From developer Shedworks, we have Sable, a charming and meditative experience that promises an immersive world to explore, quests and tasks to complete, puzzles to solve, and secrets to discover. It’s a title that doesn’t hold the player’s hand but simply allows them to discover things on their own.
This title certainly has a lot of promise. It clearly excels in delivering an intriguing world, along with solid mechanics to explore it. There’s no doubt that its technical presentation, with its inspired soundtrack and visuals, is excellently conceived. However, it is plagued with performance issues that really impede it from reaching its full potential. Beetles aren’t the only bug in the desert.
Sable is available now on Steam, the Epic Games Store, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
STORY – COMING-OF-AGE IN A STRANGE WORLD
Sable follows an eponymous heroine on the cusp of undergoing a traditional ritual called ‘The Gliding’, in which adolescent tribe members leave their nomadic clans and set out on a journey of self-discovery. It’s a charming and very slightly bittersweet coming-of-age story weaving in ideas of discovery, identity, and connectedness.
It’s certainly a rather laid-back, mediative experience, and whilst there is an endgame, there isn’t really any central storyline or predetermined path to get there. Even with this approach, the games’ writing and dialogue remain surprisingly fresh with the inclusion of Sable’s internal monologuing interceding during the dialogue.
Sable offers you total freedom, letting you navigate its wondrous world in a variety of ways. You’ll be exploring vast oceans of dunes, solving puzzles in ancient technological wonders. Also, you’ll be aiding others with tasks in lively villages, tracking down collectibles, or mapping the environments with the help of friendly cartographers in their hot-air balloons.
The game world really was the highlight of my experience. Made all the more potent with the inspired visuals and sound (more on that later), the mythology and the culture of the world are enchanting. It was a delight simply moving from place to place and experiencing the world and its characters and secrets.
Your tasteful elements of sci-fi are in great form here – it’s a world with highly advanced technology such as hoverbikes and remnants of ancient, crashed starships and the bones of gargantuan beasts. But, crucially, it blends beautifully with a much more primitive and almost mythical aesthetic depicting nomad campfire lifestyles, rudimentary clothing, and oasis villages constructed with enchanting elements of Byzantine and Islamic architecture. It’s non-linear and open-ended but cohesive and intensely rewarding nonetheless.
GAMEPLAY – FIND YOUR OWN FUN
At its heart, Sable is an open-world exploration game with no combat. The world is vast with various distinct biomes, environments, and settlements. You can go in whatever direction you choose and engage with the world at your own pace. Become a paragon of the people, helping who you can, or entirely ignore them and pursue your own ambitions. Of course, this ties in wonderfully thematically. For me, I decided I was going to map the entire game world, helping what few I could along the way.
Sable is well equipped when it comes to traversing this rough terrain, preventing exploration from becoming a chore. Most of the time, you’ll be relying on your trusty and customisable hoverbike to get you around. There are also some basic navigation tools at your disposal. Luckily for you, for your more vertical endeavours, Sable is quite the climber and also has the ability to glide through the air.
Even after only a few minutes, it’s easy to see that the game takes a lot from Breath of the Wild in terms of its exploration and world. The stamina system and UI (including the navigational elements) are near identical. Breath of the Wild, to this day, maintains an incredibly distinct and subtle tone and atmosphere through the exploration of its world – one that’s melancholic but magical and engaging all the same. It is impressive just how well Sable emulates this ambiance.
Also, just like in Breath of the Wild, there’s a truly awesome sense of scale in some areas that are incredibly satisfying to overcome – particularly in the region called the Badlands – my personal favourite. Exploring the world is fun. It’s diverse and keeps you engaged. The mechanics feel dynamic and everything is neatly accessible but rewarding all the same. The world can feel a bit empty at times, but you find your fun when you can.
If you can see it – you can most likely climb it. I remember spotting a few settlements set upon a dizzyingly high series of mesas. It seemed unreachable to the point where I wondered whether it was only accessible later in the game – perhaps with the addition of a new item or ability. But, with a little time and grit, I managed to climb the decrepit ribcage of some ancient beast, scale the near-vertical ridges, and – using my glide ability – hopscotch my way along the enormous mesas to my destination.
The puzzles are fine. Some quests are rather vanilla. Others are much more entertaining. Unfortunately, Sable, as it stands now, is fraught with quite a few technical issues. In quite a few areas, I found my framerate suffering badly. Unremovable map markers seemed to appear from nowhere and clogged up my HUD. Some dialogue boxes displayed the wrong names and options. There was even some audio stuttering.
That’s not everything. Unfortunately, your hoverbike feels incredibly clunky whenever you’re not on a completely level surface– which in hilly dunes, brushy oases and sprawling mesas – isn’t very often. The slightest amount of air or smallest pebble in your path will stop you dead or launch you into the air before leaving you flailing and spinning about awkwardly upon landing.
These issues aren’t game-breaking. They’re just incredibly goofy and really break your momentum, along with being reminders that the game feels unpolished – really taking you out of the moment. It feels like you’re driving something out of Garry’s Mod. Sable is meant to be an immersive exploration game, but with these issues, exploration is sometimes an awkward-looking chore and not the meditative and engaging experience it could be.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – SCI-FI SURREALISM
Sable is a casual, immersive experience. Most of the time, you’ll be wandering – often without a destination in mind. As such, it’s imperative that the developers really nail the presentation. In a game like this, it’s what really makes or breaks the experience. With this somewhat minimalistic approach, you need emotional substance and a rare style to keep you engaged. You need not fret – the visuals and sound are fantastic.
The game sports an enchanting cell-shaded aesthetic, featuring vibrant colours and wonderfully dynamic lighting. Sable takes a lot from the work of Moebius – the late French cartoonist and artist who, in his later seminal works, established a style that blended a sci-fi setting with abstract and surrealist qualities. As a result, the game manages to bridge the gap between the space-age and the mythical and spiritual really rather beautifully. It’s a sharp and charming style that only sells the world of Sable that much more.
In terms of audio design and music, I also have nothing but praise. From the sound of your footsteps to your hoverbike, the ‘dialogue’ of the characters to the very high-quality interface. The sound is impactful, memorable, and crisp.
The soundtrack, from the indie band Japanese Breakfast, hits all the right notes and really makes its mark on the game. There are some really fantastic ambient tracks here. They don’t distract or get overshadowed. They’re wholly a part of the equation. They’re super catchy, distinct, and hold the fabric of the world together – its worlds, characters, and cultures. Lead singer and writer Michelle Zauner lends her voice to some key narrative moments – such as when you first leave your tribe at the beginning. They’re bittersweet, jubilant, and powerful. It’s all-around great stuff.
Sable was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by Raw Fury.