Sable takes an unusual, and surprisingly relatable, subject for the focus of its story. Despite being a sci-fi game that’s set on an alien world, you aren't out to take down some Galactic Evil or world conquering threat. You aren't trying to save the universe or rescue some beautiful princess. In fact, none of the usual motivations you'd expect are used here. Instead it's something more mundane, something we've all been through and can relate too.
The transition to adulthood.
The feeling of going off alone, of leaving family behind and joining the wider world while taking the first few steps towards discovering the role you'll fulfill in adult life.
You see on the desert planet of Midden, where the game is set, all children must go through a journey of self-discovery known as "The Gliding" before they can be considered an adult. Will they work on the tribe’s machinery? Make its maps? Will they guard its people or be responsible for keeping its history and lore? Or will they be something else entirely?
That's what the Gliding is all about, it's the time they find out what they'll be for the rest of their days. They must wander the sandy wastes of their land, seeking new experiences and meeting new people, all while trying to gather the knowledge and qualifications they'll need to decide their role in life.
And this is what Sable is going through when we step into her shoes. The time of her Gliding is fast approaching and she must prepare by speaking to the other members of the tribe. This opening section acts like a tutorial and you undertake small quests for the members to get to grips with the game. You power up a Gliding stone, which allows you to glide from high places. You buy a map to uncover the local landmarks. Then, most importantly, you must build Simoon. This is your transport, a speeder style hoverbike, and it allows you to skim quickly across the dunes of sand that make up your world.
But it isn't long till these preparations are complete and Sable emerges from the nearby temple to find the tribe have moved on without her. Truly alone for the first time in her life and, after jumping on to Simoon, it's time to head off into the dunes as the game properly begins...
Now the first thing you'll notice about Sable is its beautiful artstyle. Reminiscent of the works of comic book artist Jean Giraud, more popularly known as Moebius, it's a very distinct look that I haven't seen in any other games I can think of. It is cel shaded, which isn't exactly rare, but the use of thin black lines and blocks of colour makes it stand out. Some of the locales are truly breathtaking with endless sands, wind carved mountains and beautiful statues all stealing the show at different times. Special mention also needs to go to the lighting system too as the day/night cycle brings real atmosphere to the passage of time. The dyed fabrics of characters clothing, the scorched desserts and sparse plant life are all colour filled and bright as the sun shines but slowly dim to subdued blues and greys as night falls. It gives a real feeling of heat to the burning hot sands during the day, and a sense of chill and cold at night, giving a genuine desert atmosphere to your journey. Special mention also has to be given to one location in particular, The Bridge of the Betrayed, where a time based puzzle and waiting around for the sun to be in a certain place, was a joy to watch simply because of the subtle colour changes and shadow movements.
The second thing you'll probably notice, and one I can almost guarantee almost every other review will bring up too, is the games similarity to Breath of the Wild. Like Nintendo's latest Zelda title it's a 3D adventure game where exploration is a major part of the gameplay. You're also given a sealed off starting area that works as a tutorial, where you're given your skills and can experiment with their uses, before being left to your own devices in a world where you can head off in any direction. You can climb almost any surface, just like Link, and are also limited by a stamina bar that you must manage as you do so. The Gliding stone acts like his glider does, covering Sable in a bubble of crimson energy, allowing her to float long distance from high heights. It also has BotWs sense of freedom, you can more or less, go in any direction you like and will be rewarded with points of interest to find, nooks and crannies to explore as well as quests to discover.
But there are differences too. One of the most major, and probably most divisive, is that Sable is a combatless experience. You have no weapons at all and there are no enemies or bosses to fight. This has its positives and negatives with personal preference being the deciding factor in whether it's "good" or "bad". On one hand it enhances the games feeling of being alone and isolated, of wandering a barren desert on your own, while adding to the vast emptiness of the landscape. On the other it makes the world feel empty and incomplete. Interesting locations are far apart and you spend much time travelling through empty desert on your speeder bike with no enemies to catch your attention or provide diversion.
This makes exploration the only focus of the game and the Devs have done a good job of making this worthwhile and interesting. The main reason for Sables journey, to find out her future path in life, makes up the main missions and you'll discover many of these "Mask Quests" on your travels. The people you come across on your Gliding will belong to various professions and most will have some sort of errand for you to run. You might be fixing a windmill, exploring temples, finding scrap, collecting beetles or whatever else the desert denizens need you to do. In return you'll be given a badge of a certain type and, after collecting 3 of the same kind, you can trade this for a mask.
And masks are very important in tribal culture. Every member wears one constantly and it signifies both their occupation and their rank. Each job has its own one to earn and finding them is your ultimate goal. The one Sable chooses will be her position in life and will provide a different ending to her adventure. You can return to the tribe with the first one you find, or keep searching for the perfect job for you. This gives a reason to keep exploring, or to replay to make a different choice, but aren't the only goodies to find. While walking the dunes or amongst the caves, ruins, temples and crashed starships you'll find lore, chum eggs (which are this games Korok Seeds), new clothes, hoverbike parts or simply cold hard cash.
There are some minor bugs I experienced but nothing that was game breaking or truly frustrating. While climbing or moving around I had some moments of geometry clash where the character model would stutter through a wall. When riding my bike its wings would sometimes clip through the environment for a second. There were some mild frame rate stutters. For the most part though Sable goes what it sets out to do. It provides a feeling of wandering and trying to discover a purpose. It's characters have emotional conversation and make meaningful statements and the feeling of travelling through a vast world is realised well. It might not hold everyone's attention though. There can be vast periods of just riding around through empty areas, with nothing to fight or divert your attention, until you stumble across the widely spread out points of interest.
Ultimately though, it's worth a look in my opinion, even for the aesthetic alone. Its style, use of colour and light are among the best, if not the best, I've seen in any indie. Tone wise the feeling of being alone and on a journey are well done and exploration is fun. Just heading off into the desert, riding around till you stumble upon some new area, which you then explore for goodies is a great hook. It can however get a little repetitive. Each area involves some climbing and maybe a simple puzzle or two until you get some minor treasure, before traveling for ages to find the next. It leaves long spaces of doing nothing for minutes at a time before you find something else to focus on. I can't help but think enemies, and Zelda like items and weapons to find, would have gone a long way to making this game better. If you're looking for something action packed, Sable might be disappointing, those seeking a mild stress-free game to unwind with though? Well you'll have something to enjoy and Sable might be for you. If you're a Gamepass sub, you should definitely take a look simply for the artstyle and themes involved. Just don't expect a thrill a minute experience.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
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