I was made to do when I played through the game for this review. Sable is designed to allow the player to set off in whichever direction they want, whenever they want. Exploration is the name of the game here, riding around the rapidly changing environment seeking out wonders and this can be taken at whatever pace the player chooses.
It is possible to take on multiple quests at once which are stored in your quest log but there is no pressure to complete them or to carry them out in any particular order. Successfully completing a quest for someone results in being rewarded with a pin representing the role of that particular person. Once you have three of the same type (e.g. Guard) you can visit a Mask Caster who will create a mask of that type for you and increase your mask selection options for the end of the game.
I played for approximately seven and a half hours before I had completed enough of the game for the option to be offered to me to complete my gliding and return to my tribe to choose a mask. I continued for another hour and then finished my game knowing that I had not completed exploring the world but this is a flexible ending that allows you to go back to your last save and continue the gliding experience for as long as you want. Not many games allow the player to finish the story when they have had enough of the gameplay.
Platforming needs to be undertaken at every location you discover using the fairly basic control set of walking, running and climbing. A stamina meter determines how long you can run or climb for and therefore you need to make sure that you can climb to the height required (within the realms of the meter!) otherwise you will fall back to where you started.
A general rule of thumb at any newly discovered location is to get to the highest point possible whenever you can, as most rewards are either situated at or accessible from these points alone. Whilst high up it is also worth scanning the horizon and creating waypoints to any locations that can be seen as they cannot always be spotted at ground level due to the topography of the landscape.
Starting with an empty map you soon start to fill it with established towns and settlements and these then remain on the map in the form of location markers which allow you to fast travel. This turns out to be a real godsend as the hover bike (particularly pre upgrade) is slow and not great to handle. It is worth noting here that you are also able to buy downgrades for the bike but you do not know this until you go to have them installed by a machinist and believe me you do not want the bike to be any worse than it is at the start.
Lets play dress up
Different outfits can be purchased from traders as can pins from certain highly ranked traders (once you have worked out how to get access to one) if you have enough of the in game currency known as “Cuts”. Cuts can be found in baskets littered around the environment or earned by selling scrap or extra animals gathered during quests and items that you have no further need of.
The ability to change your clothes seems to be purely for aesthetic purposes and is probably to help you decide which role mask to select for adulthood. Although some clothing was described as being better for climbing, I detected no actual benefit to my stamina meter when Sable was wearing it. Maps of different areas adding extra detail to sections of the map in the quest log can be purchased from Cartographers that can be found living in random very lofty positions.
When you are not gathering or transporting items or even carrying out an evidence collecting detective mission for a quest there are other distractions to spend your time enjoying. Numerous “Puzzle Ships” of various shapes and sizes are awaiting discovery and once entered require fairly simple puzzle solving to be carried out in order to infiltrate the control rooms where decent rewards or knowledge about the history of Midden are waiting to be claimed.
There is nothing generic about these and the different vessel designs are worth marvelling at. Far harder multi-stage puzzles are available at the various temples where a door in the shape of a woman’s face (like the one at the start of the game) needs to be unlocked to earn higher value rewards.
Lurking in the shadows
Time on Midden seems to be based on a Luna cycle closely resembling that of earth. Certain quests could only be carried out at night which would account for this but I get the impression that it was incorporated to show the great level of work that has been done with shadow throughout the game. The art style is pretty amazing in itself with unique ‘Moebius’ inspired graphics but once you see the sun coming up and going down and the resulting realistic shadow movement it is hard not to be very impressed.
The graphics, the atmospheric and sometimes ambient soundtrack by “Japanese Breakfast” and the flowing movement of the upgraded hover bike combine to make Sable somewhat mesmeric and relaxing. The fact that there are no enemies to fight, no threats to your safety and no way to die within the game makes it very hard not to have a chilled experience.
When it comes to accessibility options there is not much on offer but that is not really a surprise considering the size of the development team.
In terms of glitches, I experienced a few such as getting stuck in mid-air once but a game reset fixed this issue and stuttering on occasion when riding the hover bike but this is an already known about problem and is due to be fixed in the first few weeks after release.
I spotted a few things during my play through that could improve the gameplay experience. There were quests where I was required to travel to a certain location to interact with animals but once I got there, I could not find them which was rather frustrating. It would be nice if your hover bike could travel to you at the push of a button instead of having to work your way back to where you left it before you started climbing and I don’t think it is necessary to get the same description box for certain items (I’m looking at you Chum Eggs) every time you pick one up as it gets annoying having to dismiss the message. These are however pretty trivial complaints and nothing that should put you off playing the game.
Sable is unusual in that it puts the player firmly in control of how they want to play it. I cannot think of another game that has given me the choice to complete the story whenever I was ready, at whatever pace I chose. With a unique atmosphere conjured up by the visual style and the custom soundtrack it is well worth sinking several chilled out hours into this title.
If a true voyage of discovery appeals to you, you will be in your element exploring Midden and it’s many mysteries, and with Day One Availablity on Xbox Game Pass, it should probably be at the top of your download queue.
I ended up as a Trader by the way – which Mask will you choose at your journeys end?
- Impressive graphical style.
- The ambient atmosphere and visuals create a chilled experience.
- Different levels of puzzle difficulty within the game.
- How you play is up to you.
- Some repeated description boxes can be annoying.
- Hover Bikes have to be located after platforming sections.