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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Shedworks
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2021

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


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PC Review - 'Sable'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on Dec. 16, 2021 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

Sable is a coming-of-age tale of discovery through exploration across a strikingly rendered open world desert.

I love when a video game pleasantly surprises me.

It's always exciting after you adjust settings in the game menu for a bit (isn't that what all gamers do first?) and then hit "new game." Sometimes the excitement wears off in about a nanosecond because the game isn't what you'd hoped for. Maybe it isn't even what was advertised; trailers can be misleading.

Maybe it doesn't even run.

When a reviewer's instant reaction to the first few seconds of the game is a delighted and audible, "oh!" you know the game might just be a keeper.

In Sable, that was precisely my reaction after the very short, but beautiful, opening cinematic, after which I felt like I'd stepped out of the pages of a boldly colored comic book. There's no crazy event, no awkward movement or wild spaceship ride with an out-of-place tutorial. You are simply standing in an old ruin in a colorful yet minimalist cel-shaded world, where a brief, non-annoying tutorial via pop-ups walks you through the first few minutes of the game.

I feel like that's unusual because pop-ups are usually annoying. Somehow, these were just perfect. As soon as you even think the thought — such as wondering if you can climb the wall in front of you or possibly crouch under that ledge — a pop-up "pops up" and politely tells you how to do just that. Sable practically read my mind.

If it isn't obvious yet, you are Sable, a young, masked girl on the desert planet of Midden, and you are smack-dab in the middle of a big, bright, sand dune-filled world. Your camp of fellow nomads is nearby, and you are surrounded by glorious color. I can't express enough how breathtaking the art is; Sable's approach to visuals is otherworldly.

Movement in the game is effortless; it even feels a little floaty. You become instantly aware that little Sable is extremely agile, as she's able to scale walls better than Spider-Man, and she's pretty good at jumping and running, too.

Once you've figured out the ease and grace that is Sable's movement, you can leave the temple and head back to camp. Directions are provided to you by a handy quest log. The options menu is set up nicely with illustrated tabs, which are easily discernable as your log, inventory, map, and so on.

The only gameplay issue I experienced occurred whenever I was in a menu or while running through some dialogue with NPCs, and in fairness, it was a pretty small irritation. The mouse pointer was a little jittery, sometimes making it difficult to click the field I wanted to select. It never impeded my progress or became anything more than a mild nuisance, but it was a nuisance nonetheless.

It occurred to me that it was possible that by messing with my camera speed (I instantly upped it upon entering the game), I had mucked up the mouse sensitivity. While that seems unlikely, I'll have to do some testing in my next playthrough.

Sable's primary goal in the game and in her life is to complete the gliding ritual and become a glider, which is a rite of passage for her people and a means of entering adulthood. She earns some very nifty and useful abilities, such as her main gliding ability, which surrounds Sable in a beautiful, orangey-pink bubble that allows her to soar through the air in a fashion that is not quite flying, but rather more like controlled floating. This was a huge boost to my exploration in the game as I could leap from one tall structure to another with relative ease.

This mechanic might seem familiar, as it, as well as some other themes, was inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Shedworks, the UK based two-person dev team behind Sable, was admittedly inspired by the franchise, but fear not: Sable is entirely distinct.

On that note, I'm always amazed when a two-person team puts out a game of this caliber. It's gorgeous, seemingly vast, and most importantly, fun to play. That's something that established gaming companies with full development teams often can't replicate.

Sable completes several tasks at camp and throughout her travels. Some tasks reward her with nice-to-haves, such as a very cool hoverbike that she can call to her side if it's close enough, and she can customize it with different colors and parts. Sable also finds various gear on her journey and is able (and encouraged) to earn badges for gliding. Earning badges helps her gain masks, which are culturally very important to her people; everyone wears one in her world. There are many masks that Sable can get, and the earned badges depend entirely on how the player chooses to approach the game.

She is also able to boost her stamina (her only real status bar, which helps her climb longer and run farther) by finding chum eggs and bringing them to the Chum Queen. A chum in Sable is quite aptly named, considering how friendly they are, and they look like cute bouncy worms that hover in some tough-to-reach spots throughout the desert.

This reminded me greatly of games like Dark Souls. In Dark Souls, the enemies are severe, especially compared to the adorableness of this world, but the random locations for loot are similar. Personally, I prefer collecting adorable chum eggs and zooming around on my hoverbike in this boldly colored world to fighting nightmare beasts from a dark and evil realm, but to each their own.

This barely covers what Sable has to offer, however. The landscape is an open-world gamer's dream, with limitless exploration and freedom to scale walls and cliff edges in any way you'd prefer. Your limits come in the form of a depleted stamina bar, which causes you to drop to the nearest available flat surface and rest for a few seconds. You have to use your noggin to figure out how to reach certain places and cleverly use the tools in your arsenal to move forward.

There is an element of platforming in this game, but when compared to a traditional platformer, Sable's abilities make it a lot less stressful to jump from sand dune to sand dune. Sable seems to be primarily focused on the exploration aspects of the game, and with good reason — it's a ton of fun.

In a seemingly deserted world full of ruins, crumbling towers, ancient machinery and ships, animal skeleton remains, and a variety of other nomadic camps, Sable comes across multiple puzzles and conundrums that add to its considerable charm. Fans of puzzle games will find some satisfaction here, too, as there are multiple puzzles, quests, and puzzle boxes — again, likely inspired by Zelda — that Sable needs to complete and manipulate to access information, upgrades and gear on her journey.

There are also several other quests that allow for some decision-making on the player's part, and they can range from capturing beetle carapaces to scrapping metal and solving crimes.

If none of that is appealing, you can lose yourself in the minimalist world (in a good way). The exploration in Sable is seemingly endless, which is a welcome change from games that claim to be open, only to greet you with more invisible walls or inexplicable stopping blocks on your journey. In Sable, if you have the stamina, you can go virtually anywhere.

Between the bold and ever-contrasting color palette, the ambient music by indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, and the pure joy of climbing cliffs, ruins and dunes to your heart's content, Sable offers an immersive dive into the lives and traditions of its small, nomadic world. Beyond its artistic merits, the game is supremely fun to play. It's a title that adventure gamers and art lovers alike will happily explore for hours on end, and despite the occasional bug, it's a very well-made game. Sable is well worth adding to any adventure gamer's library, and I eagerly await Shedworks' next big title.

Score: 8.9/10

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