Release Date: September 23, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Raw Fury
Throughout our lives, we wear different masks to fit the context of our environment. But what if the mask you choose determines your fate in life? Developed by two-person studio Shedworks, Sable tells the story of a young girl named, well, Sable. In the vast desert land of Midden, children must depart from their homes in search of their purpose in life, a rite of passage known as the Gliding. As you roam the lands, you participate in various experiences, learning more about yourself and the world. Once you’re ready, you get to choose the mask you don–the path in life you plan to pursue.
Before I delve into the main aspects of the review, I want to quickly mention that I encountered a significant amount of bugs and performance issues during my gameplay experience, ranging from frame rate dips to flickering graphics to just plain-old game crashes. I even got stuck in certain portions as I either clipped through the wall or just didn’t have the interaction options available, meaning I had to reset the game. However, the folks at Shedworks mentioned a patch will be available within the first few weeks of release to address said issues. So, anyhow, onward with the review.
At the Title Screen of Sable, I became entranced by a sweet and soft melody with captivating vocals. Upon some research, I was happy to see the music was made by the indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, a group I thoroughly enjoy for their dreamlike sound. This encapsulating tune perfectly sets the scene for much of the experience. With every area, you hear various tracks that add to the atmosphere while retaining an ethereal quality. For example, when visiting an eccentric town, there are upbeat refrains woven into the track. Whereas if you visit a desolate forest, the tone becomes eerie and somber.
To complement the sound design is quite the unique visual component. The art style is reminiscent of an intricate sketchbook with exceptional line-work framing every scene. On top of that is the use of flat coloring and minimal shading, dynamically fitting the environments. When the sun goes down, you see the colors become dull and lifeless, stripping the essence of the world around you. Yet, in the daytime, the world is vibrant and full of life. Each major area and civilization has its own identities, and the coloring is a significant part of shaping that identity.
To see all the areas and landscapes, you gain abilities and devices to help you navigate the terrain. You begin with being able to sprint and climb, both of which run on a stamina bar. As you roam around, you come upon cute creatures known as Chums that playfully offer you eggs. The more eggs you gather, the more you can trade with the Chum Queen to increase your stamina gauge.
Alongside those abilities, you get access to a Gliding Stone, a relic that allows you to hover in the air for long periods of time. As soon as you are ready to leave your home camp, you get a hover-bike named Simoon which can be customized by color and parts as you acquire them over time. Sable is a game that emphasizes exploration, so using every tool and ability at your disposal is essential.
Regarding exploration, Midden offers plenty of original ideas regarding culture and the formation of society. The whole region has a fair amount to discover, ranging from desolate spacecrafts to unique civilizations.
In addition, there are quests to find hidden beetle stations in search of desirable items, such as beetle poop. The spaceships have interesting puzzles to keep you engaged, and they offer a tiny look into the history of the Midden region. Further, the clans all have their own customs and ways of life, with members all over the region donning masks to represent their role in society.
As Sable, you must go in search of your role in life. To do that, you can go on quests or discover the mysteries hidden within the land. Once you perform enough tasks or find enough secrets, you gain various badges, such as a climbing badge or an entertainer badge. When you gather three badges of each type, you can go to the Mask Caster to get the mask representing those roles in society.
You can get as many or as few masks as you desire before making your final decision about what you want to be in life. Throughout the game, you also find other clothes to add to your wardrobe, allowing you to customize your look. Sable emphasizes freedom of choice, obliging you to make this open-world adventure your own kind of journey.
There’s always a reason to roam around on your hover-bike as you try to find the next area of interest. Fortunately, you have a map with the ability to set marker points for objectives. You’ll need this functionality as the size of Midden is enormous. A bit too enormous. The runtime for Sable ranges from 10-20 hours, depending on how much you want to achieve. Yet, most of my playtime was on my bike, trying to get to the next area.
While staring at the scenery can be fun at first, the aesthetics diminish in value as you’re trying to find something to do. To see the map in full detail, you must find the cartographer in each region to buy the map for that area. When I first opened the map, I was thrilled to see just how massive Midden was. However, I was really disappointed to see that much of the map is insignificant and full of vast spaces of nothingness. Very few points of interest are scattered around, leaving me unimpressed with the amount of content this game has to offer.
The lack of depth doesn’t end there. While the ideas behind the civilizations and history present originality, they don’t have much detail to them. As soon as I became invested in learning more about a particular culture, there was nothing left to do in the area. The insight is minuscule and lackluster even within the spaceship where you learn about the world’s history. It’s a shame since Sable has so much potential to provide a captivating, or at the very least, a thought-provoking narrative.
You get these snippets of potentially compelling themes, such as identity and self-actualization, but there are no impactful interactions or moments that keep you absorbed. There’s a solid foundation here of world-building and thematic structure, but nothing gets built out over time on any of those aspects. With these issues, there’s no replayability factor, as it felt like a one-time experience.
When it comes to sound design and visual style, Sable blew me away. I couldn’t help but smile and prepare to get lost in a beautiful world. Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t take long to fade away. There’s definitely enough to keep you engaged and interested, but I just yearned to get more out of this game, especially as it has compelling elements within the groundwork.
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