Sable encourages leisurely exploration and straying from the beaten path, but is unfortunately dragged down by a few too many bugs.
Imagine a lite version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but without enemies, combat, or a health bar. There’s still climbing every hill in sight, delving into every cavern to find hidden objects and uncover new locations. There are even dungeons to a degree – areas that must be investigated in order to complete objectives or retrieve items. That is essentially Sable, a relaxing and captivating open-world adventure game developed by Raw Fury.
Combining the zen-like tranquility of titles like Alto’s Adventure with a touch of Team Ico’s ability to build atmosphere and mystery, Sable is a game for the player who loves running off to explore any attention-grabbing feature in the landscape, enjoys uncovering the entirety of the map, or feels compelled to inspect every nook and cranny solely for the satisfaction of it. Raw Fury’s creation provides a peaceful adventure, but not one lacking in fun or depth. There are still quests to do, a story to uncover, environmental puzzles to solve, but no danger to hamper progress.
Players take on the role of the eponymous Sable, a young girl who sets out on a coming-of-age journey called the Gliding. On the planet of Midden, all the inhabitants wear masks that designate their chosen life path, be it merchant, guard, artist, or machinist. But this choice represents more than just a profession; it identifies who the person is. Children wear nondescript masks until they set out on the Gliding, and a frightened but excited Sable must leave her family for an undetermined amount of time, encountering a range of characters along the way. She will venture into crashed spaceships, scale steep cliff faces, and investigate mysterious ruins scattered across the land.
Sable herself is an endearing protagonist, with a sometimes wry sense of humor and a generally kind heart. Through dialogues, which often reveal Sable’s inner thoughts, players learn about her hopes, fears, and insecurities. She is relatable and, like many of the people encountered throughout the game, begins to feel like more than just a video game character spitting out programmed lines.
As she travels from village to village, monument to monument, Sable meets specialists who will give her badges upon successfully completing tasks for them. Once she has gathered three of a single type of badge, she can trade them to a Mask Caster, who will give her a mask for that specialty in return. In this way, Sable will experience the different professions available to her, helping her decide what she will become after the Gliding. She also acquires the ability to drift in a kind of magical gravity-defying bubble which, along with her inhuman proficiency in climbing, forms an integral part of the gameplay.
On the day Sable sets out on her journey, she receives a hoverbike, which (sometimes) comes when whistled for and serves as her primary means of transportation in the vast land of Midden. One of the highlights of this indie game is its customization. Not only are there a variety of outfits and masks to earn or purchase in-game, but there are also numerous upgrades for Sable’s bike, and hunting these down is a very rewarding part of the game. While changing clothes only has a superficial effect, swapping parts on the hoverbike affects its speed, acceleration, or handling.
After completing the prologue, Sable sets out on her bike and the game’s sprawling world opens up before her in a poignant way that slightly echoes stepping into the sunlight at the beginning of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion or viewing the entirety of Midgar for the first time in Final Fantasy 7. The moment is accompanied by a touching track from indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, who successfully usher the player into what turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.
Playing Sable is like running through a graphic novel, and the visuals are easily one of the game’s strongest points. It’s a wondrous, albeit rather empty world players find themselves exploring. There are expansive windswept dunes, deserts filled with cacti and alien plants, and towering mesas and pillars. One thing to keep in mind is that the brightly colored game shown in many screenshots online is not an entirely accurate reflection of the game’s appearance. There is a day and night cycle in Sable, and it seems to be some stage of the night about two-thirds of the time. Without daylight, the game’s colors become muted and grayed out, and most of the game will be played with that less vibrant color palette. Perhaps this is intentional, though, because it makes the brief interludes of bright colors that much more appreciated, and Sable truly is pleasant to look at during the day.
In addition to the many positives of the game, Sable unfortunately also suffers from a number of technical issues. None were major or game-breaking, but the bugs were so prolific and constant that they were inevitably detrimental to the overall impression left by the game. Sable could have benefited from another few weeks of bug fixing and polishing.
There were too many issues to mention them all and, while they didn’t happen constantly, the majority were encountered more than once within just the first 10 hours of gameplay. Button prompts randomly ceased displaying so that it wasn’t always evident when an object could be interacted with. HUD elements like autosave and quest icons would stop appearing for several minutes and then reappear for no clear reason. Menus would freeze and no longer respond to inputs, either with a controller or keyboard. Sometimes this would fix itself; twice the game had to be exited to get functionality back. This was one of a few, probably related, issues involving the in-game menu.
And upon being summoned, Sable’s hoverbike got stuck underground or within walls on multiple occasions. Once, it even got caught on a ridge and twirled up and down it for a good 20 seconds. That’s not even going into the more negligible problems like texture flickering, people walking endlessly in place, the camera clipping through walls and ceilings, objects lacking collision, or Sable occasionally getting stuck as a result. And while not everybody will be bothered by typos or punctuation mistakes, those were seen frequently enough to be distracting to players who notice that kind of thing.
These issues are unfortunate because Sable is a remarkable game that would normally warrant a higher rating. But the problems, although minor for the most part, were encountered with such regularity that they can’t be overlooked. Hopefully, Raw Fury will fix these hiccups quickly because, without those flaws, Sable truly is a beautiful and minimalist journey through an open world that is a joy to explore.