A first-party effort from one of the UK's most talented outfits, Fable: The Journey was always going to be an accomplished Kinect title. What's surprising is that it's a fabulous contribution to the Fable universe too. Looking back on my hour-long play-test, the moment I recall fondest was when I settled back in my seat, rested my hands on my knees and soaked up the view. My horse - far and away Lionhead's most convincing Ethical Fluffy Animal - trundled on contentedly, following the curve of the road without guidance.
Below the road lay a dramatic river gorge, and beyond it a sublime sunset, the towers of Albion's capital Bowerstone poking into the seething orange cloudscape. It was like something out of a Turner painting, and a side of Lionhead's otherwise whimsical world I'd never seen before - all courtesy of the wholesome medium of pre-motorised transport. Patently out of tune with prior games in the series, the Journey can sound like a contrived knock-off. It's not. Wonderful things happen in this game, and you'll never even get to wield a sword.
The Journey's star is Gabriel, a chronically pleasant young member of the roving Dweller tribe, all of whom are from Oop North. As the game begins the Dwellers are travelling to Bowerstone, Gabriel picking up the basics of horse-drawn karting along the way. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for us, Gabriel manages to fall asleep at the reins, and is separated from his kinsfolk by a mysterious, bridge-destroying lightning storm. To reach the city, he'll have to take the long way round - via forests, mountain roads, caverns, swamps, deserts and a fateful encounter with the blind seer Theresa, custodian of the Fable narrative since its inception.
You'll occasionally leave the wagon, braving on-rails dungeon scenarios with a fistful of magic, but much of the game is spent in the company of a horse's bottom. As unappetising as this may seem, it's by turns a restful, challenging and thrilling business. Two strips of leather extend from either side of the view. Flick them with both hands as though shaking out a towel, and you'll coax the horse into a trot. Flick them again to prompt a gallop, then a temporary sprint which eats into your horse's stamina bar up right. Haul back with your left or right hand to steer.
There's a gentle tutorial, but Lionhead's interface renders it all but unnecessary. A body map in one corner lets you know when you're over- or under-reaching, and the reins flicker an oddly unobtrusive metallic green when you pull on them. Where other Kinect offerings keep players on tenterhooks, craning to avoid misrecognition, The Journey rarely frustrates. The game's ease of use shows how vital it is to pick concepts for Kinect specifically, rather than adapting existing models. It also shows that activities you'd weary of on a controller can be entertaining once you remove the controller from the equation. A twofold victory.
There's the suspicion nonetheless that The Journey will grow monotonous after a few hours, but Lionhead has worked hard to stave off the possibility. Every curve of the road brings something interesting into view, and there are simple arcade challenges to vary the straights, tied to the game's unsuspected RPG levelling system. Glowing green experience orbs can be collected at any velocity, but you'll need to gallop to gather the more valuable red ones, risking damage to your horse if the terrain grows uneven. As the plot thickens, the road becomes hazardous: after picking up Theresa we're chased through a forest by the Corruption, an avalanche of gloop.