Sable originally released in September 2021 after a reveal trailer all the way back in 2018. The sandy open world in the cel shaded art style coupled with the understated and magical soundtrack by Japanese Breakfast, I was immediately invested to try out Sable. Now that it’s on PS5 with a content update, what better time to try and play this mesmerising indie gem.
Choose Your Path
In this game you play as the titular Sable, who’s a member of the Ibex Tribe in the world of Midden. Sable is ready to face adulthood by embarking on an established tradition – The Gliding. The tradition is embarked upon by everyone as they come of age for the sole purpose of finding oneself. In the world of Sable, everyone wears a mask. Each mask represents their role in life. Machinists work with Hoverbikes, Scrappers scour the land for materials to trade, and the list goes on. There are different types of 15 mask to find across Midden for you to discover and collect for yourself.
Sable exercises her journey of freedom by going anywhere, helping anyone and ultimately doing whatever she wants before settling down and deciding her path. It’s a story that’s heavy on cut-scenes at the start and at the end but everything in between is driven by player agency. You have choices of dialogue as well as the option to get just one mask you’re aiming for and finishing the game. However, you’d be doing yourself an absolute disservice if you do, as the magic in Sable is soaking in everything Midden has to offer.
Whilst this is Sable’s story, there’s so much history in the world of Midden to discover. Ancient ruins, crashed ships and tribes that worship the lifeforms from a time before, all add an incredible amount of depth in the most hands-off way possible. Finding the story as opposed to having it told for you enriches the time you spend, ultimately enhancing just how personal the game can feel. Although I appreciated making my own story in the game, it does mean there’s no narrative structure that delivers anything too emotional, despite the vast opportunities to do so. It would have broken up the gaping space of gameplay that you only get as much as you put in.
Somebody Stop Me!
The bulk of the gameplay will see you riding your Hoverbike – named Simoon – across the vast sands of Midden. Like the path you choose in during the Gliding, the bike is one of those choices also. Across your journey you’ll be able to customise the engine, front and base of your Hoverbike; all with their own style and attributes. You’ll be doing a lot of riding on the Hoverbike and it’s a bit of a rocky start that lasts a good while. Before you get to improve your bike, it handles shoddily, as well as being a bit slow and even when it is improved, the physics can get messy. With all that said, riding never gets old and overall I had a lot of fun jumping the dunes on the back of Simoon. The sense of freedom as you take on the open sands on your Hoverbike scouting for new areas was a joy from first hour till the last.
In a broad sense, Sable is one big collectathon that has some light platform puzzles thrown into it. The masks you collect in game aren’t just from sheer discovery alone, you’ll be running a bunch of errands for the locals. A good portion are just fetch-quests and it doesn’t get much deeper than that. You’ll be collecting bugs, bike parts, clothes and now fishes, all in the name of completion. Although there’s nothing too complex going on with the gameplay, the pacing and ease of your errands and overall objective presents a really meditative experience that I found hard to pull myself away from.
The sense of wonderment was consistent throughout Sable and every area of Midden had its own way of changing the puzzle element. This mostly being a Zelda: Breath of the Wild climbing system topped off with a stamina bar restricting where you can climb. But like BotW, you can pretty much attempt to climb anything. Your job is discovering where to climb first in order to reach that peak, that may have that collectible or where you will find a Cartographer selling maps. It’s a simple gameplay mechanic that carries the game and whilst it only briefly gets a little more complex, it’s unintimidating in the best way possible.
The big new feature for Sable is fishing. It’s a whole new minigame that also leads to a new mask. Now, these aren’t your typical fish as you are in a complete sand planet, but it goes down the same with a unique crop of different fish to discover. You’ll learn very early on that different areas and different circumstances lead to the capture of different fish.
On top of that, there’s a minigame that sees you trying to reel in your catch by hovering a square over a darting fish along a bar at the bottom of the screen. The more the box is over the fish the closer you are to catching. Surface level, it’s a neat new addition that breaks up the gameplay loop in the base game. However, if you’re trying to catch them all, there’s a lot of inconsistencies in finding the right one. All there is to go off is a hint that you can buy from the Vivarium.
To my knowledge, the Vivarium was in the base game – here you would log your butterflies and beetles in your collection. But now the Vivarium has relocated and you can also log and collect your fish there. It’s a nice touch that adds more variety to the time you spend in the game, though trying to get the right fish itself can be a bit finnicky, it makes you see the world in a new lens outside of finding new areas.
Sable’s cel shading is some of the best in games. It’s visually amazing, with an incredible colour palette. Even though Midden is a desert, there’s so much variety in detail, colour and areas that are all crafted sumptuously. The pastel-like shades of greens and reds paired with the earthy tones of all the areas is a feast for the eyes for a planet so vast and desolate.
My one complaint is the night time washes out any colours for the sake of ambience, but it’s easily rectifiable in the options menu, making it colourful day and night. You can also change the line work varying their thickness. I opted for full thickness to make all the lines bold and distinct amongst the different colours. The customisation feels unique to Sable and an excellent addition to making it as visually pleasing as possible.
Japanese Breakfast’s score is so perfect for the game. The opening and closing theme are the only two pieces that could play out as a structured song that aren’t utilised nearly enough. However, the rest of the music brings a sense of atmosphere that is equally uplifting as it is relaxing. I wish the music didn’t take as much of a backseat as it did because the droning synths and echoing guitar notes that draw out as your Hoverbike whirrs through the desert results in a phenomenal presentation.
Even though I can’t say enough nice things about how Sable looks and sounds, there is some performance issues in the more densely designed places. It’s not just noticeable, but a real test to my enjoyment of the game. Developers are aware and I’m sure it’s something they’re always working towards improving; and outside of those areas it runs at a perfectly smooth 60 frames. Those moments make the overall package a premium experience.
End of a Journey
Sable is a little short of being a fantastic game about finding yourself and what it means to be a part of something on your own terms. Whilst the new content update has definitely added a notch of variety, the often-simple execution of its gameplay dampens the depth of the world and story it’s trying to present. With that said, it’s a great game when it performs well and has an atmosphere I often got lost in for all the right reasons. The openness of its world and the way in which to beat the game adds a feeling of freedom that doesn’t come around too often in games. The lack of HUD only bolsters the sense of player initiative to live in Midden.
Sable’s ability to make the player feel so involved in such a hands-off approach to its open world is one that should be celebrated. The gameplay is a little one-note and the framerate can buckle under pressure, but it’s a game full of intrigue and wonderment that captivates you immensely. Not to mention exceptional cel shaded visuals and a zen like soundtrack that makes Sable enrapturing to explore.
Sable is out now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox One and PC (Steam)
Publisher: Raw Fury
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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