Fable Anniversary review: Return of the chicken chaser

2004. It was the year something called Facebook launched,  the year the New Zealand government banned smoking in public places and the year that Lionhead Studio’s released Fable on the original Xbox console.  It was the year I turned 35, too, if you’re interested.

Fable Anniversary: the new look hero from the remake of the 2004 original.

Fable Anniversary: the new look hero from the remake of the 2004 original.

Casting my hazy memory back to the days of the original Xbox is hard but I remember playing Fable on Microsoft’s first console. I liked it, I think,  but it was a game that it’s creator Peter Moyneux talked up big. In fact, the things he said about it caused a bit of a stir, if I remember rightly. I think at one point Molyneux claimed that if you planted an acorn in the ground in the game eventually you’d see it sprout into a towering oak tree. It proved to be complete rubbish, which we all found out,  but it indicated the ambitious things that Fable wanted to achieve.

I trawled through some old newspaper clippings to see if I could find my review of Fable, but I couldn’t (the review came out before the newspaper I worked for archived anything like video game reviews online so I only have a hard copy – and only God know where that is), but one of the things I remember most about Fable was the wicked British sense of humour that oozed from just about every pixel.

The townsfolk were voiced by real Britons (not Americans trying to sound like Britons) and our hero could fart at the press of the D-pad. He could fart! I think that was pretty much unheard of in video games at the time. He could also chat up women, steal stuff, smash down doors, get back tattoos, get huge sideburns and sleep in beds that he wasn’t supposed to. It was a sort of action adventure game with role-playing elements where you could be a goodie two-shoes or a complete shit. It was up to you. According to Wikipedia, it was the biggest selling game of 2004.

Anyway, with 2014 being 10 years since Fable came out, Microsoft have done what it did with Halo and had the game re-made by Lionhead and called it Fable Anniversary. It’s for the Xbox 360 (and not the Xbox One) and it’s the exact same game that came out in 2004 but it looks much, much better thanks to its HD lick of paint.

The environments look much cleaner, the textures are a lot crisper (watch the comparison video at the end of this post and you’ll see what I mean) and the people generally look a lot better. It’s the same game as the 2004 original though, apart from the updated graphics and audio: the same main character – the Hero of Oakvale – the same enemies, the same quests and the same quirks as the 2004 game, but thanks to the powers of modern graphics tech, it looks great. But the question is: Should you buy Fable Anniversary if you’ve played it?

It depends on how much of a Fable fan you are, I guess. If you haven’t played it before, and own a 360 and want to check the series out, it would be a good starting point but if you’ve played the original to death then it’s not going to be that worth it to you.

The game still had a few quirks, too, that bugged the hell out of me. While the game’s menu has been overhauled – and it’s all the better for it – the lock-on system plays silly buggers from time to time. Pulling the left trigger locks our hero’s weapon (be it a bow or an edged one) onto the closest target but sometimes in the heat of battle it would lock on to a trader in the distance rather than the bandit (or the balverine) advancing on me. The speech also loops quite a bit, which is annoying. During one mission where I had to meet the hero’s mentor, he (the mentor) would stand there yelling “Over here” over and over again, until I went over to him. I also inadvertently hit the right analogue stick while in the midst of battle with a group of hobbes (small goblin-like creatures), popping the mini-map to the middle the game screen, blocking my view. That one, though, is purely on me.

In the years since Fable was released, games have evolved and the things that Peter Molyneux touted as revolutionary are now commonplace (and some of Fable’s quirks were sorted out in Fables 2 and 3).  The question is: Should you play Fable Anniversary? If you haven’t played the original and want to have a look, then, yeah, it’s probably worth a look but to be honest, while Fable Anniversary looks great, has retained the wicked sense of humour and is fun, part of me wonders whether a remake was really necessary and was it done for nostalgia’s sake or as a way to milk an old franchise for a little bit longer?

I just spoke to Peter Molyneux, so there

Peter Molyneux: before he made Fable, he made those great games like Syndicate and Populus.

Just this minute I got off the phone to British gaming designer Peter Molyneux. Really, I did.

Sure I’ve spoken to him before (twice before actually: once in Japan in 2008 and again last year at E3 – but who’s counting) but every time it’s a pleasure. He’s such a friendly, approachable chap  who isn’t afraid to say what he feels, even if it makes PR people squirm and fidget.

It was especially nice that this time it was just me during the interview – oh and the two PR people (one in New Zealand and one back in Britain. I could hear the British PR guy in the background telling Molyneux that time was up and that was the last question).

I recorded the interview on my shiny new Sony dictaphone so now I have the arduous task of actually having to play it back, listening intently, then write down every single word of it, then craft those words into a story  – and I’ve got to have it to the editor of the magazine that it’s running in by next Monday. That’s only five days away. Yikes!

Some things he told me: he’s working on “lots of new stuff” that he’s not allowed to talk about, that he’s been told by PR people that he’s not allowed to talk about Milo, that he drives PR people insane, and that he almost crashed his car the other day because he got distracted after seeing a squirrel bouncing around!

There’s loads of other stuff but you don’t think I’d be silly enough to tell anything else before the feature story is published, do you?

Of course you didn’t!